Peace that passes understanding: The Belhar Confession
By Rev. Patrick D. Heery, interviewing Rev. Allan Boesak
“I tell you, love your enemies.”
Reflection: I remember a conversation I once had with the South African pastor and anti-apartheid activist Allan Boesak. He taught me about peace—the kind that demands truth. The following is what he told me about our newest confession: Belhar.
“In 1986, when I looked around the synod voting on the confession, there was hardly a congregation or family that didn’t have someone in jail. Remember that the white Dutch church had never said a word about apartheid. Its critique was aimed at us for protesting for the government. So why, with the blood on the street so fresh, would we talk about unity with these people? Why would we talk about reconciliation? Because we asked ourselves, What does obedience to Jesus Christ mean in this situation? Shall we allow the harshness and horror of apartheid—and even its claim on Jesus Christ—to dictate to the church how we understand God’s word?
“That is why we did not change a single word in Belhar, did not water it down or try to make people more comfortable with it. Loving our enemy wasn’t about some easy harmony, as if that were even possible. It was about a tough insistence on the demands of the gospel.
“And that is the power of Belhar . . . We were turning the spiritual condition of forgiveness into a political reality of conversion.
“We had to begin by changing the whole idea of justice. Justice couldn’t be retribution or a turning of the tables. Justice meant helping restore the humanity of those who had dehumanized themselves by dehumanizing us.”
Action: Whom in your life can you love today with a love so powerful that it reminds them of their own humanity? Love today in a way that demands and offers truth: the truth of who we are, and the truth of who we can become.
Prayer: O merciful Savior, convert our hearts. Help us love more boldly. And make our love the power that changes the world. Amen.
Rev. Patrick D. Heery is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Auburn, New York, and is the former editor of Presbyterians Today and Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice.
This year’s A Season of Peace resources are designed to help Presbyterians explore different forms and lenses for peacemaking. From the personal level to global issues like human trafficking and sustainable development, these reflections and prayers will help grow the faith and witness of the whole church. Through the days of this year’s A Season of Peace, we are invited to reflect on:
- Peace that passes understanding: personal testimonies of faith and peace within self, within families, within communities
- Partners in peace: interfaith work for peace and justice, building peace between us while witnessing to peace in our wider world
- Go and see: reflections from travel study seminar participants
- The church and its witness: reflections on addressing trafficking in its varied forms
- Peacemaking and practice: stories and reflections on building bridges and crossing divide
Each author represents a variety of vocations and experiences in peacemaking efforts. Individuals and households are invited to make use of these daily reflections beginning on Sunday, September 2, and concluding on World Communion Sunday, October 7.