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Racist From the Start? The SDA Church in South Africa

May 10, 2006

On the 14th of January 1893, P.J.D. Wessels wrote to Ellen White:

"I do not want my children to associate with the lower classes of coloured people. I will labor for them and teach my children to do so. But I do not want my children to mix with them for such is detrimental to their moral welfare. Nor do I want my children to think there is no difference in society that they should finally associate and marry into coloured blood."

DF 506, as quoted in Antonio Pantalone's DTh. thesis.

Like all historical accounts, official accounts of Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) history are selective and gloss over much of the darkness. Official (and most unofficial) accounts of the SDA church in South Africa are almost hagiographic in nature. You can find an account of the conversion of Pieter/Peter Wessels–one of the first converts to the SDA church in South Africa at:

http://www.sdadefend.com/P-Wessels.htm

http://www.sdadefend.com/p-wessels2.htm

There is no doubt that the Wessels family donated large amounts of money to the work of the SDA church in South Africa, Australia, and America and their generosity should be remembered. We must also however, take note of the racist attitudes of these early SDA members and the impact that such attitudes have had on the church in South Africa–which is still in one area divided along racial lines. Recommended reading is Antonio Pantalone's 1998 DTh thesis: A Missiological Evaluation of the Afrikanse Konferensie (1968-1974) and its Significance for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa (University of Durban Westville) pp 177-187, 306-314.

7 comments

  1. Adventist Today is looking for someone to report on South Africa for our journal. If you are qualified and interested, please contact us at editor@atoday.com.


  2. It is a most sad part of the history of the church, but it only remains tragic if there is no upward movement away from a mindset that, instead of craving unity in Christ, revels in creating or maintaining divisions.

    In His prayer in Gethsemane Christ asked for His believers to be one in God so that the world may believe that the Father had sent Him (John 17:21).

    James reminds us (James 3:17) that the wisdom that comes from above is without partiality.

    We cannot change the past, and we must always remember that perfection, sanctification, is the work of a lifetime (after all, Peter has received a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit already by Acts 10, but God still had to use a vision to get him past his prejudice against Gentiles). That means that a person has to grow a little before they can see all people as God’s children, as brothers and sisters.

    But as we look at ourselves, as we pride ourselves on being people that base our beliefs and values upon the Word and the Word alone, let us learn to strive for unity, even when it means breaking down satanic barriers held firm by our families, our societies, even our local churches. Adventists should be a voice of reason in the face of prejudice whether it be racial or social, when we fail here we fail to really show the world a Christ that can sit with tax collectors and Samaritans. Let us stop failing.

    “God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” – Acts 17:26,27


  3. […] January 11, 2008 I have previously blogged on Race and Seventh-day Adventism in South Africa: here, here, here and […]


  4. Shame on a church I gladly left.


  5. In the old church clerk’s records of the first Adventist church in South Africa – Beaconsfield in Kimberly – whites and blacks were baptized and became full members.

    God bless

    Frank


  6. Racism is the inherent indoctrination that other members of the Human race are born inferior.This belief is also held by White Adventists who pretend cleverly otherwise.I personally had an opportunity to stay with them, and DO CONFIRM this.I was an Adventist until 1990, and by choice left the church.I do not believe in Mrs White ‘inspiration’,as a prophetess.However I LOVE YOU ALL MY ADVENTIST brethren.


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