Resolution on South Africa (Mennonite Church, 1987)
The Mennonite Church General Assembly, gathered at West Lafayette, Ind., July 7-12, 1987, expresses its concern and prayers for justice and peace in southern Africa. We affirm the August 29, 1986, statement of the Mennonite agencies working in southern Africa (see Additional Information).
We believe apartheid is sin and incompatible with the Christian gospel and express our solidarity with the Christians in South Africa who attempt to live out that biblical conviction. In our own communities and society, we are still struggling to eliminate prejudice and discrimination. Yet we believe the Bible calls us to be liberated from oppression and from oppressing others.
We have been heartened by and learned from the faithful witness of many Christians in southern Africa. We are saddened that some members of the body of Christ in South Africa still give moral support to the apartheid policies of the present government. We challenge these Christians to greater faithfulness to the Gospel imperative for the establishment of just and loving relationships among all people in South Africa.
We pray that the government of South Africa will stop the worsening repression and violation of human rights by measures such as dismantling the system of apartheid, lifting the state of emergency, involving all authentic leaders in South Africa in preparation of a new constitution to facilitate a truly participatory democracy, releasing all political prisoners, restoring freedom of press, assembly, and speech for all citizens, and discontinuing its policy of destabilization of neighboring states.
We affirm the steps taken by Canada to promote social justice in southern Africa. We urge the United States to end its complicity with the militarization and violence of southern Africa.
We call upon our congregations in North America to act in faithfulness to Jesus Christ:
- Pray for our sisters and brothers in southern Africa.
- Examine our consciences regarding our financial involvements in companies doing business in South Africa.
- Repent of our personal and church attitudes and actions which still reflect a spirit of racism and separation.
- Bring public witness as we have opportunity to the overt racism in our own society and take action in the Spirit of Jesus which will bring the reconciling love of Christ to heal the divisions in our own society and those divisions elsewhere in the world to which our actions contribute.
- Support our church efforts in the countries of southern Africa to strengthen church initiatives there in alleviating suffering and promoting justice, healing, and peace; and to support the Mennonite Central Committee Servanthood Sabbatical Program which provides us opportunity to learn from South Africans who come to our communities for brief visits.
Adopted by Mennonite Church General Assembly, July 11, 1987
Proceedings, ninth Mennonite Church General Assembly, July 7-12, 1987, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite Church General Assembly, 1987: 25-27.
A Commentary on Mennonite Ministries and the Crisis in Southern Africa
Over the past year there has been considerable discussion in the public news media stimulated by the rapid pace of events in southern Africa. Those events and their effects on Mennonite/Brethren in Christ involvement in the region have similarly increased the reporting and discussion in our own church media. Noting that to a significant degree there is a shared purpose and history in the work of Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, and Mennonite Central Committee in southern Africa, it seems right that the comments below be made jointly by the three agencies.
The following is not an attempt to suggest a Mennonite/ Brethren in Christ "policy" on southern Africa. We believe that the diversity of views already expressed by Mennonite workers and others on southern Africa is a positive reflection of how many of us have struggled to understand a very complex situation to which we are relative newcomers. While we wish to speak to our intentions and perspectives as organizations in southern Africa, these intentions and perspectives have validity only to the extent that they are incarnated by our workers in the region.
The following, then, are the reflections which we wish to share jointly with the broader Mennonite/Brethren in Christ constituency.
- Mennonites first came to southern Africa out of a desire to know more about, and to engage in ministries of witness, service, and reconciliation in the context of apartheid. As entry into South Africa itself has consistently been made difficult for Mennonites by the South African government, programs have been established in the surrounding countries of Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana. More recently Mennonite workers have been placed in Transkei, an "independent" South African "homeland" or "bantustan." While these programs have inevitably broadened our perspectives and have resulted in new foci of attention, the South African apartheid system continues to be an inevitable frame of reference for all southern Africa Mennonite activity. All countries in southern Africa are politically and economically linked to the power of the Republic of South Africa.
