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Feast of Beyers Naude (September 7)   Leave a comment



Above:  Flags of South Africa

Images in the Public Domain



South African Dutch Reformed Minister and Anti-Apartheid Activist


Because of my experience, I’ve been able to tell other white Afrikaners, who despise me or have rejected me and feel that I’m a traitor to their cause, “I pity you, because I feel that you, in fact, have become the victims of your own imprisoned philosophy of life.  And therefore you cannot be free.  You cannot be free to love people of color deeply and sincerely.  You cannot be free to look at the future of South Africa outside the confines of your present political viewpoint.  You cannot be open to the concept of Christian community with Christians of all denominations around the world.  And therefore, as a result of those things that you have imposed on yourself, your vision is limited.”

–Beyers Naudé, interviewed for Sojourners magazine, 1987;  quoted in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, eds., Cloud of Witnesses, Revised Edition (2005), 152-153


The Reverend Beyers Naudé comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via Cloud of Witnesses (2005).

Of Orthodoxy and Heresy

What do we mean by orthodoxy and heresy?

Orthodoxy literally means “correct opinion.”  But who defines “correct”?  Ideally, all of us would recognize God as the definer of correctness and agree on the contents of orthodoxy.  Actually, though, competing orthodoxies exist within traditions, such as Christianity.  An orthodox Lutheran, for example, is a heretic by standards of an orthodox Calvinist or Roman Catholic or Methodist.  We who follow God or try to do so are attempting to read God’s mind partially.  Usually we adopt an institution’s definition of orthodoxy as the gold standard.  As I try to be a faithful Christian, I do not color outside the lines, so to speak.  I reject some strands of tradition and favor others, but I am generally fairly conventional, in the context of broader Christianity, but not the Bible  Belt of the United States.  I try, however, to be theologically humble, and to acknowledge that I am mistaken on certain points; I just do not know which ones.  I am therefore tolerant of a wide range of Christian orthodoxies, for I recall having changed my mind on major theological issues, such as, years ago, when I disposed of my Wesleyan-Arminian upbringing sufficiently to accept Single Predestination, an Anglican, Lutheran, and moderate Reformed doctrine.

“Heresy” comes from the Greek verb meaning “to choose.”  A heretic therefore a person who chooses what to believe, in opposition to orthodoxy, as at least one institution defines it.  The implication, therefore, is that the heretic chooses wrongly.

Understand me correctly, O reader; I am no postmodernist.  Orthodoxy and heresy are real, and we can know them partially.  I also affirm that, as much as each person is somebody’s schismatic, each person is also somebody’s heretic.

Beyers Naudé, raised a heretic, came to orthodoxy when he rejected the norms of his church, society, and nation-state.  Voltaire wrote that is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.  Our saint learned that lesson painfully.

Early Years

Damn you when everybody speaks well of you!  Recall that their ancestors treated the phony prophets the same way.

–Luke 6:26, Annotated Scholars Version (1992)

Christian Frederick Beyers Naudé, born in Roodeport, Transvaal, South Africa, on May 10, 1915, was a man baptized into a racist denomination. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, hereafter the DRCSA, taught that the Bible justified racism and racial segregation.  In 1948 Apartheid became the continuation of various laws and customs.  The DRCSA quoted the Bible to justify that execrable system.  The architects of Apartheid and its antecedents came from the Broederbond, an Afrikaner organization our saint’s father, the Reverend Jozua Naudé, a hero of the late Boer War, had helped to found.  Naudé the elder named his son, our saint, after Christian Frederick Beyers, a Boer general from that war, and a friend.  Our saint moved in influential, devout, and unapologetically racist circles; he was on track to rise to the office of Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.  His background, South African Dutch Calvinism, included not only a toxic stew of racism, imperialism, and ethnocentrism, but the sense that Afrikaners were part of God’s elect.  Afrikaners understood and embraced what Rudyard Kipling gleefully called “White Man’s Burden” in 1899, to celebrate the debut of the United States of America as an imperial power:

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Until the 1950s Naudé the younger did not question the orthodoxy–the conventional wisdom–concerning Apartheid.  He graduated from the University of Stellenbosch and became a minister in the DRCSA in 1939.  He married Ilse Weder, daughter of a Moravian missionary, in 1940.  Also in 1940, at the age of 25 years, he became the youngest person to join the Broederbond.  Naudé rose through the ranks of the DRCSA.

