Thursday, October 16, 2008

WCC URGES INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS AND GOVERNMENTS TO UPHOLD THE RIGHT TO FOOD

As "the global food crisis continues to unfold and impact on the most vulnerable in our societies," the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia has called on international institutions and governments to move into swift action.
In a statement on the occasion of the World Food Day (16 October), Kobia has called on international institutions, regional intergovernmental bodies and governments "to address volatility in food and agriculture prices by re-establishing public stocks at national and regional levels". They should also "prevent [agribusiness companies] from abusing their market power" and introduce "legislation at all levels that enshrines the right to food and food sovereignty".

The global food crisis "is not primarily of production, but of distribution and access" and "stems from and reflects a failure to uphold justice and sustainability within an economic system that is driven by the values of greed and materialism," Kobia stated.

In view of this, "churches are called to bring the fundamental links between food, community, ecology and life back into perspective". "The churches need to continue to hold international institutions, governments, corporations and financial speculators accountable for the realization of the right to food and food sovereignty," the statement reads.

Whilst "many churches and their specialized ministries are responding to the crisis," Kobia encourages them to continue their advocacy work and to "renew their commitment to work for genuine land reform - including the redistribution of church lands," as well as to "promote local and environmentally friendly agricultural production".

Full text of the WCC general secretary's statement on the global food crisis:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Press statement of Executive on Boesak and Homosexuality debate

HOMOSEXUALITY DEBATE

The Executive of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa deeply regrets the misrepresentations of the procedures and decisions of Synod on the issue of homosexuality by our former Assessor, ProfDr Allan Boesak. We want to inform the world and our church of the correct information.

We want to state the following:
1. The Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa is a Church who functions within the Presbyterian Church law system. That means that the church works with meetings and not individuals. Only when a meeting (Synod: General or Regional, Presbytery or Church Council) came to a decision, that decision stands and is the official position of the various structures in URCSA. Any individual within URCSA not mandated to speak on behalf of these meetings within URCSA, would voice their personal opinion and does not speak on behalf of URCSA. A person may rise in Synod or any other meeting of URCSA and make a point, but it will remain a viewpoint, unless an official decision has been taken by majority vote. This point is important to note in the light of the debates at Synod and the utterances of individuals in URCSA specifically on the homosexuality debate and in the public press.

2. Interim Policy on homosexuality (2005)
At the General Synod of URCSA in 2005 the Synod took the following decision ( decision 90) which would be the interim guideline until Synods comes to a final decision:
a) Synod confirms that the Bible is the living Word of God and the primary source and norm for the moral debate about homosexuality
b) Synod acknowledges the diversity of positions regarding homosexuality and pleads that differences be dealt with in a spirit of love, patience, tolerance and respect.
c) Synod confirms that homosexual people are members of the church through faith in Jesus Christ.
d) Synod rejects homophobia and any form of discrimination against homosexual persons.
e) Synod appeals to URCSA members to reach out with love and empathy to our homosexual brothers and sisters and embrace them as members of the body of Christ in our midst.
f) Synod acknowledges the appropriate civil rights of homosexual persons.
g) Synod emphasizes the importance of getting clarity about the theological and moral status of homosexual marriages, or covenantal unions .
h) Synod emphasizes the importance of getting clarity about the ordination of practicing homosexual persons in ministry.
i) Synods assigns the following tasks to the Moderamen:
- Do an extensive study on Christian faith and homosexuality while taking into consideration the above mentioned principles;
- Table a report with recommendations to the General Synodical Commission (GSC) during the coming recess ( 2005-2008);
- And encourage and direct discussions on the theme of homosexuality in URCSA.

3. Mandate and Report on homosexuality
The mandate was to be carried out under the leadership of the previous Assessor, Dr Allan Boesak and his Commission, consisted of Prof. Nico Koopman, Prof. Jeremy Punt, Prof Christina Landman, Prof Rothney Tshaka. According to the decision of the 2005 Synod this commission had to follow a certain process within the church with their. They were instructed to table their report during the recess at the General Synodical Commission (GCS which is the body which handles the affairs of the General Synod while the Synod is not in session) for debate. The report was to be distributed to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations for debate. The responsibility of this commission was to direct the discussion on homosexuality in URCSA. The commission unfortunately did not fulfill its task in this regard.

