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06 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: Alliance pays tribute to a man of unity

Nelson Mandela: Alliance pays tribute to a man of unity

Nelson Mandela was an example to the world – and the Church – of the equality, dignity and unity of all people; and a reminder of the importance of speaking truth to power, senior leaders of the Evangelical Alliance have said upon news of his death.

Mandela – the first black president of South Africa - died yesterday in Johannesburg at the age of 95, having dedicated most of his life to campaigning against the apartheid which kept whites and blacks in his native country separate.

His tireless fight for equality for all saw him charged with sabotage in 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was released from prison in 1990, and within four years had won the Nobel Peace Prize and become his country's first black president.

Responding to news of Mandela's death, Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "We are sad to hear of the death of this great man, whose tireless dedication to equality and the dignity of all human persons has been inspirational over the decades.

"As evangelical Christians we believe that all are equal in the sight of God, that Jesus is good news for all members of all societies, everywhere. Our prayer is that Nelson Mandela's legacy will not be forgotten and that we will, together, continue to fight for justice, peace and hope locally, nationally and globally."

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Alliance, said: "Nelson Mandela stands out among world politicians because, although he suffered greatly for justice, he never forgot mercy.

"With his political leadership characterised by humility, dignity and integrity, he has left a legacy to the Republic of South Africa of reconciliation and hope for a better future. He reminds us all of our obligation to speak truth to power and to demand government for the good of all."

The Evangelical Alliance has a history of supporting the anti-apartheid movement in recognition that all people are created equal under God and in line with its values of bringing unity where there is disunity.

Writing in a special anti-apartheid edition of the Evangelical Alliance's Crusade magazine in October 1956 – the same year Mandela was charged with high treason but the charges later dropped – its editors urged "reconciliation".

"The Church must stand firm here or it ceases to be the Church," they wrote. "In the end the colour bar is not a racial or political problem. It is a theological and spiritual problem. It touches the very heart of the Christian gospel. That gospel, so the Church professes, is a gospel of reconciliation. The world has a right to question that claim and to inquire in all honesty. If the gospel is not big enough to reconcile man to man, is it really big enough to reconcile man to God?"

Yemi Adedeji, director of the Alliance's One People Commission, which aims to celebrate the ethnic diversity of the UK evangelical Church while promoting unity, said: "We are thankful to Nelson Mandela for his commitment to breaking down the barriers between races and fighting racial prejudice. We have come so far since his fight began in the 1950s.

"But we must recognise that we cannot rest on our laurels; there is still far to go. The One People Commission is passionate about promoting unity, while celebrating diversity; no longer can we divide across ethnic lines. We believe that the UK Church is better together. This belief in the togetherness of all peoples was also the heart of this inspirational man whom the world will sorely miss."

In full: editorial in the Evangelical Alliance's Crusade magazine – October 1956

One new man

The colour problem in South Africa – referred to at length in this issue – is but one of the many tensions of our time which may be regarded as symptomatic of a diseased and a decadent civilisation. Everywhere in the world barriers are to be found between men and peoples, some of them racial and national, others cultural and ideological.

As far as the Christian Church is concerned this is no new situation. In New Testament times the "wall of partition" which confronted the Church and threatened its very existence as a universal fellowship was that between Jew and Gentile. And there was only one force which ultimately proved powerful enough to demolish the partition and reconcile the two opposing elements. That force was the gospel of a crucified Saviour. So the apostle Paul writes: "For He is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility … that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace" (Epeshians 2:14, 15).

One new man! Here is the Christian answer to the problems of disunity and the quest for peace. Not two men – the Jew and the Gentile, the black and the white, the privileged and unprivileged – but one new man. It is this which gives the lie to the world's accepted dictum, "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." That is true – outside of Christ. In Christ it is not true. The same Cross which reconciles both to God also reconciles both to each other. "Ye are all one man in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

The Church must stand firm here or it ceases to be the Church. In the end the colour bar is not a racial or political problem. It is a theological and spiritual problem. It touches the very heart of the Christian gospel. That gospel, so the Church professes, is a gospel of reconciliation. The world has a right to question that claim and to inquire in all honesty, If the gospel is not big enough to reconcile man to man, is it really big enough to reconcile man to God?

The Editors