Apartheid is a Sin But ... | Sojourners

Apartheid is a Sin But ...

South Africa in the early 1990s was a strange and confusing place. With the exception of the small but politically significant white right wing, everyone claimed to be opposed to apartheid. The white Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) was no exception.

At its October 1990 general synod, the NGK confessed "allowing forced separation and the division of peoples ... to be considered a biblical imperative." While affirming "the right and freedom to remain true to one's own cultural heritage," the resolution went on to state that "any attempt by a church to try to defend such a system biblically and ethically must be seen as a serious errancy; that is to say, it is in conflict with the Bible."

The definitive defense of apartheid by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1974 ultimately led to its exclusion from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1982 and the declaration of theological support of apartheid as a heresy. In 1986 came Church and Society, a more nuanced document by the NGK offering qualified support for apartheid.

After the 1990 synod, many asked whether the latest shift in the NGK was merely further reflection of a shift in government policy -- giving support to F.W. de Klerk's era of reform much the same way the 1974 statement provided the spiritual aroma of the era of Verwoerd and Vorster and the 1986 document expressed the secularized politics of P.W. Botha.

Renewed interest in the declared position of the NGK provided extra interest at the Rustenburg Conference held in early November 1990 (in Rustenburg, South Africa). The most representative church gathering in South African history, the conference brought together member churches of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), Roman Catholics, African Independent Churches, the NGK, as well as a range of "apolitical," conservative evangelical churches.

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