The Road to Damascus

Consider this:  Treat people in was you want them to treat you.  This sums up the whole Law and the Prophets.

–Matthew 7:12, Annotated Scholars Version (1992)

The conversion of Beyers Naudé was gradual.

That process began in 1953, when he was part of a DRCSA delegation studying youth work in Europe, the United States of America, and Canada.  Some of what he witnesses outside his home culture and country affected him to the point of sowing the seeds of doubt regarding the morality of Apartheid.

Later, when Naudé was the acting Moderator of the Transvaal Synod of the DRCSA, some of his ministers came to him with troubling questions.  Some white ministers were serving in Colored (to use the South African term) congregations.  Parishioners were confronting these ministers for supporting Apartheid.  Naudé’s subsequent visits to these congregations shook him as he witnessed the human toll of Apartheid.  Between 1955 and 1957 Naudé undertook a private study of the question of whether the Bible justified Apartheid; he concluded that scripture and Apartheid were opposed to each other.

The last straw for Naudé was the Sharpeville Massacre of May 21, 1960.  On that day agents of the national government shot and killed 69 peaceful, unarmed protesters, most of whom were running away when security forces shot them.  Naudé became an outspoken opponent of Apartheid.

Taking Up His Cross

Congratulations when people hate you, and when they ostracize and denounce you and scorn your name as evil, because of he son of Adam!  Rejoice on that day, and jump for joy!  Just remember, your compensation is great in heaven.  Recall that their ancestors treated the prophets the same way.

–Luke 6::22-23, Annotated Scholars Version (1992)

That was when trouble started for Naudé.  Yes, he continued in parish ministry until 1963 and became the Moderator of the Southern Transvaal Synod in 1961, but our saint was on a collision course with the DRCSA.  In 1963 Naudé became the Director of the Christian Institute of South Africa, an ecumenical and multiracial organization that challenged Apartheid and distributed humanitarian aid.  That year the DRCSA also gave our saint an ultimatum; he had to choose between the Christian Institute and his ministerial function in the denomination.  Naudé chose the former.  The title of his final sermon was “Obedience to God.”  Our saint was, for all intents and purposes, a defrocked man.

Naudé spent most of the next three decades in trouble with South African government.  Security forces raided the offices of the Christian Institute occasionally.  Our saint, allegedly a heretic, as well as a traitor to the Afrikaner cause, opposed violence as a method of political change.  That did not satisfy the hardline government, which, on one occasion, accused him of being a communist.  Naudé was not a communist, but he was a subversive, as he should have been.  He traveled in Europe, speaking against Apartheid and collecting honors.  In October 1977 the South African government banned our saint and the closed the Christian Institute.  Naudé, as a banned person, was under house arrest.  The law also forbade him from speaking to more than one person at a time.  Foreign honors continued.  In the early 1980s the government relaxed the ban somewhat, permitting Naudé to leave his house yet not the magisterial district of Johannesburg.  The ban ended in September 1984.

Naudé was a free man again.  In 1984 He succeeded Desmond Tutu (a man destined for addition to this Ecumenical Calendar eventually) as the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.  In the early 1990s our saint, without joining the African National Congress (ANC), was the only white member of the ANC team that negotiated with the national government as Apartheid collapsed.

Naudé, marginalized within the DRCSA, had made the emotionally difficult decision to leave it in 1980.  He transferred to the majority-Black Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA).  The DRCA, by the way merged with the (Colored) Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in 1994 to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA).

The Hero

Well done, you competent and reliable slave!

–Matthew 25:23a, Annotated Scholars Version (1992)

Naudé, once a pariah, was a hero at the end of his life.  President Nelson Mandela was one of his friends.  Our saint lived long enough to witness his vindication.  He even lived long enough to witness the DRCSA denounce Apartheid and issue a formal apology for having affirmed the execrable institution.

Naudé lived to the age of 89 years.  He, surrounded by his wife and children, died at a retirement home in Johannesburg on September 7, 2004.


