Nelson Mandela*s forgiveness extends to LCA seminary past principal Dr Henry Hamann
If you were a black or coloured in South Africa in the 1950s you had to carry a pass. It specified where you could go, for what purpose and for how long. Needless to say, whites didn’t need to carry this pass. In fact, any white person could stop any non-white person and demand to see their pass to check whether or not they had permission to be in that particular area. If you were black in South Africa from 1950 onwards you were considered to be a criminal, illegal, unless you could produce the right paper work to prove that you were not.
This was a policy of segregation or *apartness* which in the Afrikaans language was pronounced *apartheid*. In 1949 the government introduced the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act which banned people of different races from marrying each other. In 1950 the Immorality Act made sexual relations between people of different races a criminal act. 1950 also saw the Population Registration Act where everyone had to be registered according to their race and the *Group Areas Act* which caused the forcible relocating of people according to race. In 1953, the *Reservation of Separate Amenities Act* saw separate schools, separate buses, separate beaches, separate park benches, separate… everything. The lion*s share, the best of everything was reserved, of course, for the white minority. The non-white majority, 80% of the population, had no vote and no voice.
As time went on and resistance grew to this racist government, the protests began to focus on the *papers please* laws. In 1960 somewhere between 5000 and 7000 people turned up at the Sharpville police station just outside of Johannesburg without their papers and, as a form of protest, declared themselves to be illegal and asked to be arrested. The police responded by firing indiscriminately into the crowd. The massacre killed 69 people and wounded 150 including women and children.
After Sharpville the African National Congress which had previously been organised as a non-violent protest movement decided to implement a paramilitary wing to disrupt the organisation of government and sabotage the state. Nelson Mandela who had been a part of the ANC since the 1940s became a part of this new group and went underground.
Mandela was arrested in 1962 for *travelling illegally* and was sentenced to 5 years hard labour on the South African equivalent of Alcatraz, Robben Island. While in prison he was tried for *sabotage* and was given a life sentence. For the first 18 years of his sentence his Robben Island cell had no bed and no plumbing of any kind. He was permitted one letter every 6 months and one visitor every year, for 30 minutes.
He became the world-wide symbol for the fight to stop apartheid.
RESOLUTION ON SOUTHERN AFRICA: CONFESSIONAL INTEGRI TY (DAR ES SALAAM. SIXTH ASSEMBLY OF THE LUTHERAN WORLD FEDERA TION. 1977):
Under normal circumstances Christians may have different opinions in political questions. However, political and social systems may become so perverted and oppressive that it is consistent with the confession to reject them and to work for changes. We especially appeal to our white member churches in Southern Africa to recognize that the situation in Southern Africa constitutes a status confessionis. This means that, on the basis of faith and in order to manifest the unity of the church, churches would publicly and unequivocally reject the existing apartheid system.
(In Christ-A New Community. The proceedings of the Sixth Assembly of the LWF. Dar es Salaam. 1977. pp. 179/180).
By 1984 the white member churches in Southern Africa had failed to publicly reject the apartheid system. I assume that these white Lutheran churches knew all too well which side their bread was buttered on. They were subsequently expelled from the LWF.
The following year Dr Henry P Hamann, long-term principal of the Australian Lutheran Seminary penned his response to the expulsion. His article is significant as it shows a distinct mindset that is found among many LCA pastors today when it comes to matters of social justice, discrimination and basic human rights.
Dr Hamann draws on the Lutheran Two Kingdoms Doctrine to oppose the actions of the LWF in expelling the white Lutheran churches. In effect, he argues that a position of non-protest is the only Godly course. He understands that the Church should only protest when the Gospel itself is threatened. Hamann makes his point by drawing on the experience of 19th century Germans who emigrated to Australia forming what would eventually become the Lutheran Church of Australia.
In 1817 Frederich Wilhelm III of Prussia undertook to combine the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia. He ordered the use of an amended, unified liturgy including a change in the wording in the Service for Holy Communion. Although the changes were accepted by the majority of the congregations a small group of Lutheran pastors understood this move to be an unreasonable threat to their purity of doctrine and the teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Lord*s Supper. The changes motivated the pastors and their congregants to move to Australia.
For Dr Hamann this government interference in the wording of the communion liturgy was a clear case of offending the essential principles of God in the highest order and public protest was warranted. In the case of the racist laws of Apartheid, and the suffering, imprisonment and even death of those whose only crime was the colour of their skin, Hamann saw no offence to the essential principles of God. He saw no reason for the church to reject apartheid.
Some of Dr Hamann*s closing comments are telling.
There will always be a big gap between the ideal and the possible. Good government is one which, while seeking for peace and justice for all those it governs, also has a strong grip on reality, and reality sets many limitations to that which is possible and immediately attainable. The present writer is convinced that the real concern behind the apartheid policy in South Africa is not racism per se but fear that black control in South Africa, which universal franchise would immediately bring about, would result in the loss and destruction of what the white population with the help of the black has built up over a number of centuries. The actions of black rulers throughout Africa since 1950, involving racism of the blackest hue, do not give any confidence that the same would not happen in South Africa. (pg 48)
(My translation of the above… forgive me Reader if you think it is uncharitable…)
If we give the blacks the vote then the whole place will go to sh!t.
The most astonishing thing about Mandela, the thing that moves me to tears and motivates me to be better than I am… is his amazing and generous attitude of forgiveness. Renowned US reporter, Dan Rather tells of Mandela*s attitude when, after 27 years in prison he is finally released. Rather was in Mandela*s home on that night in 1990. He remembers and was struck by his calm demeanour and how often he spoke of forgiveness. He was absolutely determined that South Africa would move forward in a unity that only the spirit of forgiveness could provide.
Mandela*s forgiveness extended to those who conceived and enforced the racist principles of apartheid. It extended to those who stood silent in the face of a wrong so great that the cry for justice should have gone out from avery mouth. His forgiveness extended to those who held positions of power and influence especially those who claimed to speak for the ONE who is the essence of forgiveness. These church men sanctioned public silence and fostered a corresponding and ungodly attitude of indifference. Mandela*s forgiveness extended to Dr Henry P Hamann and the Lutheran Church of Australia.
Today the world mourns the loss of a moral giant, a man who stands shoulder to shoulder with Gandhi and Martin Luther King. With the benefit of history and hindsight it is easy to look back and see when we so obviously got it wrong. We should, perhaps, be slow to judge those like Dr Hamann who did not have the benefit of such hindsight.
But, surely, what we CAN do is learn from our past mistakes.
Dr Hamann*s lopsided view of justice and the things of God continue to be played out in our church. Written into the constitutions of every Lutheran Congregation in Australia are clauses which stress the importance of maintaining pure doctrine over and against those who would pollute us. My own congregation continues to publish, week by week public statements about who may and who may not rightly partake of Holy Communion. These things are highlighted as the essential things of God. And yet, together with the rest of the church they continue to imprison their gay sons and daughters in denial and shame and shut their ears to the pain and the cry for justice.
Farewell. Nelson Mandela. You suffered so much, you responded with forgiveness and grace and you never gave up the fight for justice. May we all learn to do likewise.