Mandela: The Destroyer of Calvinism and Bad Theology

Support for change: ANC president Nelson Mandela is surrounded by young supporters after addressing residents at Phola Park, a squatter settlement east of Johannesburg, 31 May 1992

I remember Mandela. Mandela will be remembered in many ways, but for me he’s the giant that replaced bad theology with love and was able to change the world. While I was living in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was still in prison. Apartheid was crumbling. So Mandela had already destroyed the Calvinism that had imprisoned him and his country. From behind bars he’d replaced the fatalistic racism of Calvinistic theology with the open ended loving forgiving God of reconciliation. Instead of accepting an idea of predestination and categorizing the human race into “lost” and “saved” and “black” and “white” Mandela accepted everyone as a child of God. For him there was no longer a “per-ordained” fate. History and destinies could be changed.

There is a reason that the central “character” of my novel And God Said, “Billy! exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality, is apartheid South Africa. In Apartheid we see the logic of Protestant/evangelical theology. If you want to know what America would be like if the Religious Right won, look no farther than the South Africa I lived in while directing two Hollywood feature films in the late 1980s. It was no coincidence that South Africa was a church going country. And the apartheid regime found its justification in the Bible.

So in my novel the moment of truth comes when my character “Billy” is arrested and confronts – as a white man – the evil of Calvinism that had imprisoned 30 million blacks. He gets treated as a proxy the way everyone that Calvinists believe are predestined to inferiority and/or damnation are treated by their angry god or by his despicable followers.

And it’s no coincidence that in And God Said, “Billy! that I mention Rousas Rushdoony, the father of the American “Reconstructionist” movement who tried to “bring America back to God” i.e., back to the Bronze Age Old testament era. Gays would be killed, women forced to stay home, children indoctrinated and the races separated as the Bible “commands.”

In a scene in And God Said, “Billy!the cop who arrests my character Billy launches a Reconstructionist/Calvinist rant. Here’s how the scene unfolds:

Officer Vandermeer stood and yanked me up off the floor by my hair and I saw myself reflected naked in the refrigerator door. What Officer Vandermeer said next was in one long sermon-type gush of yelling. He yelled-preached in his heavy accent and threw in lots of Afrikaans words. The whole time he held me by my hair and shook my head when he made each point.

“I will tell you the story you should be making in your movie! This is the script that I shall write someday and I will find you and you will make this movie! The world must know the truth! December 16, 1838 was the Battle of Blood River!” he yelled. “I will bring you a script and you will tell the story of my Boer People who were of the dispersed House of Israel just as your godly American settler peoples also were. In our film you will show that we Boer were gathered to Cape Province first by the Netherlanders who settled the Province at the same time as the Scottish settlers settled in the Plantation of Northern Ireland called Ulster and at the same time as your James Town settlement and your Pilgrim Fathers were also planting the seed of the New Israel in your country. God was working to fulfill His Covenant purpose as we read of it in Deuteronomy, that He fixed the bounds of the nations. God reserved the very best parts of the earth with the agriculture and minerals best suited for all of us of the New Israel. My People’s Voortrekkers left the Cape Colony in our little wagons just as your God-fearers with their little wagons trekked to your West. Our Voortrekkers’ purpose was to trek into the interior and there to peacefully establish our free states. There were no natives there in those times. There were no colored or black peoples there! The Zulu and Bantu and other dark animals were moving down to the region too but we and they were trekking into the empty region at the same time as my people! Let no one tell you that our Sacred Land was stolen from the kaffir! It was empty! Satan’s dark ones attacked my people and they killed many, many Voortrekkers. But we selected a new leader a man called Andries Pretorius, a man of God, a strict Calvinistic man, a man who knew God’s Word. On the 16th of December 1838 our Voortrekkers found themselves surrounded by twenty thousand Zulus. There were only four hundred and sixty Voortrekkers! What did my people do? They prayed together! They formed their wagons into a laager. Inside this sacred circle the Boer prayed and we made a holy vow to Almighty God. And this is what my People said: ‘If His protection is with us we will give Him the honor and the glory and we will share this miracle with our children for generations to come and we will keep this day forever as a Holy Sabbath.’ That was the Oath of Blood River that God’s New Israel People took! The God of Heaven who in Deuteronomy said, ‘Fear not for the Lord your God shall fight for you,’ performed the miracle of deliverance for my people and we defeated the Zulu! Some of the surviving Zulu were captured. They said that they had seen white shinning angels on a cloud above our circle of wagons and that these angels were shooting down on them! THAT is the movie we will make! I will find you and I will have a script and you will tell this true story to the world!”

