Desmond Tutu’s Influence in Apartheid South Africa: The Reconciliation of a Broken Gospel in the Restoration of a Divided Nation

Faculty Sponsor

Heath Carter


Arts and Sciences


Global Service

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-4-2017


The legacy of apartheid in Southern Africa is widely known to have resulted in significant intergenerational trauma and enduring inequity, tragically influencing the nation’s history for centuries to come. Largely left undiscussed in the context of global history, however, is the religious aspect of this oppressive regime that propelled it forward. Specifically through influence of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), religion and faith acted as not only complicit members, but driving forces behind South African apartheid. As such, apartheid legislature was uniquely initiated, perpetuated, and eradicated by one Christian Gospel understood through two radically different perspectives. This work explores both the harm and healing which can be invoked through the presence of religious influences in matters of public policy, specifically through analyzing doctrine of the DRC alongside that of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Acting as a catalyst for conflict, the message of the DRC relied on concepts of spiritual unity and divinely ordained parallel development to justify apartheid, diverging significantly from the evangelism of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tutu alternately advocated vehemently for an anti-apartheid scriptural understanding granted by a God partial to victims of oppression. The teachings of Tutu ultimately expose the DRC’s inherent flaws in both local and international spheres, fundamentally shaping the way in which anti-apartheid social gospel produced anti-apartheid social movement. In examining closely the multifaceted nature of religious perceptions such as those of Tutu and the DRC amidst a context of blatant injustice, we are further enabled to evaluate critically the integral roles that religion’s constructive use and abuse play in the overall existence of legalized inequalities today.

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