The Bible and the relationships between races and people – A report by the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa General Synod

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    Nico10

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    The Bible and the relationships between races and people – A report by the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa General Synod

    Post by Nico10 on Mon 05 Dec 2011, 5:40 pm

    [Preface: For a broader context, it is advised that this article should be read in conjunction with my article entitled ‘Church and Society `1990 – a testimony of the Dutch Reformed Church’ as well as my article entitled ‘Human relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture – Report of the Dutch Reformed Church]

    “The Bible and the relationships between races and people – A report by the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa General Synod” is a document that not much is known about. A simple search on the internet reveals just how little is written about this report, and how it seemingly became a forgotten piece of Theology on the subject of race relations in South Africa. It is a pity that a document as important as this one is today largely forgotten, since this little document provides great insights, not only into South Africa and the Dutch Reformed Church’s (DRC) tense ecumenical relationships, but also about the general history of South Africa.

    From what one gathers in the text, this report was the result of a long term project, and that the particular copy at my disposal was compiled at the 1983 General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA). Weather this particular report was the final report of the DRCA, I do not know. What is certain is that, despite the very critical position displayed by the DRCA towards the traditional ‘white’ Dutch Reformed Church as well as the government (at the time headed by P.W. Botha) as displayed in this document, it was another “sister church”* of the DRCA that eventually took the lead in ‘struggle against apartheid’. It was to be little more than a decade after the publication of this particular report that the DRCA was eventually to amalgamate with its “stronger sister”, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church**, in 1994, to form the Uniting Reformed Church.

    The reason why this particular document is of such importance is because during the 1980’s, it became clear that different Christian groupings in South Africa was interpreting South Africa’s situation in radically different ways with regards to the message of God to Christians and the meaning of the Bible. The ‘white’ DRC was deeply divided. The official representative body of the ‘white’ DRC (its General Synod) at the time was officially of the opinion that the Bible provides justification for the state’s policy of grand apartheid, as well as the homeland system. In contrast, The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was of the opinion that apartheid was a ‘sin’. And while some Christians, for example the archbishop Desmond Tutu, was of the opinion that Christians should not resort to violence and not encourage violence in any form in order to bring about change in South Africa, with the publication of the Kairos document it became evident that there were many Christians who felt different on this matter.

    In the ‘White’ DRC, 1983 was an important year, as the Western Cape Synod made some very important choices with regards to the government’s policies. But it wasn’t until 1986 that the ‘white’ DRC eventually took the important step and declared that there is no Biblical justification for the policy of apartheid, and thus recalled the decisions taken at its 1974 General Synod where it declared apartheid to be a Biblically just system.

    It is against this background that this particular report must be judged. “The Bible and the relationships between races and people . . .”. The document, I believe, gives us great insights into the world that produced it. It is openly in defiance of the “white” DRC who, at the time, provided the state with a theological rationale behind the policy of apartheid. The bulk of the document provides a search for answers in scripture by studying communities in ancient Israel. And to be frank, I am no theologian and thus these particulars do not concern me as much as the conclusions that were drawn. What is important is that the DRCA differed in important ways from its “mother” organisation. Whereas the “white” DRC’s General Synod concluded in 1974 that with regards to interracial marriages “... the race group as well as the State are involved in the uniting of two people into marriage”, the DRCA’s report concluded that the DRCA “cannot agree with this point of view ... It is not the task of the State and Church to dictate to race groups whom they may marry” (p.38)

    Throughout the report, one can pick up sentiments similar to those that are displayed in the very well-known Belhar confession that was to become such a big issue of contention later on and even today still is within the DRC. The report often concerns itself with the issue of justice. Permanent black residents have no say in the politics that concern them (according to chapter 4). Although the policy of homelands has some rationale in South Africa’s turbulent past, it is a system that leads to violations of human rights. A great example is provided in the form of the so-called ‘letekatse’: black women who, after losing their husbands due to death, are advised by authorities to marry again or otherwise lose their homes. Consequently they had to find a new spouse while still mourning the old one, and so ending up with artificial marriages (p.58).

    According to the report the system of migratory labour that was so typical of South Africa’s apartheid era, often breaks down families in the most horrible manner. “Many children are orphans, although their fathers are still alive. Because the fathers are not at home, it often happens that they become criminals” (p.59). Given the problem of crime in post-apartheid South Africa, doesn’t this 1983 report of the DRCA sound ominous? With poor education, a bleak future and “poor” role models for parents who have almost no say in their status quo, it is thís generation that was to form the core of South Africa’s young employees after 1994.

    It is clear that what the vision of this document amounts to, but how was it supposed to come about? The DRCA supported the idea of non-violence. “Blacks and Whites still have ample opportunity to start right from the beginning and to make a joint effort to solve the issue in a Christian and brotherly manner. Weapons or bloodshed will not solve the problems of South Africa, and therefore the Church must make its members aware of this. They must not listen to instigators of violence, but must pray to God for guidance . . .” (p. 61).

    Why do we not have church leaders today that does not teach us these things anymore? Why is the DRC today silent when Julius Malema warns that he will ‘kill’ and even sing violent songs? We need leadership today to warn South Africans not to listen to violent talks, and we need it urgently.

    “The Bible and the relationships between races and people . . .” is a very important document that is of great historical importance. Theologically, it comes over as very sober. It is not as infected by political ideology as for example the 1974 document “Human relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture” of the “white” DRC was. It strongly criticizes the DRC on many levels, citing that “it is not part of the Church’s calling to dictate to the authorities, how for instance it should regulate the contact and relationships between the various groups in a multi-national or multi-racial situation...” (p.63). It criticized divides and stretched non-violent confrontation declaring “...mutual discussion of problems between churches, especially the Dutch Reformed Church and its daughter churches, presently takes place only at high level. This is not enough, because these discussions only reach the clergy” (p.49). Yet the document comes across as balanced in many ways. It doesn’t propose a specific model to the state and it recognises different opinions and points of view a legitimate (p.64).

    But perhaps the most important observation included in this report, is that South Africa’s poor racial relationships can be overcome only by mutual co-operation and, more importantly, looking at the merits of each individual case. According to the report: “On account of the solidarity of the human race in sin, everyone jointly and each group separately must take the blame. This also applies to the acceptance for the solution of our mutual problems. It can easily happen that some Blacks put all the blame for their living conditions on Whites without accepting responsibility for it on their part or to give recognition for the help on the side of the Whites towards their advancement in economical, educational and other areas. Some Whites, on the other hand, lay all the blame on Blacks accusing them of being unreliable and even that they are uneducationable ... Offence is often intensified through generalisations such as ‘the Blacks’ or ‘the Whites’ do this or that where only one of a specific group might have given offence in one way or another” (p.64)

    Now doesn’t these sentences apply to South Africa today as much as they did in 1983?

    *Traditionally, the Dutch Reformed Church in South was seen as a “family” of churches with the “white” DRC described as the “mother” while the DRCA and the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, both of whom served black and coloured South Africans, was described as “daughters” of the “mother”. This was later seen as an artificial “family” that was developed with the aim to promote the political ideology of apartheid in South Africa. Today, these classifications no longer apply.

    ** The Dutch Reformed Mission Church is associated with the anti-apartheid activist Allan Boesak as well as the well-known Belhar Confession.

      Current date/time is Fri 24 Nov 2017, 12:48 pm