Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

8
The Inverted Norm: The Formation and Functioning of Racially Mixed Christian Congregations in South Africa

Dawid Venter


INTRODUCTION

Prior to the twentieth century, most Christian churches in South Africa expressed the ideal of racially mixed congregations. However, such congregations are rare today, as a result of the segregation enforced by the apartheid regime between 1948 and 1990. For instance, in a survey I conducted in 1997, church leaders could identify only 3.17 percent of congregations in the Church of the Province of South Africa (Anglican) as racially mixed.

When the white National Party assumed power in 1948, each South African was assigned to one of four racial categories: "whites," "coloreds," "Asians," and "blacks." Residential segregation was enforced and racial intermarriage forbidden. Although the English-speaking churches expressed opposition to this legislated discrimination, they generally showed pragmatic compliance. By 1964, Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics, and Presbyterians admitted that, with rare exceptions, "people of different races do not normally worship together in the same church" ( Cawood 1964:52-61, 92). The initial ideal of mixed congregations was now inverted. However, some deliberately racially integrated congregations did emerge from the 1960s to the 1980s in defiance of the political system ( Robertson 1994:2; Brain 1991:157).

In the post-apartheid era since 1990, racially mixed congregations have been multiplying faster than before. South Africa's present nonracial 1 ideology encourages cultural diversity across all sectors of society.


PURPOSE AND METHOD

My purposes in this chapter are to outline the social factors that contribute to the formation of racially mixed churches, using these to construct a threefold causal typology and to indicate how congregational structures are adapted to accommodate

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