Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The more things change the more they stay the same!

Written by: on September 13, 2017

When I was in my college history class, I was taught apartheid was “apart-hood” and it brought to my developing mind a vivid picture of painful “separateness” for all people.

My first memories of racial division came as a kindergarten student in the Denver Public Schools. My parents bought a house in the Denver city limits specifically because it was 1 block from an elementary school. However, the school was deemed to be too white, so when “desegregation laws” were passed, it was decided the kids in my neighborhood would be bussed 45 minutes each way to a different school so that the races would be more mixed. Conversely, black inner city kids and hispanic farm migrant kids would be bussed into the school close by my house. My parents commented that I used to ask often, “Why do I have to get on the stupid bus instead of walking down the street to my own school.”

As a young child in second grade I thought Denver must have been the only place in the world where such a divide could occur, but eventually I learned about South Africa and was re-educated that this was an often repeated world challenge. As a high school student, I remember being amazed at how the white population dominated with apartheid, especially since the coloured in South Africa significantly outnumbered the Brits and Dutch, but were unfortunately repeatedly beaten down psychologically.

Then I read chapter one of my well used book written by Welsh, where I realized mostly the bad about apartheid seemingly has been very recently repeated around the world in general, and in the United States of America in specific.

Impactful words from chapter one jumped off the pages and caught my attention. Words like immigration, racial discrimination, opposition to race mixing, white privilege and English speaking arrogance. I remember all these same comments from my formative school years. However, amazingly and unbelievably the actual phrase “South Africa First” [1] was coined and used for racial domination and gain.

“South Africa First”–Is it possible our very own President Trump got his slogan “America First” from South Africa’s past? History repeats itself, so maybe. Hopefully you are never going to hear me bad mouth any of our Presidents (I don’t think Scripture allows me to verbally murder any of them even though I might disagree) but, nonetheless, the phrase instantly caught my attention.

Furthermore, our American infamous and not so far past “separate but equal” policies seemed to me to be a failed repeat of the very foundations of apartheid’s apart-hood.

How extremely timely is this book and study of race relations going to be for all of us as we go to South Africa? With NFL players refusing to stand for the Anthem, with police brutality in the news weekly, with  racial tensions being broadcast regarding immigration, and the building of the wall.  I for one am looking forward to some lively discussions. This timing is pretty perfect in my mind.

Isn’t it also disturbingly interesting the Scriptures were used in the Church’s support of apartheid, specifically the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) of South Africa? “Reference has already been made to the critical role played by the Dutch Reformed churches…their legitimization of apartheid…and remained in alignment with the policy.” [2]

OUCH! It reminds me of stories I heard of the churches in America supporting slavery. Thank goodness many denominations in South Africa finally got together and adopted resolutions like, “There are no scriptural grounds for a prohibition of mixed marriages.” [3]

Let me be honest for a moment if you will. I have certainly lived a life of “white privilege” and I am quite sure that I have been insensitive to what other races have been through. My parents absolutely taught me to respect all races and colors of skin! But I undoubtedly have said numerous thoughtless things about others and have not tried to seek real understanding for generations of wrongs.

That is why I have been thankful for my participation in athletics.  I believe sports are the largest stage on planet earth for racial integration.  I have played on teams where I was the minority, and honestly, it never crossed my mind. All that mattered is what every person could do for the team. If you could make baskets, you were accepted. If you could score goals, let’s play. You could be an Iraqi on the soccer field and that was fine with me as long as you played hard. If you were fast and strong going to the hoop, I respected you, no matter the color of your skin. I remember playing against people who did not speak my language, but it was as if language took a back seat to the competition. For all of the flaws of sports, I must admit they certainly break down barriers.  That was very evident to me when watching the movie INVICTUS and marveling how Rugby could actually unite a country besieged by strife. The game achieved far more in my mind than decades of violence.

It blows my mind that we are soon going to Mandela’s cell on Robbin Island. That we will be educated with our own eyes about De Klerk, Tutu and NP/ANC politics. I already feel humbled.

I find myself wanting to apologize for all the injustices, both of mine and for all others. For slavery, for heartless cruelty, for simple ignorance, and for even thinking arrogant thoughts over others. This is a massively complex issue on all sides, but a simple “I’m sorry” might go a long way.

However, I struggle with who would be willing to accept my apology? True reconciliation in my mind involves both a heartfelt apology without saying “but” thereafter, and then the accepting words “I forgive you” soon rendered.

I fully appreciate De Klerk saying, “Let me place once and for all a renewed apology on record. Apartheid was wrong.” [4] Now where is the acceptance?

