Newly-released Video Documents History of Post-Apartheid Adventism

Video that has previously been kept out of public circulation has been made available for the first time since 1996. It documents the delicate work done after the end of Apartheid in South Africa in what later became the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists. The video was produced by the Adventist News Network at the request of the General Conference.

Beginning in 1990, the system of Apartheid in South Africa began to be dismantled. This segregationist political system affected all walks of life - including church life. Until then it was the law of the land. When apartheid in South Africa ended, the Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership went to great lengths to end segregation within the church body there and to unify the church organization and membership.

In 1995, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, tasked the Adventist News Network with producing a documentary about the challenges of ending a generation of segregation in South Africa and the resulting newly unified church. "Road to Unity" was the result. Before its release by Spectrum Media, the documentary had been publicly viewed only once before at the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist church in 1996.

WATCH: Road To Unity

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7759

Encouraging progress have been made in SA regarding unity, integration and multiculturalism. The SA model will remain work-in-progress and will never be complete or perfect. However, I think while the church in SA has taken significant steps towards transformation and integration, we have sadly seen regression in the US with a rise in racial intolerance, and a hardening of racial attitudes.

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This is indeed quite an old documentary…over 20 years old. There has been a lot that has happened in the last 20 years.
And one of the sad realities of the South African Adventist church is that the number of white (especially Afrikaans) members has become low. There is very little growth in this demographic. It has become so bad (in some areas) that some conferences are seeking ways to run specific evangelism programs targeting white Afrikaans people.

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“Video that has previously been kept out of public circulation has been made available for the first time since 1996.”

The video makes interesting the viewing, the more so since so many of the actors are friends and former colleagues. The good-will expressed was heartening, and is representative of conversations that I have had more recently. The desire to make good prevails.

One has to ask why the footage was not generally released 21 years ago, when it might have done some good in South Africa?

Did the powers that be, find the South African concerns on seperate Conferences in NAD, too hot to handle?

Does someone want to rattle NAD’s cage on the Unity issue?

Fascinating.

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What a fascinating video. As a Seventh-day Adventist I lived through it all.

I was fortunate to be adopted into a liberal English family in South Africa and so mixing with black, coloured and Indian men and women was as natural as drinking fresh water from the lovely spring on our farm at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains.

One other fortunate happenstance in my life was that some years after my father’s death I became an apprentice compositor in the printing industry and was lucky enough to be indentured at the ‘The Natal Witness’, printing and publishing company - and most fortunate of all, printers for Natal University - a liberal university with a liberal rector - Dr Ernst Gideon Malherbe. So during my lunch hours I would often sit down to read the proofs of future publications by Malherbe, Dr Edgar Brookes and - most cherished of all - would go into the press library and read through The South African Institute of Race Relations publication, which I seem to remember was a journal issued every quarter and of which that great liberal politician Helen Suzman was a lifelong member and patron. It was there that I read of the terrible indignities and inhuman treatment of men and women of colour, chronicled academically by scholars who made a special study of that iniquitous political system which touched every person of colour’s life. It was almost like reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s chronicle of the experiences of those who passed through the gulag archipelago. As a young Seventh-day Adventist I was truly privileged in reading those SAIRR publications.

I recall Dr ZK Matthews that great Zulu scholar, calling on the Natal Witness with his marked up printer’s proofs - what an absolute gentleman he was. Some of my closest friends at ‘The Witness’ were coloured men. I remember two of them - Talbot Apollos and Peter Flanders. I would visit them in their homes, just as I had formerly visited the maid-servant’s home at the boarding school I attended in East Griqualand and just as my father had done before me when he would halt his horse alongside the farm fence, talk to the coloured principal of a school in one of Apartheid’s so called ‘black spots’ and often take me with him to visit his friend in his home. It was so ‘normal’ and I suppose I was brought up to be naturally ‘colour blind’ in a country where every fortune or misfortune was based on the colour of one’s skin and where it was almost unheard of to visit the homes of people of colour.

I am afraid that as a Seventh-day Adventist I could never understand the church’s attitude to colour. Why the church chose the low road instead of the high road I can never quite understand. I remember so often reading of the Catholic Bishop Denis Hurley’s opposition to Apartheid in Durban, South Africa. Of Bishop George Vernon Inman’s opposition in Pietermaritzburg - he was an Anglican. Many years later the Catholic church would play a pivotal role in both the Philippines - and Malawi, where I lived for thirteen years. Dictators would be toppled through the active participation of the church in the politics of those countries - Saint John Paul II would oppose communism and eventually - together with the CIA (in Poland) - bringing it to an end - and play a significant role in breaching the Berlin Wall.

Although the above video is fascinating to watch and listen to I do blame the leadership of the SDA church for not leading the church along the high road. The Truth and Reconciliation Commision’s report on the Seventh-day Adventist church in South Africa points to a church which colluded with the forces of unrighteousness in South Africa. I recall Afrikaner pastors standing up at Union meetings and directing the church to be obedient civil servants. In some senses the anguish expressed by those white men in the video - I knew each of them - sounds somewhat hollow and unnecessary. At the end of the day I have to ask - was it really worth it?