4. Homosexuality debate during Synod:
The report was received only by the delegates (and not by the entire church structures as was the mandate to the commission) and they received it only a few weeks before Synod was to convene. Because of this irresponsible manner in which a report of such importance for the church and its members whose life’s are personally, directly and deeply affected by its final conclusion, the delegates were not prepared to debate this issue properly and make an informed decision. The result was that some delegates reacted to the report on an emotional level and said inappropriate and hurtful things. For these irresponsible utterances by individuals in Synod, URCSA is very, very sorry and makes an unconditional apology to the entire Church and its homosexual members who have been hurt by this. We want to stress these utterances were that of individual delegates and not a decision by the Synod as a meeting. We deeply regret that the commission did not do its work properly in terms of the process that the report should have taken in the URCSA. Synod by decision rejected these utterances and confirmed the integrity of those who worked on this report.

4. The current position of URCSA on the issue of Homosexuality
Synod regards the report as a well prepared report and thanked the contributors to the report. Synod decided that the report should take the route, as was decided by the 2005 Synod, but was not implemented by the Commission on homosexuality. The report and its recommendations are now referred back to the 7 Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations for discussion.
In the meantime the current official position of URCSA on homosexuality is the interim policy as formulated in 2005( decision 90) as stated in point 2 of this press release.

5. Dr Allan Boesak’s statements in the public press.
As the executive we deeply regret the misleading and false statements made by Dr Allan Boesak ( Moderator of the Cape Synod)in the public press, since Friday. The Moderamen would like to clear up the confusing facts that Dr. Boesak put in the public domain. The Report tabled was not Dr Boesaks. It was the report of a commission which consisted of Prof. Nico Koopman. Christina Landman, Prof. Jeremy Punt and Prof. Rothney Tshaka. He only presented the Report on behalf of the commission. For Dr Boesak to claim in the week-end press that” he confronted the Synod (in this report) with an issue and that the Synod was not emotionally or theologically ready to talk about it”, would be to ignore the contributions of distinguish academics to report and claim sole responsibility for its content. He creates the impression that this was an issue between him and the Church/ Synod. Creating the impression that he was he was the champion of a cause and by so doing put the spotlight on himself. Dr Boesak took the issue of the report far too personally, while he was not the sole writer or owner of this report. Once this report was submitted it became the property of the URCSA.

When Dr. Boesak stated in Die Burger newspaper that, “he confronted the Synod (in this report ) with an issue and that the Synod was not emotionally or theologically ready to talk about”, he was absolutely correct. Dr Boesak neglected his duty as the person who was given the responsibility by Synod in 2005 to assemble a commission to work on this report and to ensure that URCSA was emotionally and theologically ready to debate with insight the issue of homosexuality. It was only three years after this mandate was given to him, that he called a commission together in June of this year. One of the members only heard in June of this year that he was a part of the commission. This report was to tabled between 2005 and 2006 at the General Synodical Commission and send to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations for debate, because the work was not done, this process was not followed and the church and delegates to the Synod, “was not emotionally and theologically ready” to debate the subject of homosexuality. As chairperson of this commission Dr. Boesak simply did not do his job properly and he must take full responsibility for what happened with this report at the Synod. He must be honest and take ownership for this. He should not shift the blame to Synod, but he should be courageous and mature enough to admit his serious neglect. Dr. Boesak did a disservice to URCSA and its homosexual members in this regard and he puts his fellow commissioners in a very difficult situation. Despite this short space of time in which this report was completed, Synod regards this research on the topic as excellent and worthy of considering.