Maybe my asking this question reveals just how racially insensitive I am.


[1] Welsh, David. The Rise and Fall of Apartheid. (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2009). p. 5.

[2] Ibid., p. 184.

[3] Ibid., p. 185.

[4] Ibid., p. 570.

About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

7 responses to “The more things change the more they stay the same!”

  1. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hi Jay, thanks for sharing your reflections on the book and the intersections with your own life experience, especially growing up in Denver. Like you, I was struck by the “South Africa First” slogan as well. It seemed there were so many similarities to the NP and definitely the alt-right in the States today. This notion that we are better separate than together is not only convenient for those in power, but even worse, it’s just false. I wonder if you saw any parallels that might serve as warning signs for us? Thanks also for mentioning the section on the Dutch Reformed Church. I am a minister of the PCUSA which adopted the Confession of Belhar two years ago at the General Assembly in Portland. I happened to be a commissioner at that assembly. Anyway, I’m preaching a sermon series on the Gospel and Racism and I’m using the three themes of the Belhar Confession to supplement the biblical text. The themes are unity, reconciliation, and justice. The complicity is horrendous. Thanks again for your thought-provoking post. See you soon!

  2. Dan Kreiss says:


    I had not noticed the connection between the 2 slogans until your post…..I feel a little sick now. Whether or not the current administration adopted directly from South Africa or not, it is clear that much of the same sentiment lies behind the phrases. This is not unique to the US or SA or even people who lack much skin pigmentation. The atrocities that occurred in Rwanda remind us that all people struggle with the desire to suppress and hurt those deemed inferior. I think even Dr. Seuss recognized this tendency thus writing the book ‘The Sneetches’ in an attempt to elicit a more accepting attitude in the minds of children. I also think you are correct in your assessment of sports as sometimes useful in breaking down these barriers but, as Jackie Robinson, Muhammed Ali, or the black soccer players currently in European leagues would likely tell you, there is still much work to be done. I particularly appreciated your candor and humility in admitting your own life of privilege and your willingness to apologize for even those sins unseen.

  3. Trisha Welstad says:

    Jay, thanks for your candid response to Welsh. I appreciate your willingness to own your privilege and desire to apologize as I think pastors have a unique opportunity to be confessors toward leading us in the way of Jesus. I too thought De Klerk’s willingness to lose face in honoring his own convictions.

    You mention sports as the great world stage for racial integration. What thoughts do you have about the church being part of the stage for racial integration? I understand the church is not publicized in the same way but I think there are many opportunities for people who are really different to come together. What does racial integration look like in your church? I am looking forward to meeting you and learning more about your ministry in Montana.

    • Jay Forseth says:

      I am embarrassed to say that our town in Montana is over 90% white. We have only a few other races in our community, especially American Indian. Certainly I have great friendships here with folks of other races, but I am the last to say I have been able to practice very much racial reconciliation the past 15 years…

  4. Jean Ollis says:

    What a great post! Your experiences and observations are fascinating. I was stunned by the analogy between “South Africa first and America first”. It’s frighteningly possible that the idea and phrase were borrowed. I also appreciate your heart to seek reconciliation – an interesting perspective I recently revisited is the concept of going one step further to “ally”. It’s easy to say I’m sorry, but it’s another to put action to your beliefs. (ie. not only will I not engage in racism myself, but I will stand up to those who do and denounce behaviors, words, and oppression). I’m so anxious to share Montana stories (and MVNU!) and hope and pray your community has not/will not be affected by the wildfires! Safe Travels!

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, great insight in your post. I found that our trip to Africa gave me a sight of things that to be honest, I have been fairly protected by. Don’t get me wrong, I have witnessed racism and segregation, but as a “white man”, I am not sure I truly understood just how awful mankind can be. As I read through Welsh, I kept having flash backs to the conversations we listened to in Africa, and once again found myself almost embarrassed by each of the stories. I also noticed as you did the very scary reality that nature seems to keep repeating itself in regards to racism…not just the white though, but across the board of all races, racism is flourishing.

    When I lived in New Mexico as a child, my sister was beat up by a Navajo girl simply because she was darker than her. It was as though my sister was blamed for even stealing her dark skin from her. At one point, David Welsh professed that one side effect of Apartheid was that the black population was simply used as tools for progress. How did we come to decide that anyone’s life was worth less than property?

    I shared your sentiment…I keep finding myself feeling as though I should apologize for the offenses of others. Perhaps the best apology we can make though, is to not repeat the sins of those who have gone before us.

    Great post.

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