Cape Town — The fourth-biggest church in South Africa, the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church , has delivered a deliberate slap in the face to the government. This comes at a time of increasing tension between the government and all the major churches in South Africa, except for the Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Churches.
And even the Dutch Reformed Churches, to which almost all members of the government belong, have recently been uncharacteristically critical of some government actions.
The Anglican Church has a membership of more than 1.6 million, nearly 1 million of whom are black.
And for the first time in the history of the church in South Africa, especially because of "very strong representations" from some black communities, it has delivered a formal snub to the government by declining to invite the country's state president, the prime minister, or even top civic officials in the Cape Province to the formal enthronement of the new archbishop of Cape Town at the end of September.
The archbishop of Cape Town is automatically the Metropolitan (head) of the Anglican Church in the whole of southern Africa.
The archbishop-elect is Bishop Philip Russell, at present head of the church in Natal Province. There is a good possibility that he will be the last white archbishop of Cape Town before a black is elected to the post.
"It is sad, but the reflects the state we are in, in this country," said Edward King, dean of St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. "Our black people in South Africa feel hurt. They feel the state president is a person they did not elect, and a person they do not wish to be present at the enthronement."
Four differences between the Anglican Church and the government all have their roots in the application of the government's policy of apartheid, enforced economic, social, and political racial segregation -- even though this policy is beginning to break down in various areas.
All the main churches, except the Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Churches, have also condemned as flagrantly immoral such laws as the Mixed Marriages Act, which forbids the marriage of blacks to whites.
Some clerics are prepared to perform a marriage ceremony for racially mixed couples, although this is not subsequently recognized legally and the couple can be jailed for living together.
The increasingly militant attitude adopted by most churches in South Africa has been reflected accurately by Bishop Desmond Tutu, the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
He says that cthe principle that churches have to obey God rather than man is fairly straightforward. . . . We are no longer prepared to live in a Christian country that has unchristian laws."