Dr Boesak’s accusation as reported in die Burger on Monday that, URCSA committed treason against Belhar, is an accusation that the Uniting Reformed in Southern Africa does not take seriously. URCSA has not made any decision on the report and specifically where the report deals with the Belhar Confession. Dr Boesak is simply sensational in his utterances. He has no grounds for such an accusation, because there was never a decision taken or a value judgment made by Synod ( as legally constituted meeting who can take decisions, legally) on Belhar and homosexuality. His accusation is highly irresponsible and misleading.

Dr Boesak creates the impression in the Week-end Argus that URCSA has come to a decision on Homosexuality when he is quoted , “ I cannot accept the church’s decision and stand as a representative. I will remain on as an ordinary minister. I will cannot defend such a decision.” No decision was made on homosexuality, except the decision to refer the report for proper discussion as was the intention and decision of the general Synod of 2005.

Dr Boesak has vilified the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and its Synod for no valid reason and spoke untruths about the actions of this Church of God. We as a Church will not call on him to retract these untruths, but we leave him with his conscience before the Almighty God and we pray to God that Dr Boesak, will use his God-given gifts for a righteous cause.

This is the final public engagement of URCSA on this issue. We will now go back to our Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations, to direct and deal pastorally with the issue of homosexuality in the spirit of the 2005 decision. We call on the whole of URCSA to start talking and debating.

This press release will be read throughout URCSA on Sunday to put the issue in perspective and to remove all confusion and false statements.

ISSUED BY THE EXECUTIVE:

Prof . ST Kgatla ( Moderator)
Dr. Mary –Ann Plaatjies –van Huffel( Assessor)
Dr. Dawid Kuyler( Scribe)
Rev. M. Godfrey Betha ( Actuarius)
Rev. Reggie Nel
Rev.MP Moloi
Dr. Henry Platt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

PASTORAL LETTER URCSA GENERAL SYNOD 2008

PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE FIFTH GENERAL SYNOD OF URCSA TO THE CONGREGATIONS OF URCSA IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

