Apartheid was good.
So said Curtis Caine, a director of the Christian Life Commission, later renamed the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Caine said on Sept. 14, 1988, that apartheid “doesn’t exist [any more] and wasn’t bad when it did exist because it meant separate development.”
Apartheid was the South African government’s policy of racial segregation that existed until 1991. In 1994, multiracial elections resulted in the presidential election of Nelson Mandela.
Caine’s remark came while Mandela was still imprisoned, apartheid was still in force, and conservative Christians labored to support the white minority rule in South Africa.
His comments were made at the trustee meeting when Richard Land was elected as the agency’s new executive director.
Caine’s claims were met with nods of agreement from directors – Christian fundamentalists elected to take over the agency. None challenged his remarks, which included a reference to Martin Luther King Jr. as a “fraud.”
A motion to remove Caine from the SBC agency board failed. He was re-elected to another four-year term in 1990 – the very year Mandela was released after almost 27 years in prison.
Neither his support for South African apartheid nor his slam at King were morally troubling enough for Southern Baptists to find him unfit for service.
Caine’s pro-apartheid stance reflected the dominant attitude of most Southern Baptists, the Christian Right and many American political conservatives toward South Africa.
Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, supported the white minority government and called on American Christians to back corporations doing business there.
President Ronald Reagan vetoed in 1986 a comprehensive anti-apartheid act that would have imposed sanctions of the government in Pretoria.
As for the SBC, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination never passed a resolution opposing apartheid.
And if memory serves correctly, the Annuity Board, now Guidestone Financial Resources, the retirement agency for Southern Baptist clergy, never supported the disinvestment campaign.
That effort sought to change the South African government’s policy by getting institutions to divest of their holdings in corporations that did business in South Africa.
One Southern Baptist who did seek to end apartheid was President Jimmy Carter – Carter supported majority rule.
Fittingly, Carter will attend memorial services in South Africa as will former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and President Obama. Transformative global leaders deserve tribute from their peers.
Not surprisingly, accolades from faith leaders have poured in.
But let’s remember our history. Not all who now praise Mandela or their spiritual forefathers were with him when it counted. Many were with apartheid. Honoring Mandela requires that we remember that he was once hated for his mission to end a nation’s policy of racial segregation.
Such memory, however, isn’t enough. We need to recall that Mandela listened and learned from others, practiced forgiveness, sought reconciliation and refused to accumulate political power. These virtues are worthy of our emulation.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.