The Belhar document reads more of Karl Marx than it does of Jesus Christ. This can be seen in the way that the Belhar exudes the stereotypical liberation theology motifs. Drawing from European “theologies” and Marxism, liberation theologians developed their own theology by radically reinterpreting Scripture with “a bias toward the poor.” We see this in the Belhar with its statement
- that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.
As we have noted previously, this statement by itself, were we living in a Church that understood God’s Revelation, would be enough to end the whole Belhar project. God is only God in a special way to His people, regardless of their social status or class ranking. God does not love the poor in Christ more than He loves the rich in Christ, and God does not love the poor outside of Christ more than He loves the rich outside of Christ. God hates workers of iniquity, and workers of iniquity are all those who have not sought peace with God through Jesus Christ alone. Only on an insane Marxist liberation playground is God “in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged,” though God is in a special way the God of the poor in Christ when they are attacked by the rich outside of Christ, and He is God in a special way to the destitute in Christ when they are persecuted by the rich outside of Christ, and He is God in a special way to the wronged in Christ when they are persecuted by the wrong ones outside of Christ.
The Belhar and Liberation Theology: Presupposing White Bias
Liberation theology also begins with the premise that all theology is biased – that is, particular theologies reflect the economic and social classes of those who developed them. Accordingly, the traditional theology predominant in North America and Europe is said to “perpetuate the interests of white, North American/European, capitalist males.”
That this is part and parcel of the Belhar agenda is seen by an overture to Synod that is coming out of Classis Lake Erie. In that overture, we have all kinds of the kind of language that is mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The Overture from George Vander Weit (Akron CRC and now Lake Erie) reads:
Thus, even while we consider a document that we hope will improve race relations among us, racism is evident both in the comments of Anglos and ethnic minorities. . . .
No matter what we do with the Belhar, our very discussion of it reveals how insidious and pervasive the matter of racism among us is. . . .
The Akron CRC council overtures Classis Lake Erie to overture Synod 2012:
A. To call the denomination to repent of the personal and institutional racism that causes separation between fellow members, excludes some from full participation in the life of our denomination and hinders the denomination in achieving the diversity goals it has set for itself.
Note that, according to this overture, racism is evident in the comments of both Anglos and ethnic minorities. This sounds like a concession inasmuch as “ethnic minorities” are mentioned but the denomination is predominantly white; it does not take much to realize where the real problem is in the denomination. Moreover, according to this overture, racism in the CRC is “insidious and pervasive” among us, and the CRC is guilty of “personal and institutional racism.” All of this is the language of liberation theology. There is more of Marx than Christ behind the Belhar.
The Belhar and Liberation Theology: Presupposing the Necessity of a Redistributionist Mode
We are really starting to see how the Belhar reflects liberation theology. The traditional theology that liberation theology is seeking to overthrow allegedly “supports and legitimates a political and economic system – democratic capitalism – which is responsible for exploiting and impoverishing the Third World.”
The Belhar Confession necessarily moves us in this direction when, in section 4, it ascribes the presence of poverty and destitution in human society to injustice alone (in apparent contradiction to passages such as Proverbs 6:10-11; 11:24; 21:17; 23:21; 28:19) and asserts that the victims of this “injustice” are “in a special way” God’s people. This twofold assertion necessarily leads the church to two conclusions:
That the central work of God and his church in this fallen world is a work of justice rather than a work of mercy, and that “doing justice” is principally the work of redistributing the material goods of this world, taking from those who have more and giving to those (God’s special people) who have less.
The Accra Confession (2004), which is the philosophical, theological, and political offspring of the Belhar Confession (1986), takes this position to its logical conclusion by making belief in this kind of public policy an element of true faith. It also proclaims that “neo-liberal” economics, which it defines, in part, by belief in private property rights and free market methods, must be rejected by all Reformed Christians “in the name of the gospel.”
The connection between the Belhar and Accra Confessions is well-attested and cannot be ignored. In fact, the Colloquium on the Accra and Belhar Confessions, held on January 15-17, 2010, outlined this connection. Their concluding document, approved by its participants, including Peter Noteboom of the CRC, makes this position a matter of public record within the Reformed community. Any assertion that we can adopt the Belhar without essentially adopting the Accra is shortsighted.
Once again, on this score we see that the Belhar grows out of the soil of Marxist liberation theology.
The Belhar and Liberation Theology: Shared Methodological Considerations
Karl Marx once famously said, “The point is not merely to understand the world, but to change it.” Liberation theology follows this music, and the Belhar serves as a choir singing this tune.
Gustavo Gutierrez, author of A Theology of Liberation, provides us with a representative methodology. Like other liberationists, Gutierrez rejects the idea that theology is a systematic collection of timeless and culture-transcending truths that remains static for all generations. Rather, theology is in flux; it is a dynamic and ongoing exercise involving contemporary insights into knowledge, humanity, and history.
Gutierrez emphasizes that theology is not just to be learned, but is to be done. In his thinking, “praxis” is the starting point for theology. Praxis (from the Greek prasso: “I work”) involves revolutionary action on behalf of the poor and oppressed – and out of this, theological perceptions will continually emerge. The theologian must therefore be immersed in the struggle for transforming society and proclaim his message from that point.
In the theological process, then, praxis must always be the first stage; theology is the second stage. Theologians are not to be mere theoreticians, but practitioners who participate in the ongoing struggle to liberate the oppressed.
That the Belhar partakes of this Marxist liberation theology mindset is seen in the fact that the Belhar is one lengthy document that says very little on theology but is long on praxis, the goal of which is to change the world. Now, in earlier entries, we saw that the change for which the Belhar is looking is open to interpretation. Since we are seeing what a Marxist document it is, it should be clear that the change is not a change in the direction of biblical Christianity, but a change towards socialism.
The Belhar and Liberation Theology: Shared Views of Sin
Using methodologies such as Gutierrez’s, liberationists interpret sin not primarily from an individual and private perspective, but from a social and economic perspective. Liberation theologian Gutierrez explains that “sin is not considered as an individual, private, or merely interior reality. Sin is regarded as a social, historical fact, the absence of brotherhood and love in relationships among men.”1
Once again, we see the Belhar just boiling over with this kind of language. Repeatedly in the Belhar we hear of “the absence of brotherhood and love in relationships among men,” with its constant bleating about a unity whose foundation is left undefined and whose ties are left unknown — except for some vague concept of “justice.” Also, we hear the Belhar regard sin as a social, historical fact when it inveighs against the “rich” and asserts
that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
As Gutierrez explains, sin is not merely an interior reality; according to the Belhar, it is a social and historical fact.
In observing just these few aspects of classic liberation Marxist theology, we can see that the Belhar document ought not to be received as a confessional document for the CRC and, furthermore, should not even be received as a contemporary testimony. Biblical Christianity does not equal Marxism, neither as a confessional document nor as a contemporary testimony.
Full text of the Belhar Confession here.
Previous discussion of the Belhar Confession on F&H here.
- Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1971), p. 175. ↩