That’s the myth Mandela was up against. It’s the myth accepted by the Tea Party today as crafted to “fit” America. It’s the myth that is accepted by many southern evangelicals. It’s the myth that southern congressmen have been living by as they have tried to conduct a slow-motion lynching of our first black president. It’s the myth accepted by the State of Israel and their American evangelical supporters for their “God-given” right to enslave and destroy the Palestinians, and it is the myth that Nelson Mandela destroyed.

As I said, Mandela will be remembered in many ways, but for me he’s the giant that replaced bad theology with love and was able to change the world.

Follow Frank Schaeffer on Twitter:

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book — And God Said, “Billy! exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality, is on Kindle, iBook and NOOK for $3.99, and in paperback.

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • The Irish Atheist

    Mandela was always one of my personal heroes. He was deeply interested in the reconciliation project to unite the warring Christian factions of Ireland. But he remained quiet about it, very backstage involvement, because he wanted the world to see that peace came from the Irish, not outside forces.

    • Agni Ashwin

      U2, Brute?

  • 3:10

    Frank, ya know I love ya, but for someone who deplores others who only see the world in black and white, you sure paint a lot in only black and white!

    The world may never see another Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in our lifetimes. He WAS that great! But Bono wrote a more beautifully nuanced tribute to the man that I hope people will read, especially the young . . . who know so little about him.…/05/bono-the-man-who-could-not-cry/

    • frankschaeffer

      Hi 3:I didn’t write a tribute, but shared a truth white American conservative Christians don’t like having shared: apartheid was a Christian creation, as anyone who lived in SA like me knows, as will any readers of my novel set there. When I write a tribute I’ll call it that. Best, F

      • 3:10

        I know what ya did, Frank, ya plugged your new book, but you did it on a day when people would naturally be looking for “tributes” to a truly great soul of a man! I also knew that my comment would sting a little bit, but I wrote it for your own good, Pal, and I wrote it in LOVE.

        No one ever heard of your nutty little friend Rushdoony and the “Reconstructionist” wing of the Evangelical Christian Faith and/or Republican Party until YOU started harping on the man and his heresies. Least ways, not me nor none of my kind ever did, and we’re mostly all conservative Christians who vote Republican. Oh sure, there’s a few exceptions to that description in my circle of friends . . . like you, for one! Just relax, Brother, a Christian Taliban ain’t gonna take over America and come looking for you. So please paint in color and write me and your faithful readers some more beautiful stuff.

        And while you’re at it, hurry up and pen a tribute to the beauty of Nelson Mandela’s soul from your own perspective having once lived over there while there’s this brief window of opportunity to do so, because by next week or the week thereafter the world’s attention will have moved on to Miley Cyrus’s latest dance moves or some crap like that!

        • gimpi1

          Actually, 3:10, I had heard of them. I am (rightly, I think) afraid of them. In fact, no lesser a light than Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition said of Rushdoony and the reconstructionists, “We hide their books under the bed, but we read them.”

          I agree, there aren’t many folks who follow Rushdoony or even know of him, but many of his principles – taxation-as-theft, home-schooling, patriarchy, refusal to use birth-control, have gained a lot of traction in conservative Christianity. In general, conservative Christianity has swung sharply to the right over the last few years. The reconstructionists appear to have more power among conservative Christians than their numbers would suggest they should.

          • 3:10

            Thank you, gimpi1, for your thoughtful note. Could you please source that Ralph Reed quote so that I could read it in its context? I’m certain that some people read Rushdoony and other reconstructionist writers. Frank Schaeffer does, and, apparently, so does Ralph Reed to mention a couple. However, none of me and my conservative Christian friends have ever had a single discussion about these writers or the idea of imposing the Old Testament Law upon America that I can recall, and we discuss all kinds of outlandish things amongst ourselves.

            Interestingly, if you research the original statutes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, you will find the very thing about which you are so fearful . . . but even then our Puritan predecessors didn’t execute too many of their rebellious young people like the law required or too often utilize the other death penalty codes that they had copied verbatim from the Torah, did they? And our jurisprudence has evolved a long way from what it was back then or even from what it was just a hundred years ago. I personally think that those evolutions in the law are irreversible. In fact, in the four decades that I’ve been observing and participating in local, state, and national American politics, I’d have to say that I foresee a takeover of our government by communists sooner than by a Christian Taliban. But maybe that’s just me. The Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations should have been the ideal opportunities for such an insurgency, but nothing close to that ever transpired, did it?

