From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
SOUTH AFRICAN PRESBYTERIAN LEADER SAYS REPENTANCE
05 May 1996 12:57:41
95113 SOUTH AFRICAN PRESBYTERIAN LEADER SAYS REPENTANCE
AND FORGIVENESS ARE KEYS TO POST-APARTHEID RENEWAL
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Despite rapid legislative change in South Africa, its
Presbyterian congregations, black and white, are beginning to wrestle with
what a future minus apartheid looks like -- not just in the political
world, but in church pews.
Nationally, it looks like two of the country's four Presbyterian
denominations may merge, creating a much larger denomination with a black
Locally, black and white congregations are grappling with what
repentance and forgiveness mean and how to practice both.
"It's about time," says the Rev. Alastair Rodger, executive secretary
of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (PCSA), a 90,000-member
denomination, of a possible midyear union with the Reformed Presbyterian
Church (RPC), a black communion.
"We should have been one church in the beginning," he said, adding
that in some townships PCSA and RPC congregations worked side by side. The
two denominations even attempted merger once before but failed. But not
all congregations, he said, fared so well in cross-community relationships.
"A black majority [church] ... is much more realistic," he said.
Last September's PCSA Assembly -- which has a 60/40 white/black ratio
if members in Zambia and Zimbabwe are counted -- mandated that its churches
hold a Sunday worship for collective repentance for apartheid and
commitment to change. But Rodger says more needs to happen with black and
white congregations together, not separate from each other.
"There's something incomplete about saying, 'I'm sorry, Lord,' but not
earthing that [confession]," he said, meaning there is a need for
person-to-person confession. Confession cannot be done "in isolation from
people. You need to look [them] in the eye and say, 'I need your
forgiveness to know God has forgiven me.' ...
"I don't know that we got to that deeper level," Rodger said.
That deeper level means calling apartheid an evil, not an unfortunate
mistake, Rodger says, and admitting that all whites benefited from it.
"There hasn't been that thorough repentance and forgiveness process. ...
There is a turning away from the past, but there hasn't been enough open
acknowledgment at the local level," he said.
According to Rodger, "Be Real Weekends" are beginning now in some
congregations and presbyteries, where blacks and whites come together
seeking common ground. But some people were always more open than others,
said Rodger, who says apartheid law gradually broke down in some areas
before it was abolished.
But in other places, change still comes hard.
"Stereotyping is still a problem. And it applies equally to blacks
and whites," said Rodger, adding that many blacks still have an
understandable distrust and suspicion of whites. Some whites still hold
grudges because they, too, grieve family members and friends lost in
"But we've got to work through those things," he told the Presbyterian
News Service. "We've got a lot of work to do."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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