- Apartheid is a system of legalized separation of races practiced by South Africa's white minority government against the country's black, mixed race, and Asian majority. While the South African government has recently implemented some substantive changes within the apartheid system, it has not yet publicly repudiated its fundamental policy of separation of the races. We join the large majority of South African Christians in asserting that apartheid is sin and incompatible with the Christian gospel.
- The South African conflict is extremely complex. We as North American Mennonite/ Brethren in Christ organizations do not have a long history there. For many of us, because of our socioeconomic class, historical experience as a people, and our lack of easy access to South Africa, understanding the struggle of both black and white South Africans is especially difficult. As a result, Mennonite agencies in southern Africa engage in a variety of ministries under the auspices of national councils of churches as well as those of individual denominations and congregations, including African independent churches. These relationships inform our program direction in the region. In South Africa itself some of us have been closely related to the South African Council of Churches and have supported a variety of its programs, including the programs of one of its regional bodies, the Transkei Council of Churches.
- Mennonite workers in southern Africa long for a peaceful, nonviolent end to apartheid. It is our belief that all human conflict, including apartheid, is ultimately rooted in selfishness and sin. Efforts to achieve reconciliation which exclude calls to repentance and submission to the power of Christ cannot but fall short of their objectives. We recognize that there has been a long history of nonviolent resistance to apartheid by both black and white South Africans, and Mennonites have been supportive of such groups and individuals. But in South Africa, as in every other country where Mennonite/Brethren in Christ mission and service agencies are involved, Mennonite workers relate closely to, and come to love and respect, Christians and others who are deeply concerned about injustice and oppression, but who do not share the Anabaptist commitment to nonviolence. While we affirm our historic convictions regarding nonviolence, we nonetheless encourage our workers to establish such relationships as a part of a listening and learning servanthood posture.
- North American Mennonites ask the question of violence/nonviolence in a particularly personal way--how will I, or will I not, participate in a violent act or activity? Black South Africans encounter the issue of violence/nonviolence from another perspective--namely that of being victims of violence on a daily basis. Where they live, work, go to school, shop, and eat is determined by coercion, violent laws, and violent enforcement. Before Mennonites can with any credibility share something of our own convictions regarding nonviolence in South Africa, it is imperative that we understand as fully as possible how black South Africans experience the violence of apartheid. Again, that understanding comes through listening, and participating in the life of the people.
- Mennonites are likely to be misunderstood in South Africa, if we are faithful to Christ. We believe that the example of Christ will lead us to be less concerned about how we are perceived by the South African government or by the revolutionary movements and more concerned about whether we are standing with the hurt and suffering. It is important to remember that Jesus also was widely misunderstood in his time.
- As mission/service administrators, some of us have chosen to write to leaders of our own governments expressing concerns about policies toward South Africa. At times some of us have chosen to encourage sanctions or divestment, at times we have written to South African government leaders expressing concern over detentions or other policies, or to South African church leaders expressing our support and encouragement. However, we resist the call from both "right" and "left" to take organizational policy positions on South Africa. Rather, we encourage our workers to incarnate Christian love and a longing for justice in the diversity of situations in which they find themselves, and to share with North American sisters and brothers the insights and convictions on specific issues which they gain from such service.
- The suffering of human beings in South Africa is a necessary focus of our love and concern, because we claim allegiance to the God of all history rather than to a national god, and because we believe that the church is the universal community of people of the kingdom of God. North Americans are called upon to inform themselves about the South African situation, to reject the simplistic interpretations of the conflict which try to put it primarily in the context of East/West struggles, and to identify and respond to ways by which North American governments and corporations may be participating in support for apartheid.
- We look ahead to the critical time which will follow the dismantling of apartheid. We commit ourselves to continue the process of listening and learning from the people of southern Africa, as well as the discussion among ourselves, in an ongoing effort to discern our role for that time. We seek the guidance of the Spirit for understanding, wisdom, and enablement to be God's people in that context as well as now.
(This statement was adopted on August 29, 1986, by representatives of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Mennonite Central Committee.)
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APA style: Mennonite Church. (1987). Resolution on South Africa (Mennonite Church, 1987). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R487.html.