Apartheid was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s. Under apartheid, the rights, associations, and movements of the black majority were curtailed, and white minority rule was maintained. How should Christians view and respond to apartheid?
The Bible makes it clear that all human beings are created in the image of God and have equal dignity and worth (Genesis 1:27). God does not show partiality or favoritism based on ethnicity, skin color, or race (Acts 10:34-35). Therefore, apartheid’s foundational philosophy of racial hierarchy and segregation is incompatible with biblical principles. The Bible condemns oppression and injustice, commands care for the vulnerable, and values diversity within the human family. Christians should see apartheid as a serious violation of biblical values.
The New Testament gives us examples of breaching social and ethnic barriers that divided people. Jesus reached out to Samaritans, Gentiles, tax collectors, women, and others marginalized in His day (John 4, Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 9:9-13). The early church welcomed Gentiles as equals in Christ (Acts 10). Paul taught that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, Christians should see apartheid’s rigid racial classifications and segregation as contradicting the spirit of inclusion and unity in the gospel.
The prophets often spoke out against injustice and oppression of the poor and powerless (Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8). Discriminatory apartheid laws enabled forced removals, loss of citizenship, limitations on movement and employment, and other injustices against the black majority. Christians should see apartheid as a system that inflicted much suffering and violated human rights. They should speak out for justice as the prophets did.
Jesus commanded His followers to love their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:39). Apartheid promoted fear, hostility, and prejudice between races. But the gospel calls Christians to love across manmade racial divides. Christians living under apartheid should have led the way in demonstrating reconciled relationships between ethnic groups.
The Bible commends those who work to establish peace and pursue justice (Matthew 5:9, Isaiah 1:17). Much courageous effort by Christians as well as others was required to dismantle apartheid peacefully in South Africa. Christians worldwide should have supported and prayed for that work of reconciliation and reform. The overthrow of apartheid in South Africa provides hope that positive change is possible when people of moral courage persist in standing for what is right.
In summary, the philosophy undergirding apartheid was fundamentally incompatible with biblical principles valuing human dignity and equality before God. Apartheid violated the commands to love our neighbor, care for the vulnerable, and pursue justice. Christians should have firmly opposed apartheid and been voices calling for change through nonviolent means. While change was slow to come in South Africa, the dismantling of apartheid provides hope that with prayer and persistent courage, institutionalized injustice can give way to greater justice and freedom.
Biblical Response to Injustice
The Bible speaks clearly against injustice and oppression, so Christians confronted with systemic racism like apartheid should respond in several ways:
- Condemn oppression and violence (Psalm 94:16, Isaiah 58:6)
- Speak up for the rights of the poor and marginalized (Proverbs 31:8-9)
- Act with justice and mercy (Micah 6:8, Zechariah 7:9-10)
- Work peacefully to change unjust laws (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17)
- Overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)
- Pray for justice to be established (Psalm 9:9, Luke 18:7-8)
- Repent of prejudice and seek reconciliation (Acts 10:28, 2 Corinthians 5:16-19)
Christians have a biblical mandate to promote justice and racial reconciliation in society. Though the world’s response is often imperfect, Christians must lead the way in overcoming injustice with truth, love, courage, and grace.
Lessons From South Africa
The history of apartheid in South Africa and its eventual demise provide several important lessons:
- Racism dehumanizes people and leads to oppression and violence.
- Unjust laws must be resisted through moral courage and nonviolence.
- People of faith can promote reconciliation even in difficult situations.
- Lasting change requires both legislation and changed hearts.
- Sacrificial work for justice will bear fruit over time.
- God can bring hope and renewal to broken situations.
Remembering South Africa’s struggles under apartheid motivates Christians to continue standing for racial equality, human dignity, and mutual understanding in our world today.
Applying Biblical Principles
While the institutionalized racism in South Africa differed from contexts elsewhere, biblical principles Christians applied in resisting apartheid can guide us in standing for justice today:
- Affirm that all people have equal dignity as God’s image-bearers.
- Speak out when any groups face prejudice, exclusion, or injustice.
- Advocate for equal opportunity and access to participation in society for all.
- Promote relationship-building and reconciliation across divides.
- Work to change laws and structures that discriminate against people based on ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status.
- Support leaders pursuing justice with humility, grace, and wisdom.
- Prayerfully discern when civil disobedience to unjust laws may be justified.
- Overcome hostility with love, not revenge.
Apartheid reminds us of the cost of passivity in the face of severe injustice. Christians must apply biblical values to promote justice, inclusion, compassion, and reconciliation in our world today.
Apartheid in South Africa represented an extreme example of institutionalized racial oppression and injustice. As followers of Christ, Christians should be gripped by the biblical vision of human dignity and equality before God. They should be courageous voices and active agents against racism, prejudice, or structures that exclude or oppress people.
While insisting on justice and working for change, Christians’ efforts must be rooted in love, nonviolence, repentance, prayer, and a passion for reconciliation. The godly change agents who worked and sacrificed to reform South African society provide an inspiring example. Their legacy summons Christians to continuous effort in advancing justice, human rights, and reconciliation in our communities and world.