Role of Religion
- religion, more particularly a version of Calvinism, has played a tremendously important role in the evolution and development of both Afrikaner nationalism and the theory of apartheid. This role has been analyzed especially aptly by Johann Kinghorn, Modernization and Apartheid: The Afrikaner Churches, in Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport, eds., Christianity in South Africa, (1997), pp. 135-54. Because the article helps explain so many aspects of this topic, I shall outline his arguments plus make a few comments of my own.
Education and Science 1900-1935
- Kinghorn argues that through most of the 20th C, the three Dutch Reformed Churches of South Africa were engaged in a fierce, desperate battle against modernism and modernity. While there are differences between the denominations, those differences are mostly minor and not too significant. The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), the original church, is very much larger than the other two; it had a large missionary outreach program beginning in the 19th C and this was significant in undermining belief in the moral and theological rightness of apartheid. However, this was only very late, in the 1970s and especially in the 1980s.
- he argues that Afrikaners, while still locked in a mindset that was feudal and pre-modern, were confronted with and caught up in massive upheavalindustrialization, urbanization, pluralization of society, the intrusion of international politics, and the clash of competing ideologies. For most of the 20th C, Afrikaners resisted modernity and modernism; the development of and support for apartheid was a major part of this resistance. Only slowly and painfully did Afrikaners begin to adapt to modernity; in the process of resistance and then belatedly adapting to modernism and modernization, the churches and religion were very important, even central.
- the resistance to modernity showed up in regard to education and science in the first decade of the 20th C in the Transvaal. A Commission on Christian National Education was organized in 1902 to combat the kind of education being introduced by the new British colonial administration and showed concerns of Afrikaners.
- as we have noted before, the Afrikaner churches were aligned with the conservative tradition associated with Abraham Kuyper which looked back to the 17th C statements of faith and theology. This tradition specifically rejected the Enlightenment with its humanism, emphasis upon human rationality, human rights, individualism, and so on. These had led, it was argued, to the French revolution which put forward the concepts of equality, fraternity and freedom. All of these challenged the authority structures established by God and challenged the authority and sovereignty of God.
- their view was of a universe created and organized by God in an hierarchical structure. To reject this order or to change it was to rebel against Godto sin. Equality was not a principle in this order and to try to implement equality was to rebel against God. This view denied the existence and the validity of human rights. Because of original sin, all humans are guilty and subject to damnation. Thus, there are no inherent or universal human rights. There is only Gods mercy and Gods grace; God decides who will receive mercy, grace and salvation.
- in Calvinism, there was always a tension. Those adopting a more extreme version of predestination would argue that God even acted arbitrarily in selecting individuals and sometimes groups as recipients of mercy and grace. This had to be accepted as part of the inscrutableness of Gods Will.
- others though argue that God had infinite mercy and grace and granted these to those that earnestly sought God. However, even there, Gods Will could be inscrutable. What about those humans who had never heard of God or the gift of mercy through Jesus? They were still damned.
- the effect of this in regard to schools was that an education system that taught ideas about human rights, equality, freedom, etc., was not Christian. Moreover, there were concerns that science as it was taught was also contradicting the Bible and therefore, Christianity. Some even regarded the teaching of the earth as a sphere which revolved around the sun as contradicting the Biblical view that the world was flat. Even more serious was the theory of evolution which seemed a direct contradiction of the Biblical account of creation.
- thus, they wanted an education system that incorporated their 17th C religious views excluding all Enlightenment views and what they regarded as secular humanism; they wanted science taught in conformity with Biblical notions.
- in a short time over 300 schools were organized to provide Christian National education; however, once state grants were withdrawn a few years later, all the schools closed in 1907. Nevertheless, this preoccupation with Christian National education became a big issue again in the 1930s and 40s. In fact, it is argued that it was the basis for education policies under apartheid, including Bantu education.
- the national aspect was also important for two reasons:
Johannes du Plessis affair
- Afrikaners were concerned about anglicizing influences, especially as anglicization was an explicit objective of Milners colonial administration in the former Boer republics after the South African War.
- an extreme version of nationalism linked to these 17 th C theological ideas was also gaining ground. Well return to this later.
