Apartheid alive in churches, research shows

Racial segregation and the unfair treatment of black ministers are still causing deep concern in South African churches.

This is the main conclusion drawn from research outlined in a booklet, Transcending Racism in Church and Community, that was launched in Johannesburg recently.

Dr Molefe Tsele, General-Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said at the launch of the publication that churches were "lagging far behind local government and other areas of society in dealing with racism".

The council issued questionnaires to more than 300 members of churches

The survey found black ministers were being paid less than their white counterparts and were often placed to work in ill-equipped rural churches.

The council issued questionnaires to more than 300 members of churches in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape, in which it asked the members what their churches had done to eradicate racism since 1994.

The Rev Canon Luke Pato of the SACC Reconciliation Unit said the church was shocked by the responses it received, so much so that it had devised a strategy to train people to be trail-blazers in preaching anti-racism.

"The trained commissioners will be tasked with implementing a phase-in period in churches - at the end of which we hope the church will be transformed," he said.

Most commonly, the respondents said their churches had measures and programmes in place to deal with racism in the future but did not have any success stories to tell, said Pato.

Caucuses to elect bishops were also done along racial lines

In some churches, black clergy were still being paid less than their white counterparts. Pato said this situation was worsened by the fact that black clergy were placed in churches in the rural areas, where church structures were ill-equipped or needed upgrading, while their white counterparts were given preference in more developed churches in urban areas.

"In these cases you find that the black minister who gets a lower stipend or allowance is faced with upgrading his church with his salary and the congregation's collections, which would be small because the community is largely unemployed."

"That is in contrast to the white minister whose congregation would contribute so much that the minister can live more on the benefits than the salary," he said.

The respondents said caucuses to elect bishops were also done along racial lines, which meant that predominantly white churches would have white bishops while black ones had black bishops.

The respondents also reflected that they were irked by the fact that white congregants continued to revolt against wearing mother union uniforms, a practice which was historically viewed as a black form of identity.

While black congregants remained proud to be seen to be wearing the uniform, Pato said it was unfortunate that the issue continued to polarise the church along racial lines.

"In most cases, the white congregants would just form their own union and decide against wearing uniforms."

"On the other hand, in black families you find that the uniform or the church guild is passed on from generation to generation and that maintains the pride," said Pato.

Bishop Purity Malinga, head of the KwaZulu-Natal and Coastal District of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, said the responses reflected in the survey were not devoid of truth.

Malinga said churches should consider providing interaction and racism workshops to address the matter.

"It will not just be resolved overnight. We must remember, this is a process," he said.