It was a warm summer afternoon in South Africa. Arrangements had been made for me to have tea with the then banned Beyers Naude in the backyard of his home. In the course of our conversation I asked, “What would you have me say to the Reformed Church in America? ” (It was 1980, and I was serving as the President of the General Synod.) His reply was concise and clear. “First of all, there is a civil war here. Secondly, no one can be neutral about what is happening here. Last of all, we need the international church and community to stand in solidarity with us as we seek to dismantle apartheid.” In the light of what I had experienced I was ready to commit myself to join those who sought to bring apartheid to its knees.
The denomination to which I belonged had for years carried on conversations with the white Dutch Reformed Church. We had urged them to acknowledge that apartheid was a heresy and unchristian in character. In 1980 the Reformed Church in America entered into direct ecumenical relations with the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (colored), Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (black), and the Reformed Church in Africa (Indian). It was a new day. In 1982 the RCA General Synod took an action that suspended further dialogue with the white Dutch Reformed Church until they had renounced apartheid. At the same time the RCA divested itself of investments in companies doing business in South Africa. It was the first mainline denomination to do so. We also had gone on record urging that economic sanctions be applied to South Africa.
In 1982 the DRMC drafted “The Confession of 1982” which came eventually to be called the Belhar Confession. In 1985 the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America received from the DRMC a new draft of the Belhar Confession, asking us to study and respond to it. The Commission on Theology recommended that Belhar be sent to every congregation and classis for study and response. Being in solidarity took on new meaning. Solidarity no longer was a one way street. Our partners had given us a gift, a priceless treasure. Join us in making the Belhar a confessional statement of your church, they were saying.
The longer I live the more aware I am of God’s gracious providence. To stand in solidarity with our partner churches in South Africa was a good and right thing to do. What I began to realize was that we were the ones who were being blessed. We have much to learn from our sisters and brothers who suffered for years under the oppressive rule of apartheid. They have shared with us a gift that comes out of their “outcry of faith.” Could it be that the Spirit has a word for us that comes through the Belhar? Could it be that this gift will make us more whole, more faithful? Could it be that those who know the preciousness of unity have something to say to us? Could it be that we will come to realize how important it is for us to seek reconciliation, healing and justice in our land, church, and lives? I say, thank you Gracious God, thank you, for the gift of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, for the gift they have given to us and the entire Reformed family. Solidarity is indeed a two way street.