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About 9 minutes into the video, P.M. Mawela, President Trans-Orange Conference says:

"I’m not very happy with the world church.
When this thing of apartheid came to South Africa,
the world church just kept quiet.
They should have said in the beginning,
‘Man, this is not the right direction we are taking.’ "

This video-taped comment was placed in the setting of a discussion of how the world church maintained an ‘apolitical stance’ regarding South Africa,
while using Romans 13 as its defense,
which begins as follows:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.
For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” verse 1

It is interesting to note that apartheid officially ended 99 years after the SDA ‘world church’ essentially rejected the best explanations of how to apply Romans 13 to Seventh–day Adventist Christianity, in 1895. So these best explanations should have been freely accessible to all SDAs, in 1948, when apartheid in South Africa began to be enforced by the SA government then in office.

One clear explanation of a Christian’s relationship to ‘government’ was made by Alonzo Jones in several lectures recorded in the official
General Conference Daily Bulletin of 1895 for all to see and to benefit from, during the ‘Sunday Law’ crisis Adventists were facing – again. At that time, ‘Protestant’ religious leaders were involving themselves in politics in order to ‘Civilize’ the cities of the U.S. Of course, Jones is still pilloried in SDA circles, I suppose by both ‘Conservatives’ and by ‘Liberals’, so-labelled.

The other clear explanation of the same relationship was given during a series of camp-meeting sermons delivered by W.W. Prescott. Here’s a link, see page 58 of the PDF:

In those sermons, Prescott surprised the people of Melbourne, Australia, by not preaching the typical SDA ‘mantra’ of ‘prophecy’ and ‘10 Commandments’.
Instead, he preached ‘Christ’.
(Those sermons were such a ‘hit’ with the SRO crowds in Australia, that Prescott wrote home to SDA headquarters in Battle Creek, asking them to print them for distribution in the U.S.A. and anywhere else they might be useful. When the SDA ‘committee’ refused to print them, Ellen compared those SDA leaders to the ‘papacy’. . . again.)
One sermon was devoted to comparing the ‘kingdom’ of that Christ with the kingdom of ‘Caesar’, using as a springboard the words of Christ,

‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and unto God the things that are God’s.’ Matthew 22

Prescott then clearly pointed out how alone a Christian is safe in following Paul’s teaching in Romans 13. In no way does Caesar ‘trump’ God, who is even Caesar’s ‘Higher Power’. So, only when Caesar rules and operates within his own limited sphere, and does not interfere with God’s Higher Government (‘conscience’, for instance), is Caesar to be obeyed. Otherwise, no, it is better to obey God, than man.

When the SDA church finally learns which old, ‘Liberal’ things to ‘conserve’, and which to discard – in a timely fashion – we may actually become a ‘People’ with a ‘Hope’ of finally getting out of here (Caesar’s kingdoms) and going home,
‘in Christ’.

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There is absolutely no reasonable excuse for the Adventist Church to be always lagging behind so-called secular society on matters of advancing recognition , in theory and in practice , of the equality of all humans in the sight of God , as preached by Jesus our exemplar. Further how can the Church claim to be a true remnant, which expects its members to give their lives, if necessary, rather than bow to forced abolition of Sabbath sacredness, when it will not lift a finger to assist those blacks suffering under the yoke of brutal racism? Be that as it may many genome scientists now say there are no human races as such ; Humans are one species within which interbreeding yields successful results, thereby proving this theory. Dr Sylvia Spengler, geneticist opines:" The term race has no real meaning in science .Trying to mix genetics with race is to my mind inappropriate, cannot be done.Race is something we do to each other, it has nothing to do with what our DNA doers to us.While each cell has 100,000 genes only six control skin colour and everyone has the same six. This means each of us has the potential to express skin colour as black as an African". That is the view from science. The Biblical view which is ignored is that God afflicted MIRIAM sister of Moses with LEPROSY for racism.Numbers chap12.

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I am a 28 year old black Adventist in South Africa. I am yet to meet a white Adventist under the age of 50. The other white Adventists I have met are 3, and all of them are over the age of 50.

Our conference, which is the Cape conference, the conference where both Pr O.T. Mngqibisa and Pr N. Ryan serve, is apparently a united conference but when we go to youth camps involving all the youth in the conference or SAU, we never have any white Adventists present.

We generally go to secular institutions of higher learning, but on campus ministry we have never had any white Adventists. I am not referring to one institution.

In any case, from what I have read and from what I have heard, our church in South Africa supported racial segregation before Apartheid was implemented. I therefore perceive it to be a lie that our church supported Apartheid because of its apolitical stance. Instead our church supported Apartheid because it was racist.

I do not know if that has changed. It is not my intention to accuse people I have never met of racism.

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