The influential Dutch Reformed Church, whose religious teachings helped form the ideological basis of apartheid, declared Wednesday that South Africa’s system of racial separation and minority white rule is morally wrong and has done the country and its people grievous harm.
Although the church synod stopped short of condemning apartheid as heresy and a sin, as liberal clerics demanded, its declaration leaves the National Party government without any moral justification for maintaining a system in which the white minority continues to exclude three-quarters of the country’s population from political power.
“The church is convinced that forced separation of people cannot be seen as a prescription from the Bible,” synod delegates said in a resolution adopted in Cape Town. “Such an attempt to justify it from the Bible must be recognized as an error and rejected.
“The church is convinced that the use of apartheid as a socio-political system which causes injustice to people and incorrectly gives one group preference over the other cannot be accepted on Christian ethical grounds because it militates against brotherly love and justice, and it inevitably affects the human dignity of those involved.”
‘Change of Conscience’
If apartheid, an Afrikaans word that means literally apartness, has in practice meant racial discrimination, the synod said, “it is in conflict with the principles of neighborly love and justice.”
Prof. Johan Heyns, the church’s new moderator, told reporters later that the church has gone through “an examination and change of conscience” in its intense and often heated discussions of apartheid.
The church, which counts most politicians of the ruling National Party among its members, will now assume its “prophetic task” of admonishing the country’s rulers to abandon apartheid as “contravening the moral norms of Scripture,” Heyns said.
“Just as individuals can undergo a ripening process, so the church can undergo a specific moral-ethical ripening,” he added, explaining the reversal in the church’s teaching of more than four decades. “That which has become known as apartheid is not a biblical imperative and cannot be scripturally justified.”
Beyond Botha’s Position
Although other political, social and economic factors have contributed to apartheid and racial polarization here, the synod said, “inasmuch as the church and its members have a share in this, it confesses it with great humility and remorse.”
This declaration takes the 1.4-million-member church, often described as “the National Party at prayer,” well beyond President Pieter W. Botha’s position that apartheid is “outmoded” but justified in South Africa’s historical circumstances.