- du Plessis was a prominent professor at the seminary at Stellenbosch in the early 20th C. He is best known for his interest in missions and he wrote a large history of missions in South Africa.
- he was attracted to modern trends in theology. He was also impressed by modern science and felt that there was a need to reconcile the Bible with modern science. In 1923 he established a journal, Het Zoeklicht (The Searchlight), to address these issues. However, a former student began publishing a counter journal, Die Ou Paaie (The Old Ways), in 1926 and great conflict developed. In 1930, du Plessis was relieved of his teaching duties (i.e., fired). The matter involved numerous NGK hearings and two supreme court hearings (which he won), but he was never reinstated. Most of the issues were theological and du Plessis was charged and convicted of modernism.
- Kinghorn argues that this produced a profound reaction in the NGK; the other churches had always been very conservative but the NGK had allowed a bit more latitude and diversity. Now, it too became hostile to any modernism. It was very careful to appoint only conservative pseudo-Kuyperian neo-Calvinists or romantic nationalists to its seminaries and became a bastion of resistance to modernization.
Period of Crisis 1932-1950
- leading churchmen and theologians were gripped by a feeling that Afrikaners were in the midst of a profound and overpowering crisis. They were especially concerned by the dimensions of the trends that were propelling so many Afrikaners to migrate to the cities where they fell into poverty.
- Kinghorn points to a massive 3 volume work, Koers in die Krisis (Holding Course in the Crisis), published 1935-41. The three authors were all prominent in the later development of apartheid theory. In it, the authors argue that the crisis was total and the threat could only be dealt with by taking firm control of power and history in South Africa. The threat had 3 facetsdistinct, but related:
- while the churches were involved in the many efforts to deal with the problems by private organizations and programs, churchmen were also debating how the resources of the state could be brought to bear in dealing with the problems.
- pluralization of society
- breakdown of Afrikaner values.
- however, the problems were also linked in the minds of the churchmen with the black peril. With Africans undergoing the same transformations and flocking to the cities, the problems of the poor whites were made more difficult and more serious. They opted for a segregationist solution. An NGK statement in 1935 argued:
The Afrikaners traditional fear of Equalization of black and white was born from his abhorrence of the idea of racial admixture. The Church therefore declares unequivocally that this admixture is undesirable and rejects anything which might lead to such a situation, but does not begrudge the native and the coloured a social status as honourable as he could achieve... Where the Church declares her opposition against ... the disregarding of racial and colour differences of whites and blacks in the course of everyday life she would like to promote social differentiation and spiritual and cultural segregation to the benefit of both sections.
- in 1939 a Stellenbosch theologian outlined all the important essential features of later apartheid:
The policy of segregation as advocated by the Afrikaner and his Church is the holy calling of the Church to see to the thousands of poor-whites in the cities who fight a losing battle in the present economic world. This policy will entail the removal of unhealthy slums, the creation of healthy suburbs where a sound Christian family can be developed, the undesired moral conditions can be overcome, and therefore as a consequence a healthy state, nation, and Church can be developed. The application of segregation will furthermore lead to the creation of separate healthy cities for the non-whites where they will be in a position to develop along their own lines, establish their own institutions and later on govern themselves under the guardianship of the whites.
- racial mixing was a special concern; as a clergyman expressed it, Equalization leads to the deterioration of both nations. Mixed marriages between higher, civilized and Christianized nations with lower races militate against the Word of God.... This is nothing less than a crime.... The Voortrekkers constantly guarded against such admixture and through their act of faith our nation was saved as a pure Christian race in this our land.
- repeatedly, churchmen petitioned the government to prohibit mixed marriages during the 1940s. The first law passed by the National Party government in 1948 after taking power was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and shortly after the Immorality Act (it prohibited interracial sex and was first passed in 1927) was toughened. Then the Group Areas Act was passed to carry out a much more thorough segregation.