Dear Sisters and brothers

We greet you in the Name of our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who gathers, protects and cares for his Church by his Word and his Spirit, as He has done since the beginning of the world and will do so to the end.
One hundred and eighty-five delegates from all the regional Synods and presbyteries in South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia met at Prestige College near Hammanskraal. The theme for this fifth General Synod was: “Unity in diversity.” Our Moderator, Prof. Thias Kgatla in the opening service reminded us from 1 Cor 12 that we as a church is the body of Christ and that in Christ body there is unity in diversity. We as members of the body of Christ are diverse but our diversity is necessary to serve one another in order that the body can be one. All of us are important in the church. No one should ever feel inferior. God has given every member of his church a gift to serve the rest of the body. We had the privilege that Prof. Daan Cloete led us every morning in Bible study to expound this theme according to the gospel of John. Congregations will soon be able to buy this bible studies in book form so that all may reflect together on this important issue.
The delegates represented the diversity of URCSA members. Young and old, male and female, people with a range of educational background, from different economical backgrounds, different language groups and representing different race groups met as one in Christ.
Together we asked God to guide us to give answers to the challenges facing the congregations in Southern Africa.
We would like to share with you the important issues that we had to deal with.
Church unity within the DRC family was on our table. We had to take a difficult decision regarding our unity with the DRC. Over the past years we were covenanting with the DRC to unite and many meetings were held to find a way forward. The decisions of Achterberg on how we should proceed with unity were given to the congregations of both churches for their comments. We took note with sadness that in the DRC congregations responded negatively towards the acceptance of the Belhar Confession in a new church and their understanding of a church unification model of a Joint General synod is not acceptable to us. We have always maintained that church unity should be an organic model in which we are one church. It was in the light of the DRC decisions that we felt that their decisions has placed an unbearable burden on the integrity of the church and brings into question our deepest held convictions on the call of the Gospel with regards to the unity of the church and our faith as expressed in the Confession of Belhar.
We therefore decided to put a moratorium on the re-unification talks between the URCSA and DRC on a national level until the DRC is serious committed and ready for unity talks, but we also decided that we will invite the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to come and facilitate the process of re-unification between URCSA and DRC.
Because we are serious about unity we did not close the door to congregations and members of the DRC who eagerly wants to unite with URCSA. Regional Synods, presbyteries and congregations are still encouraged to continue with the existing efforts towards unification that are done in faith and with integrity, in obedience to the call of Christ and on the basis of the acceptance of the Confession of Belhar so that these efforts can remain as signs of hope, reconciliation and love to the fulfilment of justice, the edification and witness of the church and the glory of God.
We will also arrange for a public occasions where members and ministers of the DRC and the rest of the DRC can publicly support, identify with and undersign the confession of Belhar. We propose this as a way to continue meaningful progress with regard to church unification as URCSA understand it. This will open new possibilities for our walking this road together.
We also approved the memorandum of understanding between URCSA and the DRCA in which we will try and find a way out of the deadlock of court cases.
Internal unity
We as a synod took time to reflect on our internal unity and in the light of the positive experience we had when we openly talked about what is happening within URCSA, the synod decided that it will appoint a task team to provide the church with a strategic plan regarding the process of internal unity that will include clear guidelines to all levels of the church (from congregations to Synods) as well as ministries. It is our prayer that the delegates to this synod will bring back to congregations, presbyteries and regional synods the knowledge and experience that they have gained in this regard.
Scales of Remuneration
The General Synod approved the remunerations scale as presented and further decided to mandate the permanent SMFA to draw up formula/guideline on the scale. Congregations are encouraged to remunerate ministers not below the recommended scales.
Greetings from overseas churches
Meeting at Hammanskraal we had the privilege that delegates from churches in Europe and America attended and brought greetings. Amongst our guests were: Rev Marc Loos of the United Protestant Church in Belgium; Prof James Seawood from the Reformed Church in America; Rev Dietmar Arends from the Evangelical Reformed Church in Germany; Dr Gerard Dykstra, Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and Dr Bas Plaisier of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. All our guests came to tell how they accepted Belhar and how Belhar is guiding them in their situations. This brings the question: Why is the DRC reluctant to accept Belhar while other churches praise Belhar?
Challenges for URCSA.
We invited speakers to help us reflect on important challenges we are facing. Rev Basil Manning addressed us on racism and what we should do. He gave us the OUMA way. Take Ownership of racism; Understand what we mean by racism and how it is functioning in our church; Motivation - The command to love should motivate us; and Action. What is it what we should do?
Dr Johan Burger addressed us on crime and challenged us to make a difference. Bongiwe Dumezweni-Ntakumba helped us to understand the importance of leadership in the church and rev Averell Rust directed us how we should respond to economic justice. Our delegates have been given handouts on these topics that we urge them to use in the local congregations and presbyteries.
Theological training
This year we celebrate centenary of theological training for black ministers and evangelists. Prof Kritzinger has helped us to reflect on the past 100 years of theological training but also to look forward. Delegates will be bringing with them a booklet in this regard that can help congregations to reflect. The synod approved that besides theological training at Stellenbosch and Pretoria, a ministerial formation centre can be established in Bloemfontein at the University of the Free State.

Homosexuality
The synod tabled this important issue with a report by a task team led by Dr Alan Boesak. A Thorough debate took place and in the end he synod decided to re-affirm its decisions of Pietermaritzburg (2005). As a church we acknowledge the diversity of positions regarding homosexuality and plead that differences be dealt with in a spirit of love, patience, tolerance and respect. We again confirm that homosexual people are members of the church through the faith in Jesus Christ. We again rejected homophobia and any form of discrimination against homosexual persons. We appeal to URCSA members to reach out with love and empathy to our homosexual brothers and sisters and embrace them as members of the body of Christ in our midst.
The synod also decided: to refer the report and its recommendations to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and local congregations for discussion. Please make sure you read the report and discuss it.
Yearbook
The General Synod urges congregations, Presbyteries and Regional Synods to send the correct information between 1st August and 31st September every year for publication in the Yearbook.
General Secretary for URCSA
The synod in principle approved that such a position be created to help the church in its daily operations.

