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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Flawed Partnership and a Complex Set of Circumstances

Written by: on September 14, 2017

In his monumental work, “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid,” Welsh chronicles the conditions that led to Apartheid, the injustices and divisions that took place under its regime, to the influences that led to its collapse, along with the challenges that came in the aftermath of transition. The complexity of the situation as described by Welsh is mind-numbing for the novice student of the Apartheid regime. The first page of the book was helpful in its orientation as the author defined terms and acronyms that would be used throughout the book.

I found myself particularly interested in the role of FW de Klerk because I felt I could relate to his position, though obviously on a much smaller scale. As the leader of the National Party, de Klerk came from racist stock, but had a change of heart and mind that caused him to want to lead the nation in a direction that would disrupt the status quo, upsetting and alienating his supporters (while having to keep them in line), who were the beneficiaries of the system. De Klerk did well to finally realize and help show his people that Apartheid was not only bad for black South Africans, and not only morally wrong, but that it was bad for white South Africans. This was critical because people don’t usually support change, even on a moral basis, if involves personal sacrifice. He had to show how the change would benefit even white people. Even more, the transition of power from de Klerk to Mandela was necessary for white survival. There were so many factors that all needed to come together in order for Apartheid to be dismantled and for the transition to succeed. The author made this clear that from societal shifts to internal factions in the NP, international isolation of the NP, and of course the most important relationship of power between de Klerk and Mandela, there is no singular event or person that caused this needed collapse (566).

Like de Klerk, I came from a very conservative, white, upper-middle class family. On my father’s side, my ancestors were slave owners in Texas. On my mother’s side, my great grandfather was a member of the Nazi Party. These are embarrassing realities for me, but what is more challenging for me is the continued pressure I feel from my parents and the ecclesial body that trained me for ministry, to promote the status quo, especially on issues of race and immigration. I no longer serve my parents’ community, but they follow my ministry. They would prefer if my sermons tasted more like a desert wafer: airy and sweet.

Currently, I am in the middle of a sermon series on the Gospel and Racism, and we’re using the Belhar Confession as supplemental material, along with films like “13th” and books like “Waking Up White.” The church I now serve is predominately white (but changing), and historically conservative (but that has changed as well). All the pastors here have been white, and the pulpit has never been used to discuss social issues, until my arrival 4 years ago. To my current congregation, it’s a little confusing to them why someone from similar stock would want to speak against realities that benefit us, and frankly why would I be interested in a subject that we could just conveniently overlook? By God’s grace, and in their defense, the congregation is courageously on board and open to the challenge nonetheless. But to my parents’ community back in South Orange County, the direction that I am leading God’s people here in Seattle, on some issues, is perceived as betrayal. In other words, “Why would our good OC white boy be talking about the love of Jesus while toting such unlawful ideas at the same time?” I understand the mind that thinks this is incongruent.

So, in this way, I felt an emotional connection with the responsibility that de Klerk faced to “betray” his own people for the sake of justice for “the other.” The feelings of guilt he must have had to overcome! It also seemed that he lacked theological resources that could have kept him “above board” or at least apologetically responsible for the assassinations that happened on his watch. Instead, he seemed to be awfully defensive much of the time. A theological rootedness could have given him an even greater sense of confidence and conviction, and a lesser sense of anxiety and need to prove himself morally righteous, perhaps in the ilk of Dr. King, Jr.

Given Mark’s post on this book regarding his experience visiting South Africa for theological dialogue around Apartheid, and the biblical and theological justification that Mark heard in defense of Apartheid by white South African leaders, it seems like an impossible task that de Klerk finally set out to accomplish. Obviously, he did not do it alone, as both de Klerk and Mandela received the Nobel Peace Price (also an important move to maintain racial civility). Mandela is the one we usually hear about, and is most often honored by the American media, and perhaps rightly so. But Welsh described the partnership between the two as necessary for successfully ending the regime. Neither of them could have succeeded without the other.

