Calvinist Racism in South Africa

Excerpted from p. 185-188 of Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft (ISBN 0-19-510280-0), a book recommended by Archbishop Bernardito Auza:

“Many theologians who supported apartheid developed their theses on the basis of ideas set forth by the renowned Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1838-1920).

Calvinist influence is also claimed in the Old Testament notions of ‘the called’ and ‘the chosen’ used by nineteenth-century Afrikaners to justify white supremacy. As expressed in a speech by M. W. Pretorius in 1871, ‘fathers of Israel chosen by the Lord, who like the Israelites trekked out of Egypt to escape the yoke of Pharaoh, also trekked from the Cape Colony to escape the yoke of the hated British Government.’

[Blacks were also seen as the cursed descendants of Ham, son of Noah.]

In response to du Toit’s expressed concern about the lack of evidence in colonial times, Allister Sparks suggests that the early Dutch settlers were influenced by the ‘chosen people’ mentality that existed in Holland during its war with Spain, which ended in 1648. ‘Spain was seen as the antichrist from which William of Orange had delivered his people by leading them through ordeal and exodus to a national rebirth in their promised land.’ Sparks maintains that… ‘all the circumstantial evidence suggests that this is something the early Afrikaners brought from Holland.’

However one comes out on these arguments, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Dutch Reformed church carefully manipulated biblical references in serving its political interests and providing the early underpinnings for apartheid.

As early as 1857, an important synod of the Dutch Reformed church called for separate services for whites and blacks. This facilitated a division of the church along racial lines and was later used to justify a policy of separate development as being ‘the will of God.’

More than 90 percent of Afrikaans speakers profess to have a church affiliation, with 70 percent of those belonging to the DRC. Thus, the highly religious orientation of Afrikaner society all but required a theological basis to rationalize apartheid. The DRC not only provided that theology, it essentially provided the policy itself. As noted by Michael Cassidy, the founder of Africa Enterprise, a multiracial African evangelistic association: ‘It was the white Dutch Reformed Church that, from 1932 on, sent delegation after delegation to the government to support proposals for racial legislation. It worked hard to devise practical policies of apartheid that could be implemented by the government, while formulating theological constructs to justify the policy. It was these plans the church finally presented to the Nationalist Party in 1947. The Nationalist Party accepted them and the [program] won at the polls in 1948.'”

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About Matthew Olson

Matthew Olson is a student in the Diocese of Little Rock.

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