|APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA: CALVIN'S LEGACY?
by Blake Williams
Apartheid may be defined as an institutionalized form of racial segregation that exists in South Africa. Evolving over many years, apartheid became a reality in 1948 when the ruling right-wing National party instituted apartheid as a guise to stop the spread of communism in the region.(1)
Actually, apartheid came about to protect the white status quo from being eventually ousted from power by the non-white majority. Racist sentiments are deeply ingrained in the minds of the ruling whites. How did these sentiments become so ingrained that a racist society resulted in South Africa? One answer to this question must rest with the social impact that religion had upon South African society, in particular, the strict Calvinistic theology of the early European settlers. These settlers came to be known as the Afrikaners or Boers.(2)
Afrikaner Calvinism, though theologically similar to European Calvinism, differed from its European counterpart in that it helped ultimately to create an ultra-conservative society. European Calvinism became much more liberalized during the Enlightenment. On the other hand, South African Calvinists were isolated and, thus, were not affected by the cross-currents of change which occurred elsewhere. Afrikaner Calvinism, therefore, matured in somewhat of a cultural vacuum.
This variance between the two forms of Calvinism may be attributed to the three major factors that set Afrikaner Calvinism apart from its European counterpart. Perhaps the major factor involves the Boer peoples's relative isolation from new ideas pertaining to Calvinistic theology. This was a direct result of their geographical separation from the liberalizing influences that the Enlightenment had upon the European Calvinists.(3) The second equally important component was the long series of conflicts with the Bantu tribe and other indigenous peoples of this region.(4) These conflicts brought about the need for an orthodox position toward the natives who were viewed as a threat both physically and culturally. This was not the case in Europe where most people were of the Caucasian race. The last significant consideration to be discussed involves the assumption, by the Boers, that they were a chosen people of God, as opposed to the European Calvinistic belief of an individual calling from God.(5)
To comprehend these concepts further, a brief summary of some of the major tenets of Calvinism is necessary. The main assumptions of Calvin's theology that affected both Europeans and the South African Boers alike were the view of the sovereignty of God, the preeminence and authority of the Bible, and the doctrine of predestination.(6)
To adherents of Calvinism, ". . .God did not exist for man, but men for the sake of God."(7) God was personally involved in all aspects of life. He caused everything to happen in the universe, no matter how large or small the event. "For Calvinism it was impossible for a leaf to fall or a decision to be formed without the express command of the deity...."(8) Calvinism thus set forward a belief system in which the omnipotence of God was the preeminent view. This is most important in understanding the Calvinist mind, in which a sense of fatalism permeated, because to them God had foreordained all matters and was personally involved in all aspects of life.
The second factor prevalent in Calvinist theology dealt with Biblical authority. To Calvinists, Holy Scripture revealed the true and only nature of God. Calvin, like Martin Luther, was instrumental in placing final authority with the scriptures instead of with the church and many of its traditions.(9) This attitude toward scripture became manifest in an ultra-literal interpretation of the Bible by many early Calvinists. The early Dutch and French settlers of South Africa were Calvinists who believed that the Holy Bible, especially the Old Testament, revealed the one true and living God. This belief is a most important factor in understanding the Boer society and its legacy, apartheid.
The last major tenet of Calvinist theology to be discussed involves its view of predestination. According to Calvin,
... for they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or death.(10)
In addition to this belief, Calvin asserted that no matter how far an elect person strayed from God, he always would come back to Him at the appointed time.(11) This is the concept of irresistible grace, and it, along with predestination, played a key role in the formation of the Calvinist mind set.
How did these aspects of Calvinist thought play such a big role in the formation of a new society in South Africa? Who were these folk who became known as the Afrikaners?
From approximately 1690 to 1835, elements from Holland, Germany, France, and other countries mixed on South Africa soil and grew into a separate group or community who felt that they were a group apart from the Dutch East India Company or its officials.(12)
A new nationality was being forged in southern Africa.
