DMINLGP

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

No simplistic answers, either then or now

Written by: on September 13, 2017

Living in New Zealand during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s allowed me a closer perspective of the ultimate demise of apartheid in South Africa and the ascendency of the ANC and Nelson Mandela in the new Republic of South Africa.  I well remember the white South African immigrants fleeing what they anticipated would be a complete collapse of order and a retaliatory discrimination much like that which was taking place in Zimbabwe at about the same time.  What transpired, however, was a far different scenario as depicted in the film Invictus which highlights Mandela’s recognition that a united South Africa required the unification of people who once saw themselves as mortal enemies.

The initial rise and solidification of Apartheid went against the universal flow of anti-colonialism and a heightened awareness of racism following World War II and Hitler’s attempted extermination of the Jews.  Amazingly, this system of racial oppression was carried out by a small group of people who had for years themselves been victims of discrimination and marginalization.  In an effort to protect themselves the National Party, largely made up of settlers of Dutch extraction called Afrikaan, developed a system of oppression that served not only to subjugate both African nationals and other people of color but, ultimately isolated the white minority it was meant to serve, through political, economic and sporting sanctions from a condemning world.

The belief in white supremacy and the attempt at development of ‘separate but equal’ social systems was certainly not confined to South Africa but was evident in pockets all over the world including the US, Australia and India.  The systematized subjugation of a people based on the color of their skin was a phenomena exacerbated by the ‘scientific racism’ that began during the Enlightenment and was not fully discredited until the mid 20th century.  It has been used to justify racial based slavery as in the United States and even the slaughter of people based on their ‘animalistic’ features as in Australia.  In South Africa it was purportedly a means of defending against communism, maintaining a purity of races and allegedly providing for the ‘needs’ of various races in segregated locations.  The mental convulsions necessary to maintain this system eventually became unsustainable as South Africa drifted farther into isolationism and came under political and economic duress.  However, it became evident that the National Party, under the leadership of FW deKlerk, and the ANC with Nelson Mandela as leader, would need to work together to transition from Apartheid to restore South Africa to a functional system of majority rule and thereby reconnect with the rest of the world.

It was interesting to read about the forces that coalesced to become Apartheid that even included some complicity amongst African National leadership of the time.  There were those who seemed to gain some benefit in supporting the white minority at the expense of their own people.  Further, it is evident that there were significant members of the white minority that were working against Apartheid from the inside at great personal risk.  It is easy to both denigrate the African Nationals who tacitly supported Apartheid while at the same time assume that all Whites in South Africa were bigots.  Welsh reminds readers that simplistic answers to tough questions fail to absorb the nuance of the period and the people who lived through it.

Those who know much about South Africa may wonder how a people who have retained a relatively strong Christian faith heritage could possibly maintain such a racist system for so long.  One would do well to read and recall the sermons being preached in the US South in support of slavery and Jim Crow laws or reflect on the Catholic church’s long complicity with the elite in Central and South America against the poor and indigenous people of that region.  Relinquishing power has always been a struggle, even for those who claim to be disciples of Jesus.  Theological justifications and supportive Biblical interpretations that make the way easy for the group in power and difficult for those who are not have always existed; just ask the apostle Paul.  His battle was Jew verses Gentile but the motivation was similar; an unwillingness to cede authority to those deemed inferior.  Paul reminds readers in a multitude of his church plants that such distinctions are unnecessary and unGodly.  (“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”) (Gal 5:6 NRSV)  This in no way justifies the actions that have occurred in South Africa, the US, Australia or any other place, but serves to recognize the prejudicial bias evident in all of us.

In the midst of the racial tension that remains in the US, as evidenced by the Black Lives Matter movement among others, it is beneficial to reflect on the racial divide that exists in another society such as South Africa.  Understanding the beliefs and events that supported their systematized racism may provide insight into the struggles that are our own and help us find a way forward that restores justice and recognizes the full humanity that is God ordained in all people.  A willingness to be introspective may result from the opportunity to cast a critical eye on the weaknesses of another belief system such as Apartheid.  I for one am trying to be more aware of my own biases and recognize the privileged upbringing I have had as a result of my being born into the ‘right’ race and gender.

About the Author

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Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping young people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

6 responses to “No simplistic answers, either then or now”

  1. Good morning Dan.

    I was struck by your observation, that “This system of racial oppression was carried out by a small group of people who had for years themselves been victims of discrimination and marginalization.”

    How easy it is to lay blame, and fail to perceive, as you correctly do, the cyclical nature of sin. Over and over sin ricochets throughout history, from our early parents on down through the ages.

    This morning I’m waking up in a new place for the first time. En route to South Africa, we’ve stopped for a few days in Rwanda to evaluate our long term participation in a ministry here. Again we see tribal divisions and the complicit actions of the church – Rwanda was 95% Christian when the genocide of 1994 occurred. And yet, I hear children singing.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that sin reproduces itself with such abandon, but that miraculous new life keeps emerging even in the pit of great darkness.

  2. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Dan, I am curious as to how Kiwi’s and yourself responded to the white flight into New Zealand? Did you get to know any of those who fled?

    Also, I have thought about the idea of ‘separate but equal’ phrase a bit and wonder, do people really think that separate is equal or is that an illusion they put up to make people go along with their class system? I would be glad to hear your thoughts as you have witnessed this a little more closely than me.

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      Kiwis had mixed responses. Some were very accepting while others not so much. It very much depended on the attitude of the immigrants and also the understanding of the Kiwis. There had been a long and troubling history surrounding SA for a lot of Kiwis, particularly in regard to the Springbok rugby team.

      As far as separate but equal. I cannot fathom how anyone who promoted such a system could actually believe it was valid. Here in the US, as well as SA and other parts of the world where one group tried to live separate lives in this manner it was always anything but equal. The power brokers always kept the best for themselves.

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Come to Montana and go fly fishing! We could talk about these important topics whilst stretching the lips of brown and rainbow, and maybe even cut throat, TROUT.

    This is the same question that is giving me a headache, “Those who know much about South Africa may wonder how a people who have retained a relatively strong Christian faith heritage could possibly maintain such a racist system for so long.”

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Greg says:

    Dan,

    Your experience gives you a unique experience that will add to our group and its discussion. I appreciated your reminder that as much as we like to put things in clean and neat boxes, most difficult problems have very messy answers. When we make life fit our understanding and world ,we make most things trivial and fake. Thanks for the journey.

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Dan, enjoyed your post. I especially liked what you said about the perspective of white supremacy. It was interesting as I started reading Welsh, that though there was obviously some tainted views of the the white man when they came to South Africa, they may not have been completely prejudicial. Instead, the more I read, it seemed that the racism came as a bi-product of greed and ambition. Somehow they started viewing the black residence as a stumbling block to what they were trying to build. That attitude started perhaps with land ownership and moved into politics and the positions that could be held there. In fact, it seemed that the constant battle that was raged over seats of power created the more aggressive actions against the people. Whether the racism was there already, or whether it formed on its own as one’s ideologies developed, I’m not sure that anyone can tell, but it would make one question as to where racism might begin.

    As to the mindset in our country, I am not sure that it is any different. Whether my ideology is that I deserve something, am owed something, and better than others, or even that I am trying to right the wrongs of the past, as you mentioned from Galatians, if we cannot figure out how to obtain our goals through love instead of through hate, we are all probably guaranteed to keep repeating the past.

    Thanks for the post.

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