I am busy reading the book 'Christ Divided:Liberalism, Ecumenism and Race in South Africa' by David Thomas. Steve Hayes reviewed it here.
This book is helping me to crystalise my thinking on issues of church and race - but I find myself just as confused as ever as to the way forward.
The church deals with the history of the church in South Africa and describes the involvement of the early missionaries, showing how this affected and affects the church today. Basically, Thomas says that there were two missionary approaches. The one was to plant a church within an ethnic community and allow that church to be fully owned by the community - in effect, once the church had taken hold the missionary would withdraw. This is the understanding of 'good mission work' that I have always had due to whatever books I have read. The best evangelism is done when the evangelist is from the same ethnic group or community as the people amongst whom he or she is working. BUT - it turns out that this mission focus was held by the people who ultimately drew up apartheid - separate churches (based on ethnicity) led to separate development. This mission practice was carried out by the Lutherans and the Dutch Reformed Church, amongst others.
On the other hand the Methodist Church and the Anglican Church had a different tack. They believed passionately that the church should not differentiate on the basis of race and that if they were to have separate churches it would be like saying that God saw blacks and whites differently. The drawback to this approach was that for sometime black people were in the minority in the churches and so things tended to go the way of the white people and black people had few opportunities for top level leadership. Some black people actually requested that they be allowed to establish their own churches.
I'm struggling with the question of , 'So what is right? Group consciousness and self determination or multi-racial at all cost'. I believe that the Methodist Church in Southern Africa today could easily be divided into two bodies - black people who are tied closely to their traditions and heritage and see little use for white people and their ways and white and black people who want to work together to develop a common heritage and a common future. I think that if we made that distinction, both churches would grow and flourish. But would it be right?