These various peoples gradually evolved over time into a cohesive group who came to speak a new language known as Afrikaans. This language was an amalgamation of the various tongues of Europe and Africa, and further separated the Boers from their native lands. The Afrikaners also came to share the same faith, the Dutch Reformed variety of Calvinism. Along with a holding common language and faith, the Afrikaner or Boer peoples were nearly all engaged in a pastoral lifestyle which caused them to identify with the Israelites of old who were also pastoralists.(13)
Since the Afrikaners were in an isolated corner of the world at that time, their type of theology never genuinely underwent the changes that affected Calvinists in Europe. The Enlightenment had a liberalizing effect on both European society and theology alike. As a result of this trend, many European Calvinists began to interpret their economic success as the result of God's favor.(14)
As already noted, the Calvinist mind was one that adhered to a theology of predestination. Since this is a fatalistic viewpoint, whereby salvation cannot actually be assured, it was logical for these people to equate success with being in God's esteem, and thus included in His foreordained elect few.(15)
Afrikaner theology, on the other hand, became much more restrictive. In Europe, salvation was an individual matter, but in South Africa it became an aggregate course for the Boer people. This differentiation may be attributed to the one factor not found in Europe, difference in skin color.
In general, the Calvinist dichotomy between the chosen and the damned, those elected and those not, according to the predestined role, provided these early Afrikaners with an appropriate conceptual scheme for the interracial circumstances of the frontier.(16)
Another reason why the Afrikaners never developed theologically and socially as did the Europeans rests with their predominant emphasis on the Old Testament. In many instances, the Bible was the only book owned by the Boer settlers, so its influence was paramount. An example of this impact can be seen in that the "... churches were few and far between, but the Old Testament from which their initial Calvinism had been drawn now provided a manual of behavior entirely suited to the frontier Boers."(17) Afrikaner theology and society became very legalistic and harsh because of their emphasis on the Old Testament's codes of behavior such as the widely-known Biblical statement "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Thus, the Afrikaners began to identify with the Israelites of old.
An additional example of the Boers preoccupation with the Old Testament may be seen in historian Heribert Adam's statement that "... the backward Boers who, in an isolated corner of the world, missed the Enlightenment by being exposed only to the Old Testament rather than Voltaire."(18) Afrikaner society became very rigid in its structure because of their obsession with the Old Testament.
The second factor that differentiated Afrikaner Calvinism from its European counterpart involves the long series of conflicts with the native peoples of this area. The Boers perceived themselves as threatened both physically and culturally by the indigenous peoples of South Africa. These confrontations provided widespread support of the theory that if only some men are predestined to salvation, then they must naturally be the "superior" white Christians--not the pagan black and colored (those who were not of the Negro race) peoples of Africa.(19)
In Europe, however, there was no such sharp racial distinctions as existed in South Africa. This helps to explain why some European Calvinists focused on economic success as an outward sign that they were among the elect of God. Salvation was an individual matter to the European, and tended to be a constant source of anxiety since one could never be absolutely certain of his own salvation if one subscribed to the belief that only some were elected.(20)
The image of those indigenous peoples of South Africa as savages was one that was cultivated on both continents, but was not an idea peculiar to the Boers. As early as 1521, Johan Boemus, a German Hebrew scholar, argued that all barbarous peoples were descendants of Ham.(21) The descendants of Noah's son were cursed to be "... perpetual hewers of wood and drawers of water and... therefore are properly treated by open coercion."(22) While this belief was commonplace on both continents, only in South Africa did it become a reality.
