Church Apology Exposes Deep Division
“I CONFESS before you and before the Lord not only my own sin and guilt . . . but—vicariously—I also venture to do this on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church.” Professor Willie Jonker, a leading Dutch Reformed minister, offered this startling public apology before a national conference of churches on November 6, 1990, at Rustenburg, South Africa. And to what sins did Jonker refer? To “the political, social, economic, and structural injustices that have been committed” because of the South African policy of apartheid.
“I feel at liberty to do this,” continued the professor, “because the Dutch Reformed Church declared at its recent synod that apartheid is a sin, and it has confessed its own guilt.” However, the widespread reaction to Jonker’s apology indicates that many church adherents are thoroughly at odds with their church’s statements on apartheid.
The reason for the controversy is that the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, whose members are mostly white Afrikaners, has long been associated with apartheid.
However, in October 1986 the church synod made a dramatic shift in policy by declaring that church membership was open to all races and that the church had been wrong in trying to use the Bible to justify the policy of apartheid. Furthermore, in 1990 the synod declared that the church “should have distanced itself clearly from this viewpoint much earlier” and that it “recognizes and confesses its failure to do so.”
Jonker’s apology unleashed controversy, exposing a deep division of church opinion over apartheid. Indeed, the rift seemingly cuts through all levels of the church, from the laity right up to former chairmen of the general synod. In response to Jonker’s apology, Willie Potgieter, a Dutch Reformed minister, felt that it was “insensitive to do such a thing so suddenly.” He claimed that almost half his congregation still views apartheid as a Christian model that can work.
Understandably, many members of the Dutch Reformed Church are distressed by this disunity. In the words of one disgruntled member who wrote to a Johannesburg newspaper, Beeld: “It is time that we . . . got on our knees and begged forgiveness for our sinful division and all the terrible things we say about one another.”
Such an accord is not likely, however; nor is the Dutch Reformed Church the only church in South Africa to be plagued with such divisions. The wrangling of these so-called Christians is certainly a far cry from the love and unity that Jesus said would characterize his true followers.—John 17:20, 21, 26; compare 1 Corinthians 1:10.