JOHANNESBURG, So. Africa (NIRR) – Apartheid is being dismantled piece by piece in South Africa by new laws and policies, but not until recently has there been visible evidence of a change in the root cause of racial strife in the nation. Leaders in white churches in South Africa have begun to acknowledged that apartheid is a sin, agreeing that attempts to defend it are heretical, and asking forgiveness for having helped to maintain it.
The statements of repentance came during a meeting in early March when key leaders of white, black, and mixed-race branches of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa discussed racial problems. Observers see the results of that meeting as a first step to dealing with the roots of apartheid.
Historically, the “establishment” white Dutch Reformed Church has provided the theological underpinnings of apartheid for the ruling three million Afrikaners – using the Bible erroneously to promote a form of white supremacy. The church, with about one million adult members, was expelled from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) in the early 1980s after the WARC declared apartheid a heresy. The church was told it could not be reinstated until it agreed with this statement.
Since 80 percent of the country’s legislators belong to the church, Western analysts said the actions of Dutch Reformed leaders this month could be a significant step toward dismantling apartheid. However, non-whites at the meeting complained that their white brethren, in failing to address specific racial-separation ills and practices, did not go far enough in rejecting apartheid. Indeed, the whites later in the meeting seemed to soften their position, pointing out they had condemned “discriminatory apartheid” rather than apartheid in all its forms, according to press reports.
They also refused to embrace a strongly worded anti-apartheid statement adopted by the non-white groups, whose churches have about 1.8 million members. And a week later a high-level policy-making commission of their church said it would not support resistance to apartheid and appointed a committee to study the issue before committing the church to an official position. The meeting was sponsored by the Reformed Ecumenical Council, a conservative Michigan-based counterpart to WARC.