Why I abstained from voting on the Belhar
In a comment on my earlier blog entry, I have commented on the intellectual side of why I abstained from voting on the Belhar. This entry describes the emotional/spritual dimension of it for me.
By Monday morning, when we actually began debating the Belhar on the floor of Synod, I found my emotions were a bit raw. I kept tearing up. Fatigue was taking its toll, but something seemed to be going on in my spirit too.
We had been asked, the previous evening, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of South Africa?" Yes, I thought, the Belhar is good, though maybe not very good. It was conceded that one of the strengths of our particular tradition is the gift of verbal craftsmanship. In the back of my mind a thought was forming...that maybe they would like some help then, so that we could offer the very best to the church. As the presentations unfolded, it became clear that our reception of the gift of the Belhar mattered a great deal to the bearers of that gift, and to many others gathered in Holland. On the verge of tears, I thought, "How can I vote no? How could I hurt them so?"
And then the Canadian Prairies came with a gift. An offer, in the form of an amendment, to help with the wording. And they came with the gift of an overture to accept the Belhar as a statement of faith. I first saw the overture as a companion gift. Like a dust jacket for a book, or a frame to hold the document. Admittedly, it was a humbler gift than the Belhar. But as I listened it became clear that the reception of their gift mattered a great deal to the bearers of the gift, and many others gathered for the Synod. "Can anything good come from Nazareth? Can anything good come from the Canadian Prairies?" I ask. On the verge of tears I felt "Yes, this too is good. Perhaps not very good, but good." Unfortunately, a vote to accept the Belhar was a vote to refuse their overture. How could I refuse their gift? How could I hurt them so?
I had been reflecting on the Hippocratic oath Sunday evening..."First do no harm." When we were wisely called to prayer before voting on the Belhar, I asked the Lord what I should do. And my clear sense of the Lord's leading for me was that I was to abstain. I was to do no harm. For how could I chose between them? How could I hurt the bearers of either gift so? And the tears flowed.
In those few minutes of prayer, I did proceed to argue with the Lord. "But Lord," I said, "I don't understand. If I don't vote, what is the point of my being here?" And I think I heard the Lord say, "You are here to cry." An odd message, and I understand if you wonder whether I heard right. I wonder too.
After the Belhar was accepted, and the Synod as a whole rejected the gift from the Canadian Prairies, those who had prevailed applauded—and I was aghast. In sports, excessive celebration is called a foul. With tears in my heart, I wonder, "How could we hurt them so?" Do the sisters and brothers from the Canadian Prairies, and others like them...do they not bleed as others do?
The more I reflect on the gift of the overture from the Canadian Prairies, the more significant I think it was. The adoption of their overture, the adoption of the Belhar as a statement of faith, would have gone far to preserve the unity of the Synod of 2009. The adoption of the Belhar as a statement of faith instead of a confession would have allowed us to walk the talk, to actually live out our call to be one, not just talk the talk.
With the offer to accept the Belhar as a statement of faith, the bearers of the gift from the Canadian Prairies, I think, were offering to give up their insistence on a better crafted document. Had we adopted the Belhar as a statement of faith, the champions of Belhar would have lost some of the strength of making it a confession, but they would have gained their brothers and sisters. Each would have had to sacrifice something. But we would have gained much.
The significant gift of the overture from the Canadian Prairies, I think, was an opportunity to live the truth of God's call together. It seems to me that, sadly, Synod 2009 said that the gift of the Belhar as a document was a gift to be cherished more than the actual unity it speaks of, that talking is more important than doing, and that the status of a document is more important than people. We said we had no need of the profound gift the Canadian Prairie folk offered. Can nothing good can come from the Nazareth of the north? How could we hurt them so?
I'm not sure whether we tried the Belhar and found it wanting, or whether the Belhar tried us and found us wanting. In either case, I believe the test was failed.
The bearers of the Belhar gift cry from a long history of pain. But the bearers of the gift from the north cry too, I think. Oh, how could we hurt each other so? We all cry, and the Lord bottles up our tears....to what mysterious end, I know not.
Calvary Community Church
New Berlin, Wisconsin