Nationalism as a solution
- cities were another threat to Afrikaner religious and social values. The plural nature of cities, the equalizing tendencies contributed to a breakdown of extended family structures. These threatened all the values associated with family and authority. Cities represented an exile of modernism, liberalism, humanism and evolutionism. (from Holding Course in the Crisis)
- nationalism provided part of the solution. Nationalism redefined the concept of family to mean a shared language community among genetically related people. Nations became personalized entities which could act historically as individuals on a large scale. This fusing of the concept of family with the concept of the nation was very powerful as the family was seen as the most basic unit of human existence. In 1936, Nico Diedericks, who later became state president after South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth and became a republic, defined nations as follows:
In the first place nations must be seen not as human creations but as ordinations and institutions of God Himself... The individual being ... is an abstraction ... Outside the membership of the nation no-one can ever achieve his full being. Only in and through the nation the human being becomes himself ... Participation in the realization of the nations calling means participation in the fulfilling of the plan of God. Service to my nation is thus part of my serving God. But also my love for my nation is love for my God, because love of a nation is not in the first place love of people or countries or states, etc. but the love of the universally applicable values on which the nation is based.
- the modern world was perceived to be moving the opposite directionliberalism, communism, Roman Catholicism, etc. seemed to be moving to integrate everyone into a single human entity. Instead, this view argued that humans had been divided by God into separate, distinct nations.
[It should be noted that this is almost exactly the same line of argument put forward by German nationalist theologians in the early 19th C.]
- the Kuyperian tradition argued that the egregious trend since the French Revolution was the persistent erosion of the sovereignty of God in favour of the autonomy and freedom of the individual. The neo-Calvinist movement in South Africa further argued that it was a God-ordained duty to resist this trend and to oppose the humanism. Proponents believed that apartheid was the only social order consistent with the hierarchical structure of authority. Anything else, anything tending towards egalitarianism, could only be evil.
- a 1951 NGK report argued as follows:
The human attempt to restore unity, the internationalism and cosmopolitism which emphasizes ... the absolute fraternity of all people, is not derived from the Christian teachings ... but is produced by pure humanist tendencies which decree that the human being should be the centre and measurement of all things.... From the French Revolution the principle of binding of international solidarity is the slogan of freedom, equality and fraternity. Communism on the other hand emphasizes class division ... Humanism again proposes that the level of Western civilization is powerful enough to eradicate all the differences between the races and nations. The total failure of all these attempts shows once again that we will find no solution at the international level ....
Nationalism versus racism
It is evident that God had ordained national governments in order to maintain law, order and justice but never did he institute any international government ... Thus the division of nations is to be directly derived from the authority of God and represents the social embodiment of the divine structure of authority. But this structure of authority extends further: The humanistic claim to equality is unscriptural because it does not take into account the fact that God has decreed structures of authority within every society. As the child cannot be equated with the parent, the labourer cannot be equated with the employer nor the subject with the authorities, so there are also differences in status within the nation. According to the Word of God the idea that Christianity ought to diminish differences in race, nation and status is most certainly wrong ... There is a just, God-pleasing hierarchy of power in the family and the state and between nations, as well as a God-ordained obedience to authority. According to God's Word, therefore, social justice does not mean the equal treatment of all people but rather ... that everyone receives what God had ordained for him according to his own status level.
- on the question of the form the hierarchical authority structures should take, Kinghorn argues that Afrikaners considered two approachesa nationalist approach and a racist approach. While initially there does not seem to be much difference between the two, there are significant differences for the long term. A racist approach is premised on the idea that differences in people in a hierarchical relationship are based on biological differences and inequalities; these are immutable and eternal. Nationalism stresses the same differences and inequalities, but sees them as the result of different stages of development. However, all nations can develop and eventually reach the same level.
- apartheid was for the most part a racially defined nationalism, but, Kinghorn argues, many Afrikaner nationalists, especially in the churches, soon dropped the term apartheid and instead adopted the term separate development. By 1948-50, the churches had adopted the nationalist model and approach rather than the racist one.
- until 1948, there was not much difference because both racists and nationalists were pushing for the same thingphysical and geographical separation of the races/nations. However, once they started implementing the separation, the differences started to emerge and slowly began to produce divisions.