I also composed the collect and chose the passages of scripture.


Loving God of all nations, races, ethnicities, and cultures,

your command that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves

is as ancient as the Bible and as contemporary as the news.

That command continues to challenge us as we confront our own prejudices

and contend with those of people in power, as well as those around us.

Negative pressure to consent to injustice actively or passively is frequently intimidating.

We thank you for your faithful servant Beyers Naudé, whom you converted,

and who took up his cross and followed Jesus in South Africa,

thereby becoming an agent of transformation of his church, society, and nation-state.

May we follow the divine path of love in our circumstances,

and thereby radiate the light of Christ when and where we are,

regardless of the consequences to ourselves.

We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord and Savior,

in the name of the Father, and in the name of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Amos 1:21-24

Psalm 27

James 1:22-25

Luke 6:20-26





Feast of Albert John Luthuli (July 21)   Leave a comment

Flag of South Africa 1994

Above:  The Flag of South Africa, 1994-Present

Image in the Public Domain



Witness for Civil Rights in South Africa

Albert John Luthuli struggled for civil rights in South Africa.  His life typified the sage counsel of the father of the Reverend Doctor Vernon Johns (1892-1965), predecessor of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (1939-1968), in Montgomery, Alabama:  when you see a good fight, get in it.

Our saint came from a Christian family.  His father, John Bunyan Lutuli, was a Seventh-day Adventist missionary.  Young Albert, born near Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in 1898, lost his father to death in 1908.  Luthuli and his mother, Mtonya Gumede, moved to her hometown, Groutville, in Natal, our saint’s uncle, Martin Lutuli, was the chief of the Christian Zulus in the area.  Martin had ties to the U.S. Congregationalist mission in the province.  Mtonya, a washerwoman, helped to put her son through Adams College, the U.S. Congregationalist institution of higher learning at Adams, near Durban.  Luthuli, who had become a Methodist, joined the faculty.  He was one of three African instructors at Adams College.

Luthuli worked as an educator.  In 1927 the instructor married Nokukhanya Bhengu, also a teacher.  Our saint, who also encouraged missions, advocated for a liberal arts education (not just a technical one) for Africans.  He became the Secretary of the African Teachers Association in 1928 and the President thereof five years later.  Also in 1933 tribal elders asked Luthuli to succeed his uncle as chief.  He finally accepted the offer three years later, after much consideration.

Luthuli joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1945.  His roles and responsibilities in the organization increased until December 1952, when he became the President-General of the ANC.  His vocal opposition to Apartheid brought him into conflict with the national, White minority government.  Although that government had deposed him as chief in November 1952, he remained the de facto chief.  Upon the event of his dismissal as chief our saint issued a statement, “The Road to Freedom is Via the Cross.”  Luthuli was also a banned person from 1952 to 1956.  In 1956, after an ANC conference, the national government charged him and many others with treason.  A court acquitted everyone in 1961.  Luthuli, a banned person again from 1959 until his death, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960.  His journey to Oslo and back in 1961 was a brief respite from his enforced isolation.

Being a banned person took its toll on Luthuli.  He suffered from discouragement, high blood pressure, and a stroke.  He died near his home on July 21, 1967, after a train struck him.

In a scene from Cry Freedom (1987) White liberal newspaper editor Donald Woods (1933-2001) speaks with a member of the cabinet.  The government minister explains that he fears what might happen to White South Africans should Apartheid end.  I contend, however, that fear of the potential negative consequences of ceasing oppression is not a moral justification for continuing to oppress people.  In fact, persisting in oppression is counterproductive.  It is like being concerned about a pot of boiling water spilling out onto an oven range yet turning up the heat anyway.  That which we do to others, we do also to ourselves; this is a moral law of the universe.

Luthuli understood all this well.  His political involvement had its origin in his faith:

My own urge because I am a Christian is to get into the thick of the struggle with other Christians, taking my Christianity with me and praying that it may be used to influence for good the character of the resistance.

I wonder how that sounded to his oppressors, many of whom belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which quoted the Bible to defend Apartheid until 1992.  I wonder how Luthuli’s presence affected those who enforced his isolation.  I wonder how the work of enforcing that isolation damaged the souls of those who engaged in it.  In the case of oppression there are oppressors and victims–and only victims, for nobody can oppress another without harming himself or herself spiritually.







