Friday, September 05, 2014


1. From time to time I see Arminians try to tar Calvinism with apartheid. It's a tactic that's apt to boomerang. For instance, American Methodists split over slavery. So should we link racism to Arminianism via Southern Methodists? It's funny how often Arminian apologists are blind to easy, obvious counterexamples.

This attempted linkage takes different forms. 

i) For instance, Peter Lumpkins compares apartheid to a caste system, then compares a caste system to Calvinism:

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a caste social structure is "any of the ranked, hereditary, endogamous social groups, often linked with occupation, that together constitute traditional societies in South Asia, particularly among Hindus in India."Given this specific description, it seems to socially follow that "apartheid" as it was thoroughly embraced in South Africa as well as "segregation" as it was widely practiced in the United States up until the Civil Rights Movement began to openly challenge it, qualify as at least a similar social construct to the "caste system" of South Asia. Cox included a comparison chart suggesting an ideological affinity between a racial "caste" construct, the traditional Hindu "caste" construct, and a novel Calvinistic "caste" construct he apparently infers from the socio-religious construct.
But there are several basic problems with that comparison:
a) Election and reprobation don't constitute a social ranking system. Election and reprobation aren't hereditary. Election and reprobation aren't linked to occupations. And endogamy has nothing to do with it. So the analogy doesn't fit his own definition.
b) Lumpkins offers no historical evidence to show that belief in double predestination influenced the development of apartheid. 
c) Ironically, Arminianism invites comparison with the Hindu caste system:
The universal law of karma (action and reaction) determines each soul's unique destiny. The self-determination and accountability of the individual soul rests on its capacity for free choice. 
Every person is responsible for his or her acts and thoughts, so each person's karma is entirely his or her own. Occidentals see the operation of karma as fatalistic. But that is far from true since it is in the hands of an individual to shape his own future by schooling his present.

In Arminianism, like Hinduism, individuals are the ultimate source of their own destiny. 

2. Another attempt to link Calvinism to apartheid attributes apartheid to the seminal ideas of Abraham Kuyper. However, that's very complicated, and somewhat counterproductive.

i) From what I've read, there's been historical tension between Holland and South Africa. It's not as if Afrikaners ipso facto idolize Kuyper. 

ii) In some essential respects, Kuyper's position was antithetical to apartheid. For instance:

Kuyper's Stone lectures do not argue for the superiority of race or civilization, but for the superiority of Christianity. It is not always easy to distinguish between the two, but it is dear that, for Kuyper, historic development is not a process determined by race. Neither is the superiority of race fixed, but can be lost by the white and gained by the yellow race—as Kuyper himself wrote.  
In 1896 he formulated rules for church planting in the Dutch East Indies, where Kuyper's churches had their main mission field. In these rules he stated that, according to the gospel, different races and nations had to live together in one church. This unity might only be broken up in case of difference in language or confession.4 
In 190l, the year Kuyper became prime minister of the Netherlands, he introduced an important change in Dutch colonial politics, when he introduced the so-called ethical policy. The basics of this policy were an application of his view of human equality and of the responsibility of people and races to spend their superiority in the service of God. In the program of his administration he described the responsibility of the Dutch nation towards the East-Indian peoples as guardianship, over against the realities of colonization or exploitation. The underlying idea is dear: the Netherlands were not allowed to abuse their superiority over the Dutch East Indies. I do not deny the paternalistic character of this view, but this policy marked a major advance over the nineteenth- century Dutch colonial policy of exploitation. And it shows that Kuyper was not guided by the culture of racism of his day, but by his Calvinistic creed of human equality.

iii) In one respect, Kuyper's position may have had some influence on Afrikaners. Kuyper espoused the principle of "pillarization." Holland had different factions, viz. Jews, Calvinists, Catholics, socialists. Pillarization was a type of religious, political, and socioeconomic pluralism. The right of free association, in which different factions were at liberty to form their own parallel institutions, viz. denominations, political parties, trade unions, schools, universities, hospitals, media, employers. This allowed for various fairly self-contained subcultures to function and flourish side-by-side within the nation at large. 

I'm guessing that Kuyper espoused pillarization in part because Kuyper was European, and sensitive to the history of religious warfare in Europe, including civil warfare. When the state tries to impose a single cultural or religious regime on the general populace, that can, and often does, provoke social unrest and instability, sometimes culminating in civil war. Pillarization is a kind of safety value that releases the pressure. At least in theory. 

Although that may have had some impact on the development of apartheid, there are two essential differences:

a) Pillarization wasn't race-based. At most, that would be incidental. 

b) Pillarization involved voluntary separatism rather than legally mandated segregation. Indeed, this reflects another Kuyperian distinctive: sphere-sovereignty was a way of curbing the power of the state. 

Pillarization has counterparts with Zionism, Welsh nationalism, Indian reservations, black churches, the Amish, &c. A faction or people-group who resist assimilation by practicing separatism to preserve their identity and autonomy. 

