Surely, the Afrikaner gods must be crazy

2010-10-16 09:25

South African Christian churches that regard their God as an apartheid-supporting deity are dying out. Last week, more than 16 years after the apartheid regime was replaced by a democracy, the apartheid-in-prayer ­brigade lost one of its last and staunchest members.

The Hervormde Kerk (HK) synod in Pretoria saw the light and declared apartheid a sin.

A majority of 245 delegates, by a show of hands, voted in favour of a resolution stating that “apartheid cannot be theologically justified”.

Who cares, you may ask, about an apartheid debate in a small, politically conservative Afrikaner protestant church in 2010? The HK is, in fact, the second largest of what is known as the three Afrikaner “sister churches”.

For many decades, the leaders of this trio defined and committed to paper the biblical justification for apartheid which allowed their members to condone its ­injustice.

The biggest and most politically ­powerful sister (in terms of members, presence in the apartheid Parliament and prime ministers in the Union Buildings) was the Dutch Reformed Church, also widely referred to as the “National Party at prayer”.

The smallest was the Reformed Churches, known as the “doppers”, a name that in this case does not refer to the excessive use of alcohol.

Both the Dutch Reformed and the ­Reformed Churches saw the political writing on the wall before the end of the previous millennium and deleted the apartheid sophistry from their theology.

But the leaders of HK, a church which refers to itself as a volkskerk (church ­exclusively for the Afrikaner volk), ­declined to take the risk.

And so it remained one of three South African churches who still pray to a god whose textbook, they insist, teaches church members the doctrine of racial purity.

Who, you may ask again, cares about a discredited theology of a bygone era, subscribed to by only a handful of whites, whose obstinate apartheid theology is definitely not missed in present-day ­ecumenical gatherings?

Journalists do. We never had a ­telephone number for heaven, so we were ­dependent on theologians to explain what we could not understand in the ­decades when you attended a sister church synod to record often vicious ­debates conducted by several hundred men in dark suits.

They were the ones who defined what church members were obliged to believe in in terms of apartheid.

In the late 1970s, I was lectured by ­Johan Heyns, professor of dogmatics and therefore a member of an elite group of academics who dissected the Bible and told others how to believe what was written in it.

I asked why the conscience of church members was regarded as bound by the decisions of synod delegates.

Heyns replied that decision-making processes were directed by God through the Holy Spirit.

The church, he said, was a theocracy, not a democracy.

He declared this at the close of one of the most crucial “apartheid synods” of the Dutch Reformed Church.
At this synod, the exclusively male, dark-suited congregants, elders and deacons, “moved by the Holy Spirit”, almost unanimously approved a policy document entitled Ras, Volk en Nasie, a ­treatise which served as a foundation for the church’s beliefs that the Bible justified apartheid.

Almost two decades later, another ­national Dutch Reformed Church synod, again comprised of mostly male delegates and again “moved by the spirit”, decided the Bible did not justify apartheid.

The same strange thing happened in the dopper church. And just last week it happened in the stoepsitter church. How is this possible?

Did God change his mind about apartheid? Or was it the dark-suited delegates who exercised their secular minds?

Apartheid is now officially a thing of the past in all the Afrikaner sister churches, but interesting new fun is brewing in the Dutch Reformed Church.

A church commission is investigating the fact that church members shack up together instead of getting married, old people included.

What will the national synod decide about this?

And will this decision also shatter what Dutch Reformed Church members have held for more than a century as a kind of matrimony sanctified by the divinely inspired decisions of generations of ­delegates in dark suits?

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