As many Boers left the coastal areas to settle to the north, open coercion of the Africans led to warfare. This movement, which started in 1836, was called the Great Trek, and to many Afrikaners it was considered to be the most important event in South African history. The Boer people left the southern region of South Africa after large groups of English settlers came into the area. The British were viewed as too liberal in their attitude toward the natives, but more importantly, they were Anglican. These Church of England adherents were viewed by the fundamentalist Afrikaners as threats to their Calvinistic point of view, so the Boers chose to leave rather than mix with the British.(23)
Coincidentally, a great southward migration of black Bantu tribes occurred at nearly the same time as the Great Trek. With this unified movement of Boers to the north, there arose a feeling among them that they were retracing the Biblical account of the Exodus into the promised land. The Boers also came to view the Bantu as like those tribes spoken of in the Biblical account of the conquest of Canaan, so the Boers chose to eradicate the indigenous peoples as had the Israelites (24)
The Great Trek proved to be the unifying movement that created the bond necessary to defeat the Bantu tribes. Since the non-whites were obviously damned, according to the Afrikaners interpretation of Calvinism, the natives must naturally take a subservient role in society. After long conflicts with the Boers, the native tribes were in fact relegated to a position of subordination to the Boers. Apartheid had its beginning during this time period.(25)
Thus, Afrikaner Calvinism provided the vehicle whereby salvation became a collective process for the Boer peoples. The primary basis for this supposition lies with the assumption that the Afrikaners were threatened by the native peoples as they came into contact with them. Noticing their physical differences from the black Bantu and coloured Hottentot (who are not Negro) peoples, the Boers developed an ultra-restrictive or literal interpretation of the Old Testament in order to justify their treatment of those people who they considered to be inferior. The Boer people thus clung to a primitive form of Calvinism as opposed to their European counterparts, whose belief system evolved and became more liberalized.(26)
The final and major difference between Afrikaner and European Calvinism rests with the Boers who claimed to be a chosen people of God.(27)
The Afrikaners saw in their own lives reflected in the Chronicles and Exodus of the Old Testament and, like the Hebrew tribes, came to feel that theirs was a special destiny. Like the ancient Israelites, the Afrikaners were patriarchal and semi-nomadic pastoralists, wandering in a harsh environment, and they too developed a sense of mission as representatives of the true Faith in confrontation with hostile disbelievers. Because of this Biblical identification, the Old Testament became a virtual manual of behavior as the Afrikaners moved increasingly away from the theological guidance of the organized church.(28)
An illustration of the Boer belief that they were the chosen people of God can be seen in the following passage,
... the Nylstroon (Nile River), a small river in the Transvaal, was thought to be the Nile, and the ancient ruins in the Israelitishe kloof (canyon of the Israelites) were believed to have been left by the Hebrew tribes during the wanderings.(29)
Thus, this concept of themselves as a chosen people of God became deeply ingrained. The Boers actually believed that they were the heirs of the Covenant with God as described in the Old Testament.
Another example of why the Afrikaners believed that they were the chosen people of God rests with their conviction that God had personally taken a direct hand in shaping their society.(30) This can also explain how the Boers collectively justified slavery, harsh treatment of blacks, and later, the social realization of discrimination, apartheid.
In Europe, there was among the Calvinists no real concept of a chosen people as was the case in South Africa. European Calvinists were located in the various countries throughout the continent. The Europeans held to their belief of an individual calling from God. Since to the European adherents of Calvinism, no one could really know if he was one of the elect, efficient work in one's position in society could be seen as the readiest means of assuring salvation.(31) Calvinism thus bred an individualistic society upon the European continent, as opposed to the group consciousness that arose in South Africa.
On the other hand, the Afrikaner peoples really saw themselves as a group who were the chosen people of God and extended this supposition to include the belief that their society was sanctified by God. Traditional behavior, attitudes, values, and institutions became moral imperatives in Afrikaner society as a result of these assumptions. Unlike the Boers, other European Calvinists did not develop these theories because their society and theology were not closed. Though both cultures believed in the basic tenets of Calvinism, they differed in their interpretations and in the secular implications relative to those interpretations.
In conclusion, Afrikaner Calvinism kept to its primitive roots because the liberalizing influences of the European Enlightenment were not able to reach the isolated Boer peoples in South Africa. As a direct result of the dominant Old Testament theology, there arose the belief that the Afrikaners were superior to the "obviously damned" Bantu and other indigenous peoples such as the Hottentots and the Bushmen. Through a long series of conflicts with these natives, a bond arose within the Boer society whereby they claimed to be a sanctified, chosen people of God. These factors caused Afrikaner Calvinism, though theologically similar to European Calvinism, to affect Boer society much differently than was the case among their counterparts in Europe. Thus, with these considerations in mind, apartheid may be viewed as a by-product of the strict-Calvinistic theology of the European settlers who came to be known as Afrikaners or Boers.
