RUSTSENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — RUSTENBURG, South Africa -- South Africa's major Christian churches came together yesterday for the first time in 30 years, ending a split brought on by their different positions on apartheid policies.
The five-day meeting that began yesterday was hailed as a significant development in relations between the Dutch Reformed Church, which for decades provided a scriptural justification for apartheid, and other churches that opposed the government system of racial repression.
"The mere fact of our coming together here is to be seen as a breakthrough in church relations in our country," said the Rev. Johan Heyns, a leader of the Dutch Reformed Church and professor of theology at the University of Pretoria.
He said the church, which is divided into separate branches for blacks, whites, Indians and mixed-race "coloreds," has decided to apply for readmittance to the World Council of Churches and to move toward a non-divided institution.
"It was as if the people realized the necessity of the Dutch Reformed Church breaking through its barriers of isolation and once again joining the community of the world," he said.
The Dutch Reformed Church split from the WCC in 1961 after the council held a meeting of its South African member churches in response to the 1960 massacre of peaceful protesters in the township of Sharpeville.
Participants in that meeting adopted 17 resolutions, including statements that no one should be excluded from any church because of race, that everyone should have the right to participate in the government and own land where he lives, and that there was no scriptural justification for South Africa's prohibition at the time of mixed marriages.
The Dutch Reformed Church withdrew from the council under heavy pressure from the government, whose leaders were members of the church. Fifteen years later, the church made its first major move away from its past by stating that apartheid was wrong.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu told delegates yesterday that South Africa's churches must be reconciled in order to help build a spirit of reconciliation as South Africans work toward a just society.
"The victims of injustice and oppression must be ever ready to forgive. That is a Gospel imperative," he said. "But those who have wronged must be ready to say, 'We have hurt you by this injustice.' . . . Those who have wronged must be ready to make what amends they can."