We greet you in the precious name of Christ our Lord! Celebrate the unity in diversity!!!!

The executive is also representing the regions AND FOR THE FIRST TIME A LADY ON THE EXECUTIVE!!!! We are proud that the executive also represent unity in diversity.
Moderator:Prof ST Kgatla (Northern)
Assesor: Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies - van Huffel(Cape)
Scribe: Dr Dawid Kuyler (Free State and Lesotho)
Actuarius: Rev Godfrey Betha(Phororo)
Rev Reggie Nel (Southern Transvaal)
Rev MP Moloi (KZN)
Dr Henry Platt (Namibia)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Decisions of General Synod, URCSA

The General Synod, at Hammanskraal met in exitement, but also expectation, because many key decisions were to be made. From the onset Prof Allan Boesak indicated that he would not be available for elections, because of personal and national commitments to the country. The General Synod elected the following to serve in the recess:

Moderator: Prof Thias Kgatla (Northern Synod/ Noordelike Sinode)
Assessor: Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies-Van Huffel (Cape Synod/ Kaapland Sinode)
Scribe/Skriba: Dr Dawid Kuyler (Free State & Lesotho Synod/ Vrystaat & Lesotho Sinode)
Actuary/ Aktuarius: Rev Godfrey Betha (Phororo Synod/ Sinode)
Dr. Henry Platt (Namibia Synod/ Namibiese Sinode)
Rev/ Ds. Philemon Moloi (KwaZulu-Natal Synod/ Sinode)
Rev/ Ds. Reggie Nel (Southern Transvaal Synod/ Suid-Transvaal Sinode)

Decisions on re-unification process:
The General Synod of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, meeting in Hammanskraal (September 29 to October 5, 2008),

Affirms
1. The call for the unity of the church of Jesus Christ and especially at this time of the Dutch Reformed Church family as a call to obedience and a response to the prayer of Jesus Christ (Jn. 17) which the church desires to fulfil with all our heart;
2. This call to unity, reconciliation and justice as inescapable gift and obligation laid upon us by the Confession of Belhar;
3. Our continuing commitment to this unity as expressed in the decisions and actions of successive synods of this church at both general and regional synod level and as expressed also by the constant efforts towards unity at the level of presbyteries and commissions of the church and congregations on the basis of our common acceptance of the Confession of Belhar wherever possible;
4. Our desire that the unity of our churches of the Reformed family in South Africa should be expressed in organic unity reflective of the Presbyterial model and be structurally recognisable and spiritually strong;
5. Our firm conviction that the Confession of Belhar should be part of the confessional basis and identity of the newly formed denomination.

Takes cognisance of
1. The 2004 DRC General Synod decision which read: “…N VERENIGENDE KERKVERBAND VAN SELFSTANDIGE PLAASLIKE GEMEENTES. Ons stel voor dat die presbiteriaal-sinodale kerkregeringstelsel as model vir die organisering van die nuwe een kerkverband gebruik word. Dit beteken dat al die gemeentes as selfstandige gemeentes ingevoeg word in ringe, sinodes en een algemene sinode. In die proses moet ruimte gelaat word vir onderhandeling, nuwe moontlikhede en ‘n groei na mekaar” and the challenge put to URCSA by the said synod to respond accordingly;
2. The consistent endeavours toward church unity as reflected in the efforts of the church since 2005, namely Esselen Park (2006), Bloemfontein (2006), and Achterberg I and II (2006 and 2007), as well as in the reports from regional synods, and thanks the moderamen, the general Synodical Commission and the regional synods for the hard work;
3. The reports emanating from the General Synod of the DRC (2007) and of the “Resolutions of the Moderamen (expanded) on Church Reunification” (11-12 June 2008) where the view is expressed that while the Confession of Belhar “has significant value and sentiment for URCSA and some members of the DR Church”, for the “majority member and congregations of the Dutch Reformed church the Confession of Belhar is not acceptable as fourth confession”. (3.2)
4. The fact that as regards a model for unification, the expanded moderamen proposes that “Achterberg III deliberates about the possibility to consider, as an interim measure, a joint synod of the four member churches” with all four member churches send representatives to this “Joint Synod”.

