06/15/2010 12:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reform Church President Pushes For More Social Justice

By Matt Vande Bunte / The Grand Rapids Press
Religion News Service

(RNS) Emboldened by the approval of a new church confession and his observations from touring the globe this past year, the Reformed Church in America's second black president wants the church to be a bigger advocate for social justice.

Speaking Friday (June 11) during the RCA's 204th General Synod at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, the Rev. James Seawood said the church has been negligent in its promotion of social justice both at home and abroad. The church must practice a "ministry of presence" that builds the kingdom of God "from the bottom up," he said.

"We have not listened as we should to learn with the ear and heart of Jesus about the need for justice, nor have we acted as we should as his hands and feet to ensure justice comes," said Seawood, General Synod president.

In his proposal to craft a social justice strategy drawing on organizations including Bread for the World, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Sojourners, Seawood referenced the Belhar Confession, a declaration of human unity and reconciliation drafted amid apartheid in 1980s South Africa.

After adopting the Belhar statement last year as the RCA's fourth standard of unity, its first addition since 1619, General Synod on Thursday ratified the confession with a 163-41 vote.

The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, church's general secretary, in his annual report Friday said the Belhar Confession "will shape the future witness and life" of the RCA, which has seen membership decline 8 percent since 2003 as it transitions from "being a settled denomination to becoming a missional church" as part of a 10-year revitalization process.

Among the topics at the meeting, which runs through Tuesday, are proposals to sever ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other denominations that embrace gay and lesbian clergy.