1. Frederick Hale, "South Africa: Defending the Laager," Current History 84 (April 1985): 157.
2. Ibid, 158.
3. Randall G. Stokes, "Afrikaner Calvinism and Economic Action: The Weberian Thesis in South Africa," American Journal of Sociology 81, no. 1 (1975): 74.
4. J.D. Omer-Cooper, History of South Africa (London: James Currey Ltd., 1987), 44-51.
5. Stokes, "Afrikaner Calvinism," 75.
6. J.H.S. Reid, ed., Calvin: Theological Treatises, The Library of Christian Classics, eds., John Baille, John T. McNeill, and Henry P. Van Dusen, vol. 22 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), 16.
7. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic. and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), 102-103.
8. Lacy Baldwin Smith, The Horizon Book of Maker's of Modern Thought (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1972), 85.
9. Hugh T. Kerr, ed., A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 13-19.
10. Ibid, 129.
11. Ibid, 137.
12. F.A. Van Jaarsveld, The Awakening of Afrikaner Nationalism. 1868-1881 (Capetown, South Africa: Human and Roussea, 1961), 2.
14. Andre Du Toit, "No Chosen People: The Myth of Origins of Afrikaner Nationalism and the Calvinistic Racial Ideology," American Historical Review 88 (October, 1983): 922.
15. Stokes, "Afrikaner Calvinism," 74.
16. Du Toit, "No Chosen People," 925.
17. Sheila Patterson, The Last Trek. A Study of the Boer People and the Afrikaner Nation (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD., 1957), 18.
18. Heribert Adam and Herman Gilomer, Ethnic Power Mobilized. Can South Africa Change? (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 17.
19. Stokes, "Afrikaner Calvinism," 74.
20. Weber, Protestant Ethic, 112.
21. George M. Fredrickson, White SuDremacv. A ComDarative Study in American and South African History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 10.
22. Du Toit, "No Chosen People," 927.
23. Gene Farmer, "South Africa Torn by Fury," Life 48 (11 April, 1960): 12-13.
25. Van Jaarsveld, Afrikaner Nationalism, 22-24.
26. Farmer, "South Africa," 12-13.
27. Stokes, "Afrikaner Calvinism," 73-74.
28. Ibid, 75.
29. Stokes, "Afrikaner Calvinism," 74.
30. Ibid, 73.
31. Kemper Fullerton, "Calvinism and Capitalism," The Harvard Theological Review 21 (February 1928): 18-19.
Return to NURELWEB or ACADEMIC ARTICLES or AFRICA PAPERS
CHRISTIANITY AND APARTHEID:
An Introductory Bibliography
[First published in The Reformed Journal, April 1980; republished in
The Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, No. 32, September 1980]
South Africa is in the news, and Christians are called upon to explain the relationship between Christianity and apartheid. Critics of apartheid often blame Christians for its existence claiming that racial oppression in South Africa is the fruit of Christianity. How are Christians to respond?
This annotated bibliography is an attempt to remind the Christian community that the question of the relationship between Christianity and apartheid is hardly new, that already a large literature exists dealing with the subject. It is written in the hope that Christians who are truly concerned about South Africa will pause before rushing into print and will acknowledge the work of others before them. It is also written to draw the attention of the Christian community to writers who have al ready struggled with what is one of the most pressing issues of today.
II BASIC WORKS ON SOUTH AFRICA
Few people have the time to study the South African situation in detail. They therefore need to know where to find up-to-date and reliable materials that will give them an overall picture. A good place to begin is Leo Marquard’s The Peoples and Policies of South Africa (fourth edition. London: Oxford University Press. 1969). This is a comprehensive introduction to South African issues written by a well known liberal Afrikaner who exhibits great understanding of all the peoples of Southern Africa. The 1)00k begins with an historical introduction followed chapters dealing with race relations. politics. education, religion ,and other issues. In discussing religion. Marquard concentrates on the attitudes of white churches towards apartheid and succeeds in giving the reader the feel of Afrikaner Calvinism.
