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Seguin ,, hough its force often goes unperceived by foreign observers, theology is the key to understanding South Africa,” wrote June Goodwin in 1982, while covering South Africa for the Christian Science Monitor. She went on to say: “From the arrival of the first white missionary . . . to the 1982 World Alliance of Reformed Churches to declare apartheid a sin and the theological justification of it heresy, Christianity, in myriad forms, has been central to the country’s politics.” Recently I made a trip to South Africa with a group of Lutheran church leaders, most of whom were from the East Coast. Our visit confirmed Ms. Goodwin’s observation. If one is to understand the white, conservative Afrikaner mentality, one must examine the theological underpinnings of that mentality, particularly as it relates to social and political realities. Similarly, to understand why the black African churches are so deeply committed to the fight against these same realities, one must know something of the theology that, by their own testimony, moves these churches along the dangerous paths which they have chosen. The Dutch, bringing their Dutch Reformed religion with them, began settling the coastlands of South Africa in the seventeenth century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the the interior, subjugating native Africans as they went. A visit by an American to the Vortrekker Monument and Museum near Pretoria is an exercise in deja val. It’s a paramnesiac experience; it’s “cowboys and Indians” and the “winning of the West.” The covered wagons trundled into the interior of South Africa, just as they did in Rev. Arthur A. Preisinger is director of the Lutheran Institute for Religious Studies, based at Texas Lutheran College, a continuing education agency for clergy and laity in Texas and Louisiana. America, bringing “civilization” to the “heathen savages.” And in both cases it was “God’s will” that it should be so. Their Dutch Reformed religion had taught them that they were the modern Children of Israel and that the conquest was their manifest destiny. Apartheid is the logical extension of the Manifest Destiny mindset because that “destiny” finds its roots in the idea that there are superhuman beings and subhuman beings. The ruling Afrikaners preach that they brought God to the heathen Africans and that God gave them apartheid as a way of life sanctioned by the Scriptures. Apartheid, in one form or another, has been practiced for a long time in South Africa. But the term is relatively new. It first appeared in a book by a Dutch Reformed theologian, G. Cronje, in 1942. The Afrikaner theologians cited Scriptures to give moral justification to the system which was formally installed in 1948, when the National Party won political control of South Africa. Dutch Reformed religion taught them that they were the modern Children of Israel and that the conquest was their manifest destiny. One of the favorite biblical passages invoked by the theologians is Genesis 12, the story of the Tower of Babel. According to the Dutch scholars, sinful men went against the will of God which they interpreted to be separateness by blending the races. Angered by what he saw, God put an end to this unity by causing such confusion among the builders that they ended up speaking different languages and so could no longer understand one another. Then God divided the nations and scattered them all over the world. As a practical application in southern Africa, this meant separating blacks from whites. — The Preamble to the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act of 1983 is loaded with terminology that is rooted in Afrikaner Dutch Reformed thinking. It reads, in part: IN HUMBLE SUBMISSION to Almighty God, Who controls the destinies of nations and the histories of peoples; Who gathered our forebears together from many lands and gave them this their own; Who has guided them from generation to generation; Who has wondrously delivered them from the dangers that beset them; WE DECLARE that .whereas we ARE CONSCIOUS of our responsi bility towards God and man; ARE CONVINCED OF THE NE-CESSITY TO STAND UNITED IN PURSUING THE FOLLOWING NATIONAL GOALS: To uphold Christian and civilized standards. . . . To respect, to further and to protect the selfdetermination of population groups and peoples. . . . ARE DESIROUS OF GIVING THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA A CONSTITUTION which provides for elected and responsible forms of government and which is best suited to the traditions and history of our land. The purveyors of Afrikaner Dutch Reformed theology and its social and political implications are determined that their interpretation and application of biblical passages and stories are, and will be, the formative and continuing basis of South African society. JUST AS determined are the leaders the black African churches that this ideology will not prevail. And it is their theology which informs their actions. It is an understanding of Christianity much like the liberation theology practiced by the “base communities” in Latin America. The gospel, they say, is meant for the poor and oppresed; God must be on their side because they are the oppressed. God could not possibly bless the racism embodied in apartheid. They point to the words of the Old Testament prophets who thundered against the oppressive policies of the rulers and the greed of the rich. They invoke stories from the Gospels about Jesus’s concern for the poor and needy. They cite St. Paul’s words to the Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ The Theologies of South Africa By Arthur A. Preisinger 12 MAY 3, 1985