If Arminians are going to attribute apartheid to Calvinism via Kuyper, they need to explain why they think pillarization is inherently evil. The question isn't whether apartheid in particular is evil, but whether the general principle of pillarization is evil. Given that many Arminians are Baptists who support church/state separation and maintain their own churches, educational institutions, &c., it's unclear how Arminians will be in a position to consistently oppose pillarization.   

3. Another popular theory is that 19C Afrikaners viewed themselves as recapitulating the experience of ancient Israel: the Exodus and Conquest. There are, however, some problems with that theory:

i) There's nothing uniquely Calvinistic about Christians who see analogies between their own experience and the experience of God's people in OT times. And, up to a point, there's nothing wrong with drawling those analogies.

ii) Likewise, there's nothing essential racist about that hermeneutic. For instance, Black American slaves did they same thing in reverse. The white man was Pharaoh, while the black man was Israel in Egypt. 

iii) Even if Afrkaners filter their experience through this OT narrative, the Israelite/Canaanite dialectic doesn't select for black Africans to play the role of Canaanites. British imperialists (e.g. Cecil Rhodes) were at least as much or more of a threat to Afrikaners than Zulus. Afrikaners could just as well cast the Brits in that role. 

iv) From what I've read, Afrikaners don't view themselves as invaders. They say they got to the Cape before the African natives. They claim it was unoccupied before their arrival. They settled virgin territory. Whether or not that's true, that's a very different story than driving out the indigenous people-groups (e.g. Canaanites). 

4. Let's examine how an Afrikaner theologian defends apartheid, taking Francis Nigel Lee as a point of reference. 

By way of general observation, there's nothing specifically Calvinistic about Lee's arguments. He didn't appeal to any Reformed distinctives to justify apartheid. Rather, these are generic arguments I've run across in other segregationist/white supremacist literature. 

As there is a variety within the unity of the Triune God, it is only to be expected that He would also plan and approve of a variety within the unity of the universe which would similarly reveal Himself as He really is -- a variety within a unity.

The fact that God embodies "variety" doesn't entail that creatures mirror God in that respect. God is both like us and unlike us. 

Then the Triune God proceeded "to divide the day from the night" and the living creatures of the water from those of the air -- all after their kind."14 "And God made the beast of the Earth after its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth after its kind." And "God saw that it was good" and that all these creatures were destined not to interbreed, but to mate only with their own kind.

That actually subverts Lee's argument. In terms of Gen 1 taxonomy, humans are all of a kind. So that's an argument against bestiality, not miscegenation

The Sethites disobeyed and displeased God by terminating their separation, by allowing themselves to be seduced by the good looks of the godless Cainite women -- by biologically integrating with them in acts of sexual intercourse between the two breeds of men. The result of such activity, was a morally degenerate and hybrid breed of men who filled the Earth with violence, until God exterminated then in the death sentence of the Great Noachic Flood.

i) Sethites and Cainites aren't two different "breeds" of men, but the same biological breed. Lee is equivocating. 

ii) In addition, his appeal to variety is in tension with his apposition to hybrids. Hybrids add variety. Consider hybridization in horticulture. 

It is instructive to note Ham's sin against God and its consequences, when he vilely dishonoured his father Noah. 
When one considers Extra-Biblical History, it is remarkable that all the great monotheistic world religions started in the tents of Shem -- namely, pure Old Testament religion among the Semitic Jews; early pure Christianity among the Semitic Ex-Judaists; and later even apostate Islam among the Semitic Arabs. It is also remarkable that God truly enlarge the Caucasian or Japhethitic white race -- which, by and large, has until recently progressively more and more dwelt in the religious tents of Shem since making the acquaintance of Christianity. And it is equally remarkable that the dark-skinned races of the world have, on the whole, been culturally and especially technologically backward -- alienated from the spiritual blessings of the tents of Shem, and until very recently the colonial servants of the Japhethitic white race and the vassals of the Semitic Arab slave-traders.
But here at Babel, we find disobedient men defying God in Heaven, and making a name for themselves on Earth by sticking together in a cosmopolitan city -- lest they be scattered over the whole Earth. Here we find an early example of unbiblical ecumenicity, a sort of 'United Nations Organization' for a godless one-world government under the leadership of the African Hamite Nimrod the Ethiopian.

A fundamental problem with his appeal is that the Table of Nations isn't subdivided by race, but geography. Hamites aren't a racial category. As one scholar notes:

The basic coverage is northeast Africa, Arabia/Levant, and Mesopotamia, with outliers to the north and east. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 436.

Is Lee going to contend that all the inhabitants of northeast Africa, Arabia, the Levant, and Mesopotamia were negroid?  