- the nationalist position was further moderated by paternalism and the concept of guardianship. A more developed nation and people have the task, even the calling, to educate the less developed in order to assist their development as an NGK official argued in 1949:
[The aim of apartheid is not ... ] oppression but development, growth, upliftment, more privileges and rights according to one's own abilities, talent and potential ... The Bible does not instruct us to have apartheid but it does not prohibit us from doing so either. However, the Bible decrees Christian guardianship. And our entire history leads in this direction too. Whether we like it or not, we are the guardians of the coloureds and the natives too and we shall have the right to give reckoning to God about our guardianship. Of course we have the right to guard our own interests. But if we do this at the expense and against the interests of the coloured races then we will be disloyal to our guardianship.
- in the 1950s, a further development took place at a church conference. The concept of race was replaced. South Africa was declared to be an entity of nations not races. The conference declared that the only Christian way to safeguard every national culture and to avoid friction and abuse was to separate the nations and thus allow for the organic and autogenous development of each according to its own special needs. This was the theory that Verwoerd began to implement after 1958.
- by the 1970s and 80s it was clear that the apartheid as implemented did work at the expense and against the interests of the non-white peoples of South Africa, and growing numbers in the church began to feel that apartheid was not defensible from an ethical and Christian point of view. Of course we might question why it took so long because it was clear to most people outside the Afrikaner nationalist fortress that this was the case almost immediately. One reason was that they argued for so long that apartheid was a work in progress; yes, there was upheaval and hardship in the implementation stage, but eventually the benefits to the other groups in South Africa would be realized. They argued that patience was all that was necessary. However, from the 1970s, it became increasingly obvious that apartheid and the ideal of separation was getting farther away all the time.
- Kinghorns analysis is very useful for us because it helps to explain and provide context for Du Preezs exposition (in Inside the South African Crucible which we shall examine next lecture) of Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid. It also helps to explain an experience I had in South Africa in 1972.
- I attended a lecture at Rhodes Univ. in Grahamstown given by a theologian from the Univ. of Potchefstroom for Christian National Education (Potchefstroom was probably the most conservative university in South Africa); the speaker was editor of a religious journal called Word and Deed. His arguments flabbergasted me at the time. He agreed that the concept of race had no validity in scientific terms, and none in religious or biblical terms either. Thus, apartheid or separate development was not premised on race or racist objectives. The real differences in people were national and mostly cultural. He defended separation as necessary because of cultural differences, but he also argued that adjustments would have to be made for individuals who had by education, assimilation, etc. eliminated the cultural differences.
- members of the audience later questioned him about the implications. Was not the existing system with its race classification boards etc. based on race? He conceded that this was so, but that this would have to be changed. Eventually, people would be classified according to their cultural orientation. He said that he could foresee the day when there would be white Zulus and black Afrikaners!
- I had previously assumed that he was some kind of fluke or evidence of a significant change among Afrikaner churchmen. Instead, it seems he was someone trying to come to terms with the implications of the nationalist position adopted in the 1950s.
- in the rest of the article, Kinghorn discusses how the situation changed. At the beginning of the 1950s, the anti-modernism was at its peak. Here is an NGK reaction in 1951 to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations:
The point of departure of the declaration is totally wrong ... Only according to the anthropocentric way of thinking can one speak of the inherent dignity ... of all members of the human family ... According to the theocentric way, which is our church's way of thinking, the human being receives what is justly his when God gives him his God-ordained share ... The rights and privileges of people [are] very different according to God's free will ... Justice in the world does not depend on whether each and every one is treated equally but on whether one is treated according to what God has ordained for him in the light of the inequalities which He Himself has created ... Freedom and peace in the world are also not dependent on so-called human rights but on the human being's obedience to the laws and decrees which God has instituted for human beings ... Evidently the declaration breathes the spirit of freedom, equality and brotherhood of the French Revolution which was just as. God-forgetting and anthropocentric in its essence ... The adoration of the power of the United Nations is an outrageous transgression of authority.
- secure in this cocoon of anti-modernism Afrikaners totally rejected the entire basis of the United Nations with its internationalism and universalism. Similarly, they almost always lumped the World Council of Churches in this same category. As a result, they always regarded criticism or condemnation by either organization as not worthy of consideration.
- by the 1990s, the NGK finally came to terms with modernity and in this 1990 document, there are no longer references to modernism or godless humanism or even separate development. While there are still references to the inherent rights of nations to protect themselves and develop, these rights are subordinate to ethical considerations; therefore, whenever exercise of those rights by one group has negative effects on another, then they are wrong.