A rarer, more scholarly, but less comprehensive book is Leonard M. Thompson’s Politics in the Republic of South Africa (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966). Written by a leading South African historian, the book uses the latest interpretations of South African history as well as the tools of modern political anlysis. At a more popular level, G.H.L. le May’s Black and Whe in South Africa (Poulton: Purnel and Sons, 1971) provides a superbly illustrated and easily read introduction to South African affairs. For those who want to hear the South African ease as stated by a supporter of apartheid, David de Villiers’ The Case for South Africa (London: Tom Stacey Ltd., 1970) is an excellent introduction.
The independent South African Institute of Race Relations published a short booklet compiled by Muriel Horrell, South Africa: Basic Facts and Figures (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1973). This is invaluable for quick, reliable information about modern South Africa. In addition, the Institute publishes an annual Survey of Race Relations (S.A.I.R.R., Johannesburg), also compiled by Muriel Horrell and the research staff of the Institute. This is indispensable for anyone seriously interested in keeping up to date with events in South Africa. It contains information about trends, wages, conditions of employment, political developments, religious affairs, and a host of other issues as they verge on race relations. The approach taken in the Survey is to preserve the strictest neutrality by presenting well-documented facts while leaving their interpretation to the reader. The South African Government publishes an Official Yearbook of the Republic of South Africa (Perskor, Johannesburg). This appears In alternate years in English and Afrikaans and contains a host of statistics, diagrams, and other valuable information, including official interpretations of events in South Africa. Finally, Edgar B. Brookes’ Apartheid; A Documentary Study of Modern South Africa (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1968) is a useful source for documentary evidence of the development of apartheid and reactions to it within South Africa.
Two books which place the South African situation in a theological context are Ernie Regehr’s Perceptions of Apartheid (Kitehener, Ont.:Between the Lines, 1979) and John W. de Gruchy’s The Church Struggle in South Africa (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979). Regehr’s work contains a vast amount of information about South African society and the role of the churches in it. It enables the reader to cover a lot of ground quickly in its highlighting of significant movements and events. However, it lacks the depth of John de Gruchy’s The Church Struggle in South Africa, Dc Gruchy writes as a church historian who has been deeply involved in many of the events he records. As a result he brings to his book an understanding of the situation which is missing from most hooks about religion and society in South Africa. Although more narrowly conceived than Regehr’s book, de Gruchys is less confusing because of its concentration on church history and more valuable for Christians wishing to gain an insight into the way South Africans think. The books supplement each other and go a long way towards meeting a very real need for reliable information about the reaction of Christians to the system of apartheid.
III CHRISTIANITY AND RACE RELATIONS WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO SOUTH AFRICA
Books dealing with race relations in South Africa are legion. Those examining the relationship between Christianity and apartheid in any detail are much fewer. These latter works may be conveniently considered in the following groups: (a) those containing position statements by churches or church-related organizations; (b) works by leading South African theologians; and (c) books originating outside of South Africa but written from a Christian perspective. But before looking at any of these, we should consider three books by committed evangelicals which treat the question of race relations generally.
The best known of those is All One in Christ, edited by Patrick Sookhdeo (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1974). This work approaches a variety of questions relating to race relations from an evangelical perspective. It contains ten lively chapters, three of which have a direct bearing upon South African issues. These chapters are Geoffrey Grogan’s “The Biblical Doctrine of Race”; David Bronnert’s “A History of the Church’s Attitude to Race”; and David Truby’s “InterRacial Marriage.” Both Grogan and Truby deal in a interesting way with crucial biblical texts while Bronnert sets the whole discussion in an historical context.
A lesser known work, which goes into far deeper biblical exegesis, is Herbert Oliver’s No Flesh Shall Glory (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1959). This book is of particular interest because it is written by a black American Calvinist. Oliver argues out of a deep respect for, and knowledge of, the Reformed faith and has a burning desire to show that Christianity and all forms of racial prejudice are incompatible. A particular valuable feature of this book is its discussion of various theological views and the interpretation of leading theologians. By implication the book also discusses issues arising from nationalism as well as from racism.
