Spirit and Power - A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals
Historical Overview of Pentecostalism in South Africa
Origins and Growth
- 1890s-1905: In 1895, a former Baptist preacher establishes a church in Johannesburg, which eventually joins the Christian Catholic Church in Zion founded by faith healer John Alexander Dowie in Zion City, Chicago. In 1904, Dowie sends a missionary to oversee his growing South African flock, which by 1905 has about 5,000 members, mostly Zulus (Anderson 2001: 95).
- In 1908, pentecostal missionaries establish the Apostolic Faith Mission in Johannesburg. Many members of Dowie’s church join the Apostolic Faith Mission, but racial segregation creates breakaway churches, including the Catholic Apostolic Holy Spirit Church in Zion, founded around 1910, and the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission, founded in 1920. In 1925, Engenas Lekganyane splits from the latter group to form the Zion Christian Church, which today is South Africa’s largest church. By 1990, the country has more than 6,000 independent African pentecostal churches (Anderson 2000; Anderson 2001: 95-97).
- In 1909, missionaries establish what becomes the Assemblies of God (AG). In 1932, the South African branch separates from its American counterpart. AG churches are unique in apartheid-era pentecostalism in that they eschew racial segregation, although the denomination is divided into autonomous associations that reflect racial differences. In 2002, the church’s branches reunite, making the AG one of the country’s largest classical pentecostal denominations (Anderson 2000; Anderson 2004: 109-10; Hexham and Poewe-Hexham 2003: 228).
- 1960s-1980s: In 1962, Michael Cassidy founds African Enterprise, an evangelical, multiracial organization “open to charismatic experiences” that is modeled on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Cassidy considers apartheid anti-Christian, and he organizes major multiracial Christian events during the apartheid era. In the 1970s and 1980s, neopentecostal churches, such as the Rhema Church and the Durban Christian Center, experience rapid growth. Ray McCauley, who founds Rhema Church in 1979, emerges as one of the country’s most important white neopentecostal leaders, becoming president in 1985 of the newly created International Fellowship of Christian Churches, South Africa’s largest association of charismatic and neopentecostal churches (Hexham and Poewe-Hexham 2003: 231-34).
- 1990s-present: By the late 1990s, pentecostals comprise 10% of the population, with the largest denominations being the Apostolic Faith Mission, Assemblies of God and the Full Gospel Church of God. The mostly black Zionist and Apostolic churches, which constitute a majority of South Africa’s African Instituted Churches (AICs), account for an additional 30% or so of the population (Anderson 2000; Anderson 2001: 93).
- In the Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey, approximately one-in-ten urban respondents in South Africa indicate that they belong to a pentecostal denomination, and more than two-in-ten identify as charismatic, bringing the total for renewalists to roughly one-third of the urban population. Nearly half of Protestants surveyed indicate that they are pentecostal or charismatic, and roughly one-third of South African AIC members identify as charismatic.
Religion and Politics
Pentecostals and Apartheid, 1948-1994
- Most white pentecostals either support apartheid or remain apolitical. The Apostolic Faith Mission, one of the country’s largest pentecostal denominations, is led by an all-white council. Many white church leaders serve in the apartheid government, including Gerrie Wessels, who becomes a National Party senator in 1955 and serves as the Apostolic Faith Mission’s vice-president until 1969 (Anderson 2000).
- Black pentecostal leaders generally show apathy toward political involvement. Nicholas Bhengu, who rises to prominence as a black Assemblies of God leader in the 1950s, condemns political participation as un-Christian and resists nationalist pressure to fight apartheid. In 1950, he launches the “Back to God Crusade” with an emphasis on restoring black dignity and fighting crime while remaining nonpolitical. A November 1959 Time article celebrates Bhengu as “[o]ne of the strongest Christian influences in Africa” (Anderson 2005: 73; Balcomb 2001: 322-29; Anderson 2000).
- The Zion Christian Church also adopts a neutral or apolitical stance, but occasionally appears to legitimate apartheid. In 1985, Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane invites President P. W. Botha to attend the church’s Easter Festival in honor of its 75th anniversary. In the early 1990s, however, Lekganyane builds bridges with the African National Congress (ANC). In 1992, he invites the nation’s three most important political leaders — Nelson Mandela, F. W. de Klerk and Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi — to address his congregation at the church’s Easter Festival. In 1994, the church offers its official support to the ANC (Anderson 2000; Anderson 2001: 104-5; Freston 2001: 173-74).