In principle the right of nations to the liberty to safeguard and develop their own cultures and values must be acknowledged as an inherent right of the human being as long as the rights and freedoms of others are not impeded and the Biblical claim of love for the neighbour ... not nullified ... Only over time it became evident to the NGK that the policy of apartheid ... [went] further than acknowledging the right and freedom of all people and cultural. groups to remain true to their own values ... [It functioned] in such a way that the majority of the population of this country experienced it as an oppressive system which ... benefited one group unjustifiably above the others.
Why did it change?
In this way the human dignity of fellow human beings was affected and apartheid had come in conflict with the principle of love and justice ... [This] is unacceptable in the light of Holy Scripture and Christian conscience and must be rejected as sinful ... The NGK ... rejects all forms of discrimination and sincerely desires that all should be free to participate in their fatherland and should receive equitable and equal opportunities to achieve prosperity and wealth.
- Kinghorn gives three suggestions:
- however, in the 1970s and 80s, Coloured and African clergymen began to challenge the theological and other positions of the mother church. As the political struggle intensified in the 1980s, these people became more involved. Especially prominent was the Coloured minister, Allan Boesak, who had studied in the Netherlands. He became active in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and was influential in getting that body to condemn apartheid and to expel the white South African churches for supporting apartheid.
- The logic of the nationalist position; i.e., development would gradually eliminate differences and inequalities.
- Transformation of the Afrikaner community:
The poor white problem which had been such a driving force for segregation and apartheid virtually disappeared. Even those with limited intelligence were given make-work jobs.
- Afrikaners adapted to the city; education levels rose and Afrikaners modernized in most aspects of their lives. Slowly, the ideology began to catch up to reality; for example, more and more Afrikaners almost certainly came to adopt science and evolution. More and more Afrikaners traveled abroad and had business, educational, etc. contacts outside South Africa. That accords with my observations. Most younger Afrikaner academics I met in the early 1970s simply snorted derisively when apartheid and its viability were discussed. I assume that that dismissal extended to the entire intellectual and theological framework used to support and justify apartheid. At the same time, there were frequent Jeremiads, especially by churchmen, bemoaning the fact that the younger generation of Afrikaners was not as devoted to church going and to traditional Afrikaner values.
- The missionary outreach. Kinghorn calls it the Trojan horse of the NGK. There was an enormous outburst in the 1950s-80s, initially, to a number of areas in West, Central and East Africa. However, with independence for Africa in the 1960s and the hostility to South Africa because of apartheid, they had been cut off and forced to withdraw from most foreign areas; instead, the church threw itself into missionary outreach in South Africa itself. This effort was not restricted to evangelization; there was a strong emphasis on development which involved building hospitals, other facilities and programs as fast as churches. By 1978, the NGK had 1.5 million white members, but almost 1.9 million in the Coloured and African daughter churches. [Always congregations met and worshipped separately and mostly in separate buildings. However, the ideologues had insisted that the separation, the apartheid, be complete and that separate denominational organizations be established; these came to be described as daughter churches.
- for a long time, the daughter churches accepted the paternalism and subordination; initially, this was because most of the leaders were whites and most of the money for salaries etc. came from the white church.
- I had a long talk with an African clergyman in the African daughter church. He knew that his position was a bit anomalous and he gave two reasons why he was there and why he stayed:
- when he was trying to get an education, the other churches had limited funds to help and he didnt get any. The NGK supported him through theology school until he was ordained.
- the NGK supplied most of his salary so that he didnt have to depend on his African members, whose incomes were very low. This left him in a much better position than most African ministers in other churches. [For example, in Presbyterian and Congregational churches, congregations are very large and sprawling with a mother church and many outstations over a large radius of 20 miles or more. The minister can only visit the outstations periodically and has to spend much of his time and energy dealing with business and administrative functions rather than pastoral duties.] The NGK minister said that he had only one church with a compact congregation that allowed him to spend much more of his time on pastoral duties and helping his members in sickness, death, in wrangles with apartheid authorities, etc. He said that this was much more satisfying as a minister. While he was not entirely happy with the subordination and the paternalism, there were compensations.