Another Calvinist writer to tackle this issue is James Oliver Buswell in his book Slavery, Segregation and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964). This book is divided into two sections. In Part One Buswell discusses the issue of slavery, and in Part Two he discusses segregation. Buswell gives a lucid and well- documented account of pro-slavery arguments, considering in some detail the claim that Negroes are not fully human, He goes on to sympathetically treat the dilemma of Christian slave owners and the activities of Christian opponents of slavery. Against the background of these attitudes, Buswell goes on to discuss segregation, which he argues must be seen in the light of both slavery and the social disruption created by the slave system. Like Oliver he sees racial questions as not simply issues of color but as arguments about the right of one group of men to dominate and subdue another. He forcibly argues that such domination is totally opposed to the teachings of the Gospel and completely unscriptural. At the end of his book Buswell provides an excellent bibliography allowing the reader to pursue his arguments in greater detail.
A Dutch Calvinist view of racism is to be found in Johannes Verkuyl’s Break Down the Walls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973). It begins with a stimulating discussion of race and the biblical understanding of racial differences. It then places modern racism in the context of Western imperialism and discusses in general the response of churches to racism. In his final section Verkuyl discusses the South African situation at length and the role of Christian churches in combating apartheid. This is a provocative, carefully argued work by a controversial theologian who has been closely involved with the South African situation over a number of years.
One of the first books to discuss the specific question of Christianity and apartheid was Christian Principles in Multi-Racial South Africa (Pretoria: Dutch Reformed Church Publisher, 1953). This is a collection of papers delivered at a church conference held in Pretoria in 1953 which involved leading Dutch Reformed theologians and church leaders from other Christian traditions in South Africa. The aim of the conference was to find a common Christian approach to racial issues. It contains important and enlightening essays and is certainly the place where any serious study of Christianity and apartheid must begin.
This volume opens with a most moving essay by B.B. Keet in which he bares his heart as an Afrikaner seeking a truly Christian understanding of social reality in South Africa. But if Keet rejected apartheid as a Christian option, other theologians did not, and their case is well stated in essays by C.B. Brink, M.W. Retief, and T.N. Hanekom. Closing the volume are thirty-five pages of discussion which further illumine the issues and offer insight into the thinking of South African Christians on race.
In 1954 another conference of church leaders from various churches was held in Johannesburg, which led in 1955 to the publication of God’s Kingdom in Multi-Racial South Africa (Johannesburg: Voortrekers). In tone these papers are more generalized than those delivered at the Pretoria conference. Although they contain much implicit criticism of government policies, the papers on both sides of the issue lack bite. Nevertheless, the report contains some valuable remarks on racial issues generally and interesting interpretations of biblical texts.
In 1958, David Paton published Church and Race in South Africa (London: S.C.M.). This collection of documents relating to the development of the policies of the Nationalist Government in South Africa contains many valuable items. In particular, it reprints extracts from a report by the ad hoc Commission on Race Relations of the Dutch Reformed Church, as well as a long, extract from a lecture by Professor B.B. Keet in which he criticizes apartheid as unchristian.
A significant step forward in Christian criticism of apartheid was taken with the publication of Delayed Action (Pretoria: NC. Kerkboekhandel, 1960) by Professor AS. Geyser and ten other leading Afrikaner churchmen. This work, which led to heresy trials against its authors and the foundation of the Christian Institute, roundly denounced apartheid as anti-Christian. So great was the potential impact among Afrikaners that in his New Year’s message Dr. H. Verwoerd, then Prime Minister, warned members of the ruling National Party that it was being attacked by “enemies within.” But Verwoerd need not have worried, because external events overtook South African developments, and the tragedy of the Congo unified white support for apartheid.
Shortly after the publication of Delayed Action, the Cottesloe Consultation (Johannesburg: Transvaal Printing Co., 1961) report was published. The Cottesloe Consultation was a conference of leading South African churchmen organized by the World Council of Churches and held in the Cottesloe district of Johannesburg in December 1960. At this highly significant meeting, church leaders from all major Christian traditions met for the last time trying to reach a common policy on racial issues. The attempt was almost successful, and the report is remarkable for the extent of agreement reached between Nationalist and non-Nationalist theologians. Still, the Cottesloe Consultation ultimately failed, and the Nationalists turned against the World Council of Churches and all associated with them for their hostility to apartheid.