When Israel's or Jacob's son Joseph and later his children went and dwelt in Egypt for some four hundred years, they long maintained themselves racially and residentially -- separate from the Egyptians. Even when they left under Moses -- the 600,000 pure Israelites are mentioned separately from the much less numerous "mixed multitude" that accompanied them. On their journey through the wilderness back to Palestine, they were to preserve their racial and religious identity (and sometimes even to eradicate their enemies). And this principle was enshrined also into the Mosaic Law.

That's demonstrably false. The Mosaic law made allowance for Gentiles to convert to Judaism and become incorporated in the covenant community. Indeed, Rahab is a paradigm-case. 

This Solomon married scores of foreign wives, though only to create political liaisons. Nevertheless, the degeneration which this caused--soon split the kingdom.
In the days of Nehemiah, although many of the people "had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the Law of God" and promised "that we would not give our daughters to the people of the land nor take their daughters for our sons"63 -- Nehemiah still saw "Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon and of Moab." He noted that "their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod.They could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people."

That fails to respect the elemental distinction between interracial marriage and interfaith marriage. 

Sexual and racial differences--for "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" -- are unalterable and genetically predetermined creational categories.

Assuming that we define race in biological rather than sociological categories, racial diversity is not unalterable or creational. Lee himself espouses monogenism rather than polygenism.

From what I've read, racial variation is a natural adaptation to climatic variation. Moreover, Lee opposes miscegenation precisely because it demonstrates the fact that race is fluid rather than fixed.   

Perhaps also as a further development of the tower of Babel, the words of Paul in his address on Mars' Hill to the Athenians -- words going back to creation, and going forward into the future too -- seem to support the above view. There he declared that the Triune God of variety in unity "made all nations of men, for to dwell on the whole surface of the Earth -- and has determined the times before appointed and the boundaries of their habitation."25 Paul distinctly declares here that God made all the nations "to dwell on all the surface of the Earth". God made them for the purpose that they might leave one another, spread out, and be separated by the boundaries of their habitation -- made them in order that they should become nations. And God pre-ordained, "before appointed," that each of these nations would have its own time of activity and place of operations in God's world programme for which God "made...all nations" – made them in creation, quite apart from their later fall into sin.
In Deut. 32:8, Afrikaner Calvinists will tell you, it specifically states that when God divided the nations He did so according to the number of the tribes of Israel. In other words, the segregation of the nations by God into the different tribes and nations, took place so as to promote the expansion of the covenant people.
As a Biblically-oriented philosopher and theologian, the writer believers Holy Scripture teaches that racial and national differences are God-given, and should therefore be preserved -- and not be eradicated or even treated as unimportant. The writer further believes Holy Scripture teaches that any transgression of any Biblical principles, including Biblical principles for national and racial conduct -- any transgression by either an individual or a government -- renders the transgressor subject to the wrathful judgment of an angry God.

i) There's an equivocation between race, ethnicity, and nationality. These aren't interchangeable categories. Some nations are racially or ethnically diverse.

ii) If Lee is claiming that nationalism is predestined, then that's self-defeating for his thesis. For every outcome is predestined. Border wars that redraw national boundaries are predestined. Events (e.g. war, famine) which trigger mass migration are predestined. Ethnically/racially heterogenous countries are no less predestined than ethnically/racially homogenous countries. 

6. Finally, I'm going to propose my own theory of what motivated apartheid. 

i) If you do much reading in South African history, one thing which comes through loud and clear is the belief that, throughout their history, Afrikaners have been in a constant struggle for survival. At different points in their history, real or potential threats to their survival have come from a variety of adversaries, viz. Dutch imperialism, British imperialism, Islam, Cold War Communism, the UN, Zulu warriors. 

In the context of this overarching narrative, the impression I get is that what motivated apartheid wasn't theology. Rather, Afrikaners resorted to separatism to maintain their national identity and political autonomy. It reflects a certain siege mentality. Africa is a dangerous continent. Life is precarious. Apartheid was a policy of self-preservation. How a religious and ethnic minority group could resist assimilation. I view the theological arguments are ex post facto rationalizations for an essentially pragmatic policy.  

ii) From what I've read, apartheid wasn't a fundamentally black/white contrast, but an Afrikaner/non-Afrikaner contrast. The volk v. the outgroup, viz. Uitlanders, Brits, Zulus, Anglicans.

iii) Up to a point, there's nothing wrong with Afrikaners wanting to practice their faith or protect their way of life. The problem is when religious identity is conflated with racial identity. Likewise, the method was wrong. Apartheid went well beyond self-defense. It became very oppressive. 


  1. Their survivalist mentality probably would have served them well in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

  2. While I'm not expert on the African colonial period, I don't think apartheid was unique to South Africa. Rhodesia had a similar system. Catholic Portugal had colonies in Africa such as Angola and Mozambique which restricted the opportunities of the natives in all sorts of ways. I gather that the Belgians weren't all that kind to the Congolese.

    The idea of en ethnic or racial group wanting to be separate wasn't unique to the Afrikaners. Europeans in Africa no doubt thought the natives weren't capable of civilization. I can't say they were wrong.