            Anyway, like a modern-day Paul Revere, Frank Schaeffer has now for more than a decade ridden hither and yon over all this vast nation of ours crying out to all who will listen, “The Evangelicals are coming! The Evangelicals are coming!” And we haven’t taken over yet, have we? I love the man, but sometimes I wish he’d just give that tired old horse of his a rest!

          • gimpi1

            I’m sorry, 3:10, I can’t find the article. It was in a book I read in the mid 1990′s and I don’t remember the name or author. If I can find it, I’ll get back to you. It was on the odd amount of influence the reconstructions wield, considering how small a group they are. Reed, Robertson and Falwell were all quoted in saying while they didn’t buy the whole packet, the general idea of a society under biblical law was one they were drawn to.

            As to the Puritans not being quite as nasty as they could have been, I find that cold comfort. They hung people for witchcraft, banished people for speaking out against them (a death sentence in reality), massacred a couple of native tribes and went plenty too far for my taste.

            A few years ago, I would have agreed with you that the resonstructionists were a dim and distant threat. Then the Tea Party came to power, and we have serious talks about banning or profoundly restricting birth-control based on faith-based beliefs, not science. (No, the pill does not cause abortions.) As a woman who decided to have a tubal ligation due in part to issues of hereditary health problems, I take exception to this.

            And, yes, I have corresponded with a fellow (why are they always men?) who told me I shouldn’t have been able to make that choice, because, “Medicine should be in the service of life, not anti-life.” He believes, those of us with less than ideal genetics should not marry or we should “Accept God’s broken gift.” And, yes, he wants his views inshrined in law. He also believes that homosexuality is caused by demons, so I suppose I should consider the source.

            But that source is part of my point, I suppose. While most conservative Christians are fine people, there are some crazies among them, and they don’t police themselves very well, perhaps because they don’t consider the crazies to be a part of their beliefs. Kind of like the way, whenever there’s a terrorist act by a Moslem, everyone asks why the moderate Moslems don’t denounce it. They don’t denounce it because they don’t think the extremist is one of them.

            I agree, however, less strident tones are generally better. Frank’s central point, however, is valid. The South African Boer movement had a religious base. So did our American Apartheid movement in the South. The Southern Baptists were formed first as a pro-slavery splinter-group, then later grew by supporting segregation. People very often find ways to justify injustice using religion as an excuse. I think it’s important to remember that, to avoid making the same mistake again.

          • 3:10

            gimpi1, I was gonna continue our polite disagreement . . . but then I read Frank’s beautiful piece from this morning, The Mystery Beyond Death: The Meaning of Christmas, and I don’t feel like “fighting” with anyone, least of all with someone who has spoken so kindly during a political discussion with me as you have. I love you, gimpi1. Be well. Merry Christmas! Whatever JOY we can wish one another, let’s do it! Your Friend, 3:10

          • gimpi1

            I agree, 3:10, Frank’s piece this morning was lovely. May you find all the joy in the season that you can.

            Mine may be a bit rocky. My husband’s uncle passed away a couple of weeks ago, and we just found out we may have to put down a beloved pet we’ve had for 18 years. I appreciate your good wishes, however.

          • 3:10

            Then may some beautiful Lucy come and comfort you and all those you love!

      • Michael Cummings

        You have the right to call me white with disdain as much as me calling you and Oprah n***** (which also means you have rights to free speech when talking about me or yourself or your black brother that I don’t.) That Ham stuff is not at all Calvinism but KKK. God (who spoke the worlds into existence through Jesus is who Christians recognize as God) divided us by making our skin colors and language different at the tower of babel. Why does it HAVE to be about skin color? It is Human race and applies to anyone who is humane.

        “Frank, ya know I love ya, but for someone who deplores others who only see the world in black and white, you sure paint a lot in only black and white!”

  • GoodBerean

    Ahhhhh, yes, the communist/terrorist Mandela but….BUT he did it all in “love.”

    John Lofton
    Director,The God And Government Project

  • mark

    Foolishness, just like the rest of the liberal and conservative americans who try to use any situation in the world to prove their point on any given matter. Thank God your dad didn’t have to live to see who you have become. Your bitterness and lack of joy reeks, amd everything you write smells of it.

    • Dan Ortiz

      after your little vent…. happy now?… here go do some colouring

    • 3:10

      Friend, I disagree with Frank plenty, but let’s leave his dead father out of it. How do you know what Francis Schaeffer would think of his son, Frank, were the old man alive today and still cogent? Sometimes Frank does sound bitter and sometimes he sounds joyful . . . and so do I . . . and so do you, I’ll wager. Let’s please remember it’s Christmastime!