In the report are summaries of the discussions: “The Christian Understanding of the Gospel and the Relationships Among Races”; “An Understanding of Contemporary History from a Christian Standpoint”; and “The Witness of the Church with Regard to Justice, Mission and Co-operation.” The report raises many vital issues and presents important interpretations of biblical evidence.
In 1967 the Lutheran Church in South Africa held its own conference on politics and Christianity at its Pastoral Institute in Mapumulo, Natal. The conference centered on the theme of “the two kingdoms as a basis for a Lutheran participation in a possible socio-political witness Papers given at this meeting were later reproduced in mimeographed form under the unrevealing title Lutheran Theological College (Mapumulo, 1968). This collection is divided into two sections: (a) Theological Discussion, and (b) The Present Scene. A valuable aspect of the collection is the publication of an enlarged version of a lecture given by Dr. W. Kistner on “The Interrelation Between Religious and Political Thinking with Regard to the South African Racial Problem, 1652-1967.” Other essays in the work tackle the problem of church and state relations, missionary policy, nationalism, and similar issues from a distinctly Lutheran viewpoint.
The most recent publication in this field is Human Relations and the South African Scene in Light of Scripture (Cape Town: D.R.C. Publishers, 1976). This is an official translation of the authoritative report Ras, Volk en Nasie en Volkereverhoudinge die hg van die Skrif (literally translated “Race, People and Nation and People: United in the Light of the Scripture”) which has the approval of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church. Clearly, this is one of the most important documents available for a discussion of contemporary attitudes among Christians in South Africa. The report has six sections:
1. General remarks, which include a consideration of scriptural data on race;
2. “The Church, the Kingdom and the Oikoumene”;
3. The Church and social justice;
4. The Church and missions;
5. Marriage and mixed marriage, and
6. Concluding remarks.
Much of the discussion is unobjectionable even to hardened critics of apartheid. In fact the report goes out of its way to be true to Scripture and to deny claims such as those which seek to identify Africans with the children of Ham. It gives a balanced summary of scriptural teaching on race and points out that in fact the Bible has very little to say about race in our modern sense. Yet if it rejects crude racialism, it does attempt to justify South African policies by an appeal to cultural diversity and comes out strongly against the possibility of interracial marriages in South Africa on the supposedly pragmatic grounds that they are “unworkable.” Thus by its pronouncements this report strongly commits Afrikaner Christians to supporting the policies of the Nationalist Government.
Moving away from works originating from a group effort to the works of individual authors in South Africa we should note Professor HE. Keet’s Whither South Africa? (Stellenbosch University Publishers, 1956), a stunning denouncement of apartheid. Professor Keet submits to close scrutiny various arguments used to support the policy and rejects them one by one as unchristian and unjust. He then argues, from a consideration of the nature of the church and the effects of apartheid on social life, that apartheid not only threatens to destroy the Christian witness in South Africa but that it will ultimately destroy those it is meant to protect, namely, the Afrikaners themselves.
In the same year this attack on apartheid appeared, an equally vigorous pro-apartheid booklet, Apartheid — Racial Segregation — What Saith the Scripture (Vereeniging: Ecclesia Evangelistic Group, 1956) was published by F.W.C. Meser. In this slim work the author seeks to justify apartheid on scriptural grounds which will appeal to evangelical Christians. A more scholarly attempt to do the same thing is Professor S. Du Toit’s Holy Scripture and Race Relations (Potchefstroom: Pro lIege, 1960). Here the argument rests on the case for national identities as part of God’s providential care for mankind. How successful du Toit is depends on how much weight may be placed on the numerous references in the Bible to “nations” and what these references mean. The most thorough defense of South African racial policies on a scriptural basis is to be found in Professor J.C.G. Kotze’s Principle and Practice in Race Relations (Stellenbosch: S.C.A., 1962). Biblical exegesis and reflection on Reformed theology are combined with practical considerations to produce a guarded and critical yet certain defense of apartheid.
