Furthest Right

The struggle for balance between church and state


When I wrote the Afrikaans article that inspired this translation and expansion back in November 2013, the situation I described was perilous and has only become more so. A white elephant is normally used to either describe the “elephant in the room”, or to describe an unusual “presence” that has become irrelevant. Weights and counter-weights should balance (to quote the unfortunate ex-President Nobel Peace prize winner FW de Klerk) but in the case of Church-State equilibrium in South Africa this was never to be.

The separation of Church and State have been discussed over the centuries. The “Flushing Remonstrance” in 1657 America involved public complaints leveled against Peter Stuyvesant’s State of “New Netherland” that only allowed only one church, namely the Dutch Reformed Church. The idea behind a single church was to consolidate welfare, amongst other practical needs. However, in 1790 George Washington addressed the following to a Jewish grouping: “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” This letter implied that more than one religion could be tolerated “only” if citizens are “good” and “subject” themselves to the authority of the State/Government.

More intellectual views were proposed by Martin Luther and Thomas Hobbes. Luther supported the secular State while Hobbes supported a State “Religion” such as the “Church of England”. Hobbes proposed that those who do not support the State religion be identified as “rabble rousers” to be prosecuted. Washington and Hobbes therefore agree on the principle that people who use religion as criminal motivation should be prosecuted.

However, things get a little complicated when realizing that Washington also agrees with Luther about a secular State. Luther argues that moral motivation is the prerogative of God while Hobbes suggested it should be the State. But then both these gentlemen agree that without religious motivation everyone will become “rabble rousers” which means both agree that a balance/relationship between Church and State is a necessity.

This particular balance or relationship was a unique approach and possibly one contributing factor towards the enormous economic success of Western Civilization. The thing however, is that the Church-State balance requires oversight or governance which is difficult to achieve. It is summarized as follows: “Although both authors do their best to resolve tensions between God and State, their interpretations are fallible to the point where there are suggestions, but no clear line between State and religious power; a challenge we have yet to overcome even in contemporary politics.”

In a recent article on the Praag website it was reported that the “leader” of the Church of England noted that the Church has an existential problem. The church leadership in South Africa is unfortunately not as forthcoming.

South African history is rife with mainly protestant religion where the first congregation established itself in 1665 under Jan van Riebeeck. The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa is the oldest church in the region. While a member of the Dutch Reformed Church family, the DRC is also a sibling to two other protestant churches in South Africa. In 2008, the DRC possessed 1162 congregations location in South Africa, Naibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and England. Tributaries of these churches arose through missionary activity in Malawi, Nigeria and Portugal. Due to a decline in the population of Afrikaners through emigration and low birthrates, DRC membership has also decline from about 960,000 confirmed and 427,000 baptized members in 1990, to 880,000 confirmed and 248,000 baptized members in 2008.

From a historical perspective, it is evident that the DRC had possibilities for large-scale growth during the past 350 years, but government has not been so consistent, with its practices and ideologies changing considerably. The State was generally “not there” to maintain the required religious balance. This made the Church the dominant partner in this relationship. The Church had three “interferences” over time such as the European “Liberalism” where the decline in educated “pastors” caused the local Church to initiate its own “School” in 1859. The second hiccup came when the Church’s “geographical borders” limited it from consolidating with like-minded Churches across those (provincial) borders between 1910 and 1961. After political independence from British rule in 1961 it was consolidated. The third and most catastrophic hiccup came in Mandela’s 1994 after which the Church started its dramatic decline.

History therefore shows that the Church had a long and prosperous growth while statesmanship, politics and ideology were much slower because it had to start from scratch. The National Party was only established in 1914 and the Afrikaner Brotherhood in 1918. In both these organizations, the Church served as a basis of coordination resulting in dominant Church orientation. The DRC exercised a crucial role in Afrikaner politics and made Afrikaners believe that they were destined to “save” South Africa which is why there is a very strong suspicion that Apartheid was coined in Church rather than in Politics. When one considers the immaturity of those in political positions, it is possible to argue that young politicians were not in a position to grasp the meaning of what they were doing.

South African history further shows that the two “Boer Republics” were only short-lived despite their more mature religious partners, and that even the National Party only exercised its Independence for 33 years. Note: Changing from colonial segregation to apartheid was a no-brainer. However, after 1994 the new Marxist-oriented State quickly corrected the Church-State balance by making the State top-heavy and reducing all Churches to a “combined representative body”. This should be seen as a mistake because there still is a strong populist requirement for religion amongst all demographics.

One emerging religious requirement is based on an earlier statement by the colored protestant Church called the Belhar Declaration. This was an attempt towards reconciliation between the colored and white churches that started in 1986 already. This argument of reconciliation continued despite senior members of the DRC admitting that apartheid was practiced and empathized with the colored members. The point however, is that the DRC Synod has never publicly apologized. I am not sure why that is an issue since the Queen never said she was sorry for segregation in the first instance.

But the proposition today is not that coloreds are leaving the DRC; it is white members that leave and so the Church leadership should actually apologize to their own members for centuries of mismanagement. The DRC therefore stands today as the “White Elephant” that needs to cleanse itself and mud is unfortunately the only soap they have access to.

Mud-slinging has already started in the Afrikaans media such as the Beeld Newspaper through journalist Neels Jackson. If it’s not about female pastors, then it is about admitting gay pastors. Then he cries on about how unfortunate the colored people are and that Afrikaners (not whites) should put their arms around them. The journalist Pieter Malan has had to defend himself in court three times where it seems the DRC has a lot of money available for litigation. His most recent article was titled “Church boil bursts” translated from “Kerksweer bars oop.” He describes how Pastors tackle each other on Facebook describing the Church Media Manager (Danie Mouton) as a “slippery eel in a bucket of snot.”

All this mudslinging is not enough to cleanse the Church though. It will only lead to further de-population and increased financial distress. Some introspection is required in my opinion. If the State-Church balance is not corrected, the entire country will be doomed to a mediocre future.

As it is now October of 2015, the outcome already validates the above warning.

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