Afrikaans Church Votes Against Apology Over Land

The biggest Afrikaans church voted on Tuesday not to apologise for historical events that led to unfair land distribution.

This came after a lively debate on the matter at the 11th synodal sitting of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) in Pretoria.

"We have apologised enough for things that happened in the past. It's time to lift up our chins," said one delegate.

Another called for the church not to be too sensitive about confessing to past wrongs.

"Then we might as well confess to having amnesia," he said.

The 385 NGK delegates, representing more than a million church members, were discussing a resolution to thank the government for its approach of orderly land reform.

An additional sentence was proposed to acknowledge that the NGK had contributed to the unfair distribution of land.

It read in part: "The general synod notes with sorrow the historical turn of events that led to an urgent need for land reform, and confesses the extent to which it has been instrumental in this."

The first speaker in the discussion expressed his full support for land reform but added: "I have through the years developed a pet aversion to having to make confessions over things I had no part in."

He said whites also had land taken away from them during the apartheid years.

"I don't know what role our church had in government decisions that were put into effect under parliamentary legislation. Now we want to confess to sins we had no part in."

This prompted a second delegate to remark that he acquired the right to vote around 1968.

"I was instrumental in the sense that, through my franchise, I supported certain actions. If there are people among us who have only been voting since 1990, they can abstain today."

The gathering eventually agreed not to include a confession in its resolution on land reform, which called for the process to be speeded up.

Delegates also agreed that congregations and regional NGK bodies should seek to make church property available where possible for land reform.

Although the NGK did not own enough land to make a substantial difference, such a gesture could have important symbolic meaning.

The resolution urged church members to be sensitive to the plight of the poor and the homeless, and to try to play a conciliatory role in land questions.

Another issue that sparked a lengthy debate related to a report on the authority of the Bible by a synodal commission of experts.

A number of delegates complained that church members were being confused by theologians questioning the historical accuracy of some events recorded in the Bible.

Commission member Flip Theron commented that such confusion was not necessarily negative as it prompted introspection, and could lead to church members rediscovering the roots of their faith.

The meeting accepted the commission's resolution that the Bible was not meant to be "an infallible source of exact scientific and historical information".

It was, instead, a reflection of God's message of salvation, the resolution said.