South African Deputy President F.W. de Klerk, right, and South African President Nelson Mandela pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Gold Medal and Diploma, in Oslo, December 10, 1993. De Klerk announced at a press conference in Cape Town, Tuesday Aug. 26, 1997, that he was resigning as head of South Africa’s National Party, and would quit politics.(AP Photo/NTB)

A pivotal marker in this effort was when de Klerk, in the ruins of the aftermath of Apartheid, asked Mandela to address the nation as if he were president. To some, this was a display of humility and courage. To others, it was sheer survival at that point. Either way, the shift in power seemed critical in order to forge a new path.

What I found especially sobering about the partnership between Mandela and de Klerk were both the interpersonal conflicts and the issues of trust between the two, and even worse, the confusing nature around the blind eye that de Klerk turned to the assassinations of black South Africans by his government during the transition. It reminds me of our good theology that God doesn’t wait around for morally flawless people to accomplish his work in the world. He chooses those who are willing and available, and in the mess of their moral leadership yet tainted by their sinful natures, they make grave mistakes and God gets good things accomplished. This truth, which was displayed by not only Mandela and de Klerk, but also Dr. King and many others throughout civil and religious history, fills me with both gratitude and motivation to keep going in the work of leading necessary change–that even through a flawed relationship, God can change a nation. This is good news.

About the Author

Chris Pritchett

7 responses to “A Flawed Partnership and a Complex Set of Circumstances”

  1. Chris, thank you for sharing so vulnerably about your own family and church heritage and how you are navigating your way around this background. It takes great courage and discipline to veer away from traditions that would be much easier to conform to. As you mention, to those who love us, it often feels like a betrayal.

    So bravo for leading your church towards greater integration. I expect our cohort will be supportive friends for you in making these courageous transitions. Count me in!

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for the in-depth critical review of Welsh’s work on the Apartheid. I liked how you related your post to the leadership journey of De Klerk. Thanks for suggesting how his leadership would be improved with a good dose of the Gospel.

    I was humbled by your transparent pre-sermon discussion about your church, history, and congregational challenges. Outstanding comments on you “good theology” doctrine on how God gets things done. I look forward to discussing these matters more with you in Cape Town.

    Stand firm,
    M Webb

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty, “I came from a very conservative, white, upper-middle class family. On my father’s side, my ancestors were slave owners in Texas. On my mother’s side, my great grandfather was a member of the Nazi Party.”

    Even larger, thank you for breaking the chain, even with the risk of alienating your family, and being willing to do the harder, right things.

    I want to grow up to be just like you (grin).

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Chris, Man what an insight you have. I really appreciate the struggle you discussed in the changing of “one’s stripes”. I do not have the same background in familial issues that you discussed but my grandfather did employ black workers on his farm and as a young boy I never really understood the dynamic. My favorite person was Bubba Justus but looking back there was a sadness about him, that probably was rooted in the societal racism that was prevalent in Roxton, Tx. My dad grew up in Greenville and he has a picture of a sign as you would drive into town that read “Welcome to Greenville, Tx, Home of the blackest land and the whitest people”. My dad hates that legacy but always instilled a love of all people no matter who they were. My prayers are with you as you do hard work, I appreciate your candor.

    Jason

  5. Greg says:

    Chris,

    Thank you for sharing and trusting us with your heritage and journey. God has called and redeemed your ministry. I comment your desire to help other broader their worlds and way of thinking. I am sure it hasn’t been easy for you. Great reminder that God uses not the qualified but the willing. In this time and this walk to understand ourselves and the work He has called us to, now more than ever we are all nothing more than foolish but willing vessels for the Lord. Thanks for your insights on De Klerk and reminders of the cost and strength it takes to do what is right.

  6. david says:

    Chris– thanks for this great post! I think you’re right on theme with this book and your own reflections on it.

  7. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Chris,

    I applaud you for the work you are doing with your congregation! God would be so pleased that you are challenging the status quo and preaching truth. Your family history is fascinating, and I especially liked your theme of using flawed people to accomplish great things. I’m a big believer in this – in fact sometimes those of us who are most flawed bring the most people to Christ! Safe Travels! See you soon!
    Jean

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