This essay looks at the events and issues influencing the changing and developing attitudes of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches of New Zealand to South Africa from 1947 to 1987.
This period, dominated in South Africa by the Nationalist Government's apartheid policies, is one which has also seen the rise of influential world bodies, improvements in travel and communications, developing ecumenism and changes in the understanding of race relations. It is a period when countries become free of colonial influence, and assert their national independence.
There have been moves within Christianity to interpret the gospel in ways relevant to believers in their society, separating the heart message from the colonial and European culture which clothed its initial presentation.
With the improved faster travel facilities, international sporting and cultural exchanges increased in number, and the international success of teams came to be viewed as a standard of national prestige.
In this world setting we view the development of New Zealand Methodist and Presbyterian attitudes to South African events and issues, but it is also necessary to take into account factors which originate in New Zealand parallel to the world setting.
Chief among these is the change in race relations policy from assimilation and integration of the Maori people to bi- and multi-culturalism. From a European viewpoint this could be described as a move from "they-must-be-like-us-and-do-things-the-Pakeha-way, " to "together-we-will-recognise-each-others-ways."
A second factor is the changing attitude towards Britain, which in the Post World War II setting is decreasingly viewed as 'home,' and the Empire becomes a Commonwealth of more loosely linked independent nations. At the beginning of the period there are much closer ties to Britain from New Zealand and South Africa. When South Africa leaves the Commonwealth in 1961 this tie is broken, and critical reaction from New Zealand is not seen as much as being criticism of 'one of the family.'
The loosening of ties between Britain and New Zealand is accompanied here by closer links to world bodies, where things which unite are stressed more than those which divide. Sectarian doctrines and interests give way to wider ecumenical perspectives. This happens in South Africa too, in the churches affiliated to W.A.R.C. and W.C.C., but the Gereformeerde Kerk, N.S.K. and N.H.K. in isolation from these bodies have become more rigidly entrenched in their doctrines.
This period is the time of the formation and influence of world organisations where the issue of race relations comes to have an increasingly high profile.
The United Nations was founded in 1945, and the World Council of Churches held its first Conference at Amsterdam in 1948. The Commission of the Churches on International affairs set up by the W.C.C. and I.M.C.in 1946 was influential at United Nations particularly in areas of racial tension.The World Alliance of Presbyterian Churches (later to become part of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches) and the World Methodist Conference also added to world perspective. Delegates from New Zealand played a role in all these organisations.
The World Methodist Conference at Springfield, U.S.A. from 24th September to 2nd October 1947 looked at the issue of race relations, raising issues which were to be of crucial importance in the forty years ahead.
Racism, the assumption of inherent superiority of one race over another raises its ugly head so widely that it has become a world issue ... One of the most serious features of the situation is the satisfied ignorance of so many of us. The first requirement is an intelligent appreciation of the facts. This lays a heavy duty upon our whole church not only in America but in all lands, to undertake a program of education, both on the general problems of the relation of the races, but specifically on the conditions which are faced in the lands where Methodism now serves.
The following year saw the first meeting of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam
On the subject of Human Rights the report (inter alia) made significant declarations concerning the Race Question. Quite unequivocally it condemned racialism as contrary to Christian love, renounced colour prejudice as being dangerous and unchristian, and denounced all of segregation.
Each body continued to focus attention on South Africa's system of apartheid as it become embodied in law from 1948 on. As the information was disseminated in New Zealand, particularly through the National Council of Churches, it played a formative role in influencing the attitudes of the churches.