      • mark

        Agreed. I just wish some of the liberals and the Tea Party Americans would just stop talking. They often seem like school kids fighting, only less laughter is heard in the yard. I’m sure Francis loved his boy, and would just the same today.

        • 3:10

          Good for you mark. You’re a real man to take back an unkindness so quickly and in writing. Agreed also with your critique about some of our needlessly rancorous debate.

  • Jeffrey

    Frank- You might find this interesting. Undergrad student at Western Michigan University, 1975, and I was also a member at a local Christian Reformed Church. My first semester I had a black South African professor who happen to lecture a lot about the inequities going on in his country by predominately the Calvinistic Dutch. I was young and had no idea this stuff was going on so I checked with my church “elders” about this crazy professor’s claims. Their response: The native Afrikaners were the highest paid workers in the whole of the continent. I guess the elders felt that money brings some sort of fairness.

    Anyhow, later that week I brought this to the professor’s attention. In a quiet and simple manner he confirmed that the wages were high compared to the rest of the area but the issue is freedom of self-determination. He made a quote which I hope my memory will serve it justice: Better to be a poor master than a rich servant.

    Will always thank that man opening my eyes.

  • silicon28

    About 3 or 4 too many links to your book here Frank. It makes anything you might have to say read WAY too much like spam where you’re shilling your stuff… Anything else you are saying got lost for me in that…

  • Ginny Bain Allen
    • Oswald Carnes

      He was a better human than you could ever hope to be, demon.

    • mrichardson84

      Anyone who gets their sources from WND is not to be taken seriously. WND is nothing but a far-right fringe lunatic site. Give it up, Ginny, and stop trolling.

      • Michael Cummings

        Trolling had meant to lurk in a channel and attack the people on topic to upset the dialog. But you don’t understand The Holy Spirit if you are trying to “gain spirituality”.

        • $1754985

          Ummm…what??? None of your comments here make any sense. And what does any of this have to do with WND? Go away.

          • Michael Cummings

            I think a Calvinist deserves to defend himself here.

  • Jason Van Boom

    For someone with your CV and biography, you display an astonishingly poor grasp of Calvinism.

    Look in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Second Helvetic Confession, or any of the official doctrinal statements of Reformed (Calvinist) churches. Or at the writings of John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Ulrich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, or the other founding theologians of the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition.

    Where do they teach racism? Or where do they make predestination the doctrinal basis for racism? Can you cite a single text from these primary sources? Is there a basis for the assertion about “the fatalistic racism of Calvinistic theology” beyond a demagogic appeal to pop history caricatures of Christian history?

    There is a deeper problem, however, beyond your meritless charge that Calvinism is intrinsically racist. Your post betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the point of the Reformed doctrine of predestination.

    The fundamental principle of the Protestant Reformation is that salvation is a free gift from God. God’s mercy transcends all human conventions and standards. This includes any kind of unjust opinions about fellow human beings. The Reformed doctrine of predestination elaborates on this point. It says that God’s judgement has nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with human opinions of who is better or worse.

    Accidental characteristics such as genealogy, place of birth, inherited social rank, or physical appearance says nothing about a person’s ultimate destination in the afterlife.

    If you had spoken only about Calvinism in South Africa, you would have been on surer ground. The problem is the extrapolation from South Africa to all Calvinists, even though many in the Reformed tradition were abolitionists or who participated in civil rights struggles. This post is reminiscent of Islamophobic attacks on Muslims that generalize from the Taliban to all Muslims.

    I am not a Calvinist. I do not agree with the particulars of Reformed theology on predestination. But before we criticize a position, we have to be honest about what it says.

    We can disagree with a theological school or religious tradition. But we are never justified in misrepresenting what that tradition or school teaches.

    Not even for the sake of selling our books.

    • mrichardson84

      How about the curse of Ham? Calvinism is notorious for that.

      • Agni Ashwin

        Curse of Ham? I thought Calvinists loved pork.

  • Michael Cummings

    Calvinism is not about imprisoning anyone. It’s a belief that God is sovereign (a quick one word definition of TULIP). But maybe you don’t see the division Obama has caused in this country. I had felt SURE that a black (yes I said it) president would help the gaps Jesus put in place that divides US. He still has me his MKULTRA slave. He is committing aphartead with me and my wife and family and kids because him and his wife are full blown communists and islamic terrorists. And if Oprah calls me white again with disdain I am gonna tweet about it. I am most definitely CAUCASIAN.

    • Margo Kipps

      Seek help and forgiveness. YOu are crazy.

      • Michael Cummings

        I believe I am forgiven. Let me guess “YOu don’t believe in MKULTRA”. Wow. How original. I won’t let you waste anymore of my time.

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