Declares
1. With deep distress that these latest decisions of the DRC represent a disturbing departure from our understanding reached at Esselen Park and the “Points of Consensus” reached at the Achterberg consultations. These decisions renew the rejection of the Confession of Belhar as part of the confessional basis of the new united church to which we aspire;
2. With sadness that this remains the case even after the substantial concession on the manner in which the Confession of Belhar should be approached made by the URCSA General Synodical Commission at the Esselen Park meeting in 2006;
3. With deep disappointment that neither in the decisions of the DRC General Synod, nor in the most recent resolutions of the Expanded Moderamen has the “Covenant Toward Church Unity” as formulated and accepted at Esselen Park, and put before, and accepted by the regional synods of URCSA as a new, common theological basis for church union, featured in any recognisable way;
4. That by reintroducing the Confession of Belhar as a matter of political contention and the most visible and most objectionable barrier to church unification, the DRC is in significant variance with its own decision regarding the Confession of Belhar and the confessional basis of the new united church;
5. And that by this action the DRC has in effect turned away from the “Covenant toward Church Unity” agreed upon at Esselen Park and has invalidated the grounds upon which URCSA has taken its decision on Belhar as a gesture of reconciliation and obedience;
6. That the proposed model of unification, the so-called “Joint General Synod” has nothing in common with the model of organic unity according to Presbyterian principles proposed by URCSA and until now the model under discussion accepted by the DRC; is in fact a revamped “federal model” URCSA has consistently rejected over the years. It is a model that accepts, and reinforces the racially divided nature of our Dutch Reformed churches and represents a fundamental denial of what URCSA stands for and is expressed in the Confession of Belhar and our understanding of Reformed Ecclesiology.

Therefore Synod decides
1. That such decisions place an unbearable burden on the integrity of the church and bring into question our deepest held convictions on the call of the Gospel with regard to the unity of the church and our faith as expressed in the Confession of Belhar;
2. That the Confession of Belhar is not just of “sentimental value” but is an irreplaceable gift to the church of Jesus Christ in this country and abroad as well as an authentic expression of Reformed theology for our times and contexts and as such honoured and accepted by churches in the Reformed family across the world;
3. That the conviction of the church remains that the Confession shall not be forced upon anyone and should be willingly and gratefully accepted by those convicted by the truth that it embodies;
4. That the General Synod puts a moratorium on the re-unification talks between the URCSA and DRC until the DRC is serious committed and ready for unity talks. General synod mandates the executive to invite WARC to come and facilitate the process of re-unification of these churches who are members of WARC. This request is based on the letter of WARC dated 11/08/08.
5. That inasmuch as the same convictions are held by the DRCA and the RCA this decision holds for those two churches as well;
6. That the faith, courage and work of regional synods, presbyteries, commissions of the church and local congregations be respected and honoured by encouraging them, where all efforts towards unification are done in faith and with integrity, in obedience to the call of Christ and on the basis of the acceptance of the Confession of Belhar, to continue with these efforts; to thereby remain signs of hope, reconciliation and love to the fulfilment of justice, the edification and witness of the church and the glory of God.
7. The Synod requests the Moderamen to call for a public occasion where members and ministers of the DRC and the rest of the DRC Family can publicly support, identifies with and undersigns the confession of Belhar. We propose this as a way to continue meaningful progress with regard to church unification as URCSA understand it. This will open new possibilities for our walking this road together.


The General Synod then also decided:
The General Synod asks the Moderamen to draw up a resolution to be submitted to the DRC with regards to the greetings brought by their moderator, Prof P Strauss. In this resolution Synod expresses our total disappointment in the way these greetings has been conveyed with special reference to the personal attack on our Moderator, Prof T Kgatla. These greetings undoubtly had a negative impact on our synod’s discussion on the issue of unity with the DRC
It is our humble conviction that the DRC should repudiate Prof Strauss as their official representative for the manner in which these greetings has been conveyed.