Yet another scholarly attempt to defend South African policies on Christian principles is WA. Landman’s A Plea for Understanding (Cape Town: Ned. Geref. Kerk Uitgewers, 1968), which was written in reply to criticisms of Dutch Reformed attitudes by the Christian Reformed Church in America. Landman states his case with care, admitting areas of difficulty and errors of judgment but pleading for a right to be heard and attempting a positive response to outside criticism.
Many Christians outside of South Africa have indeed felt duty bound to protest against South African policies. An early contribution to this body of literature was an article by the Dutch Calvinist leader J.H. Bavinck in the Free University Quarterly (Amsterdam: Free University, July 1956) entitled “The Race Problem in South Africa.’ Bavinck gives an interesting analysis of the South African situation and concludes that while Christians may argue about the merits of apartheid as a theory, it is certainly objectionable in practice. An emotive response to this sort of argument is to be found in Paul B. Smith’s The Question of South Africa (Toronto:People’s Press, 1961). Smith, a well- known Canadian evangelical, defends apartheid on the basis of things he had seen on a short visit to South Africa.
In 1965 the British Council of Churches issued its report The Future of South Africa (London: S.C.M.) Here the South African situation is discussed and condemned as unchristian. The report then goes on to suggest ways in which peaceful change may be brought about in Southern Africa. This approach is revised in a second report, submitted to the British Council of Churches in 1970: Violence in Southern Africa (London: S.C.M., 1970). As the title implies, the hope of peaceful change has waned, and violence is seen as a viable option for Christians to effect change in what is seen as an unyielding situation of oppression.
Paul Schrotenboer, General Secretary of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, published his own interpretation of Southern African affairs in Conflict and Hope in South Africa (Hamilton: Guardian Publishing, Co., 1969). The great value of this book is that it presents a highly sympathetic account by a leading Calvinist who although critical is essentially hopeful and pro-Afrikaner. An evangelical assessment of modern South Africa is to be found in the American evangelical journal Inside (Boston: March/May 1972).
More recently, The Other Side (Box 2236, Philadelphia, Pa., 19144, U.S.A., May 1977) produced a challenging edition devoted to South Africa and the responsibility of American Christians. Christianity and Crisis (537 West l2lst St., New York, December 1977) also challenged its readers with a provocative issue on South Africa. Not to be outdone, Christianity Today (Box 354, Dover, N.J., 07801, June 21, 1978) had its own number, with impressionistic accounts of the South African situation by Christians. In a number of pieces the Reformed Journal (255 Jefferson, SE., Grand Rapids, MI, 49503, U.S.A.) has given its readers an understanding of Afrikaner society and insight into their ways of thought. One article of interest is Nicholas Wolterstorff’s “Calvinists in Potchefstroom” (November 1975), A highly moving account of an American Christian’s experience of living as a missionary in South Africa is to be found in Judy Boppell Peace’s The Roy Child is Dying (Downers Grove: Inter- Varsity Press, 1978).
Five other books deserve mention in this section in The Two Faces of Africa (Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter, 1964), Ben Marais, a leading Afrikaner theologian, evaluates developments in Africa from a Christian perspective and criticizes apartheid as unchristian. Ambrose Reeve’s South Africa — Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Challenge to Christians (London: Gollancz, 1962) offers a highly emotional criticism of South African policies. Trevor Huddleston’s Naught For Your Comfort (London: Collins, 1956) is a classic. We should also note a booklet by HE. Isherwood entitled Religion and Racial Controversy (Brighton: The Racial Preservation Society, 1970). Isherwood defends apartheid and segregation on biblical grounds, thus reminding us that Britain has its own supporters of this policy. Finally, Albert van den Heuvel’s Shalom and Combat (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1979) is a moving testimony to the struggle of one man against racism. In it the reader is shown how van den Heuvel came to his own understanding of the duties of Christians in combating racism. This book is valuable in helping Christians who feel uneasy about the stand of by the World Council of Churches on racism to understand its position.