Apartheid and the Dutch Reformed

Q. This question came up as I browsed the web on Liberation Theology this morning.  Encyclopedia com mentioned that “Reformed Christianity in South Africa has been one of the ideological pillars of apartheid…”  Do you know anything about that history or the position of the Reformed Church on it?  My understanding is that the Boers brought the Dutch Reformed Church with them when they colonized South Africa.  However, I don’t know how representative of Reformed Theology they were or how it might have been perverted by racism there.  Any insights?

Call me lazy, but I will not be answering this very first question to the Genevan Help Line. The reason is not that I lack the ability to Google “South African Apartheid” and “Dutch Reformed Church,” among other key phrases, or even to consult more reputable sources, but I happen to have a friend who is a native of South Africa, and he happens to be Reformed, so I knew his knowledge and experience would prove a valuable resource to consult. In response to D. Kelly, my friend, Lorimer, writes:

Wow! This is a loaded question!

To answer this you must go back to 1652 when the Dutch first came to South Africa and brought the Dutch Reformed practices with them. The misconception is that these were only Dutch people but the truth is that other Europeans came along.  The French, Scottish, German, and of course the English also came during this time period.

The French, also known in South Africa as the Huguenots, were the actual initiators of the separation of the Dutch Reformed Church into three main branches of the Reformed Church. One of these churches became the National Church of South Africa, from which would come South Africa’s first President, Paul Kruger. South African currency derived its name, the Kruger Rand, from this important figure.

This church and president wanted to protect the resources of South Africa, so they established moral laws. Fast-forward many years, and many wars; to make the long story short, the Dutch Reformed Church when it arrived in South Africa was different from the way it was when apartheid came into play.

The Boers (which were not all Dutch) used religion as a means of oppressing the blacks and teaching young white kids that God has chosen them as a superior race. So, in a sense, the statement “Reformed Christianity in South Africa has been one of the ideological pillars of apartheid…” is somewhat true in that it depends on which of the three branches it comes from. The “true” Dutch Reformed Church is very much Reformed.



3 responses

  1. As a former missionary to South Africa who worked primarily with Blacks, but had relationships with all races, I can tell you I heard little if any Liberation Theology. I was there 92-94 when Mandela was elected and worked primarily with Baptist churches. I can imagine churches on the theological fringes, particularly the syncretistic Africa Initiated Churches, preaching that false gospel, however.

    1. Thanks for the input, Aaron. As you can see, neither I nor Lorimer touched the Liberation theology aspect. Maybe Mr. Kelly will be able to share with us how Apartheid came up in relation to it?

      Thanks for the comment, old friend! Keep it up!

  2. i guess this is also called the (the idealogy of the philosophy of the task master)

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