The racial discourse and the Dutch Reformed Church: looking through a descriptive-empirical lens … towards a normative task
Schoeman, W. J.
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The discourse between the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) and race is a difficult and intense one. The aim of this article is to give a descriptive-empirical description of the relationship between the DRC and race by using the Church Mirror surveys. An altered social distance scale is used to measure church acceptance. In the discourse on race, acceptance and unity in the DRC with regard to racial prejudice and attitudes towards the “other” group have a stronger voice than theological or religious arguments. As a normative task in this discourse, at least two aspects can be pointed out: developing a framework for forgiveness and a confession on racism. The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) distanced itself from racism in the middle eighties, and in the nineties, South Africa became officially a non-racial democracy. However, the conclusion cannot be made that race and racial differences do not play a major role in South African society today. The racial “card” is part of the current debate, and the church is part of the discussion and probably part of the problem. In November 2009, the Weekend Argus reported, “Jansen blames racism on NGK”. Jansen argued that the church, as one of the agencies of socialisation in society, helped entrench racism in South Africa. “The most dangerous for me is the NG Kerk.” The role of the home, churches, schools and the university cannot be overlooked in the damage racism has done to society. He questions if the church shares the broader values of non-racialism (Jansen 2009a: 1). This is but one of many critical voices asking the question about the relationship between racism and the DRC. The relationship between the DRC and race is one of division. Race and dealing with racial differences are an integral part of the history of the DRC. Today, the DRC is still predominantly a “white” church and at odds with her family members that are “non-white”. The DRC is being held responsible partially for racial problems in South Africa. In doing Practical Theology, it is important to answer the question: What is going on? Osmer (2008: 4) describes this as one of the tasks of Practical Theology to gather information that helps discern patterns and dynamics in certain situations and contexts (the descriptive-empirical task of Practical Theology). The aim of this article is to give a descriptive-empirical account of the relationship between the DRC and race. In the end, a question will also be asked about the normative task of Practical Theology in this regard.
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