Eternal God, we thank you for the witness of Chief Luthuli, Nobel Laureate for Peace,

who was sustained by his Christian faith as he led the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

Strengthen us, after his example, to make no peace with oppression and to witness boldly for

our Deliverer, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Numbers 20:9-11

Psalm 122

Ephesians 2:12-17

John 16:25-33

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 479


Feast of Nelson Mandela (December 5)   2 comments


Above:  South African President F. W. de Klerk with Nelson Mandela, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1993

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052



President of South Africa and Renewer of Society

I have added a host of “new” saints with feast day in December to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days recently, but I have reserved Nelson Mandela until the end of this round of saints for December.  (One of the advantages of maintaining my own calendar of saints is that I have complete editorial control of it.)  To save the best for last is a good policy.  The process of adding to the Ecumenical Calendar will go on hiatus after this post, and I want a major, contemporary saint to be the first holy person a person comes across when scrolling down the page until I begin to add “new” saints with feast days in January again.  (I have twelve monthly lists of names to consider.)

In the great majority of posts in this genre I provide more personal details than I do in this one.  This time, however, I choose to include links to sources for those details and to focus instead on some targeted reflections related to Mandela.

Nelson Mandela Foundation

Nobel Prize

BBC News

World Methodist Council

Apartheid was a brutal and unjust system in the Republic of South Africa.  The national government deprived the majority population of civil rights and liberties.  It also persecuted even nonviolent activists for social justice.  Racism was one reason for these policies.  Some people were simply callous bastards.  Other reasons for these policies were the desire to retain power and the fear that a politically empowered majority African population might take revenge on the minority White population.  Those fears of revenge were predictable.  Indeed, movements of national liberation have not always led to peace and reconciliation.  Nevertheless, injustice is wrong at all times and places, and fear is no excuse for not respecting the image of God in other people.

Nelson Mandela struggled for social justice.  For a time, as part of that effort, he approved of violence.  Perhaps that was the only option the South African government left him for a while.  I choose to refrain from judging Mandela for that tactic, for I am in no position to do otherwise.  Far be it for me, one who has never lived under such an oppressive system, to judge those who have and who have resisted!  I do not know what decisions I would have made in their circumstances.  I do know, however, that my liberal tendency to oppose oppressive regimes and to support oppressed people renders me amenable to those who struggle for the recognition of their human dignity, which those in authority deny.  Slave rebellions make sense to me, after all.  Will the slaveholders emancipate the slaves if the slaves ask nicely?  The historical record does not indicate that they are inclined to do so.

Mandela, a Christian (a Methodist, to be precise), became a peacemaker.  The man, who, as a high-profile political prisoner, negotiated the terms of his release with President F. W. de Klerk, served as President from 1994 to 1999.  Then, unlike, many national leaders in Africa, he retired from office willingly.  Post-Apartheid South Africa featured no reign of vengeance.  No, President Mandela sought to united the diverse, divided population.

When Mandela died in December 2013 tributes to him in the United States were bipartisan.  Many of those who praised him were former critics.  However, many people on the conservative end of the political spectrum remained critical of the great man.  These criticisms were relics of the Cold War.  During the Cold War the United States of America and the Republic of South Africa were allies against Communists.  (The Cold War made for some uncomfortable and unfortunate alliances.  Frequently the U.S.A. allied itself with brutal governments.)  The Cold War also became an obstacle to seeking social justice in South Africa.  President Ronald Reagan, a firm opponent of the Soviet Union, told Archbishop Desmond Tutu to his face in the 1980s that the majority population of South Africa would have to wait for its freedom.  With the government of the United States allied with the government of South Africa and labeling the African National Congress (ANC) as a terrorist organization, many South African dissenters found allies which dismayed the U.S. government and confirmed it in its distrust of the ANC.   But what if the U.S.A. had allied itself with those seeking freedom in South Africa instead of those who seeking to deny it? What is the value of boasting of high ideals without living them?

Mandela was an agent of God, social justice, and national reconciliation.  The human race needs more people like him.






O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world

offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60