- Some black pentecostals, including Frank Chikane of the Apostolic Faith Mission, join the anti-apartheid movement. In the 1970s, Chikane joins the Student Christian Movement, which he helps steer toward political activism. In 1975, he joins Reinhard Bonnke’s Christ for All Nations evangelistic ministry. Between 1977 and 1982, the police detain Chikane four times; on one occasion, he is interrogated and tortured by a white deacon of his own church. In 1981, the Apostolic Faith Mission suspends Chikane from the ministry and does not reinstate him until 1990. After becoming general secretary of the South African Council of Churches in 1987, Chikane serves as a mediator between the government and the ANC (Freston 2001: 171; Anderson 2000; Anderson 2004: 109).
- Black pentecostal Cyril Ramaphosa, a member of the Assemblies of God, also actively opposes apartheid and with Chikane leads the Students Christian Movement. When church leaders judge his political activities un-Christian, he leaves the Assemblies of God. Ramaphosa then becomes head of the National Union of Mineworkers and secretary general of the ANC, heading the ANC team that negotiates the end of apartheid. Ramaphosa is elected chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly in 1994, and plays a key role in the ensuing national unity government (Balcomb forthcoming: 329; Anderson 2005: 72).
- In 1985, Chikane and other anti-apartheid church leaders found Concerned Evangelicals, a group opposed to the more conservative Evangelical Fellowship of South Africa. Concerned Evangelicals publishes major statements critiquing apartheid, including the 1985 Kairos Document and the 1986 Evangelical Witness in South Africa. At least half the signatories of the latter are pentecostals. In 1988, a pentecostal group called the Relevant Pentecostal Witness publishes its own anti-apartheid statement. In 1994, the two evangelical organizations merge to form The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (Anderson 2000; Balcomb 2001: 334; Freston 2001: 171).
- Ray McCauley’s mostly white, neopentecostal Rhema Church becomes politically engaged shortly before the end of apartheid. McCauley eschews politics until 1990 when representatives of 97 churches, including Rhema and Apostolic Faith Mission, sign the anti-apartheid Rustenburg Declaration. At the signing, McCauley apologizes for not taking a stance against apartheid earlier. In 1991, McCauley serves on the steering committee for the National Peace Accord with Frank Chikane; he also serves as a behind-the-scenes negotiator for the ANC (Freston 2001: 172; Balcomb forthcoming: 311-12).
- In 1992-1993, a survey conducted in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, shows that many black pentecostals support the ANC and other nationalist organizations, despite their churches’ apolitical stance. It also suggests that many black pentecostals believe that their churches should more actively oppose apartheid (Anderson 2000).
The Post-Apartheid Era, 1994-Present
- In 1994, pentecostals and evangelicals found the African Christian Democratic Party, with opposition to abortion and homosexuality as key planks of its platform. In 1994, the party’s leader, Kenneth Meshoe, pastor of the pentecostal Hope of Glory Tabernacle, is elected to parliament, along with another party candidate. In 1999, the party’s parliamentary representation increases to seven. Pentecostal leaders such as McCauley, Chikane and Moss Nthla, the general secretary of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, criticize the party’s focus on conservative morality (Anderson 2000; Anderson 2005: 72; Freston 2004: 94-95).
- Post-apartheid South Africa sees the formation of smaller Christian parties, such as the Simunye in Christ Organization and the United Christian Democratic Party. The latter is led by Lucas Mangope, an AG member and former president of Bophuthatswana, one of the four “bantustans” the apartheid regime created and considered independent. The party is more regional than religious, with support heavily concentrated in the Northwest Province. It wins three seats in 1999 and in 2004 (Anderson 2000; Freston 2004: 97-99).
- In 1996, the divisions of the Apostolic Faith Mission officially unite. At the highly publicized unity celebration, newly elected president Isak Burger embraces Chikane and apologizes for the sins of the church during the apartheid era. In the same year, Chikane is elected vice president of the denomination. In 1997, Chikane is elected to the National Executive of the ANC, and in 1999, he becomes director-general in the office of President Thabo Mbeki (Anderson 2004: 109; Anderson 2000; Freston 2001: 171).
- In 1997, representatives of pentecostal and Zionist churches are invited to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. McCauley confesses the failures of white pentecostals during apartheid (Anderson 2005).
- In 2000, the Rhema Church complex is used for the funeral of Alfred Nzo, who had served as the secretary general of the ANC between 1969 and 1991 and as South Africa’s minister of foreign affairs from 1994 to 1999 (Balcomb forthcoming: 314).
- In 2006, four members of the African Christian Democratic Party hold seats in parliament, including pentecostal pastor and party founder Meshoe.