The Christianity of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa out of racial apartheid, was a Christian, whose faith shaped his activism.  So reports British journalist Michael Trimmer after the jump.

From Michael Trimmer, Nelson Mandela and his faith | Christian News on Christian Today [a British publication, not to be confused with Christianity Today]:

Although it is almost universally agreed that he was a Christian, his exact denominational allegiances remain a source of discussion. While some have suggested that he was a Jehovah’s Witness, as his first wife, his sister, and many relatives around him identified as such, most believe he was a Methodist. He attended a Methodist church school growing up, and was baptised in a small Methodist stone church in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu.

In his autobiography, “The Long Walk to Freedom” he talked of his early experiences with Christianity, praising its engagements with the society around him: “The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church.”

Consequently, while attending the University of Fort Hare, an elite black university in Alice, Eastern Cape, Mandela became a member of the Students Christian Association and taught Bible classes on Sundays in nearby villages.

Among other factors, it was Mandela’s Christianity that steered him away from Communism and the class struggle that was spreading into South Africa in the 1940s. Despite befriending Gaur Redebe and Nat Bregman, prominent Xhosa and Jewish South African communists, he could not reconcile communism’s atheistic attitudes with his Christian faith. Also, he felt that the idea of class struggle was misleading, and that South Africa’s problems were primarily racial in origin. Although he was impressed that the local communist party saw Europeans, Africans, Indians, and those of mixed heritage all mixing equally, he clearly believed there was another way to go.

It is likely that Mandela’s Christian faith influenced his strategy during the more militant portion of his protest against the government, when he co-founded the armed resistance group Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation” in English. The targets Mandela chose, and the way in which the group timed its attacks, was a clear message that he intended to target the government, not the civilians it claimed to serve.

[Keep reading. . . ]

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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