The study uses transitional justice to explore the role of the Dutch Reformed Church in
South Africa during processes of societal change and compares it with the Chilean
Catholic Church during processes of societal change in Chile.
A descriptive approach to Christian ethics is applied, and transitional justice is used as a
theoretical instrument by means of which the comparison with the Chilean Catholic Church
is systematised and focussed. Despite not applying the conventional normative approach
to Christian ethics it seeks to contribute to the discipline by investigating the structure of
Christian communities engagement in processes of political transition. The study is
inductive in the sense that it uses transitional justice as an instrument by means of which
to identify emerging themes.
Transitional justice is a useful instrument as it encompasses both judicial and non-judicial
elements. The Chilean Cathollic Church was chosen due to a number of reasons. The
first is historical proximity: the Chilean totalitarian regime came to an end shortly before
the end of apartheid regime of South Africa. The second is key socio-political
correspondences, including importantly that Chile instituted a national truth and
reconciliation commission from which South Africa drew much inspiration.
Both churches utilized their structures in order to serve a struggling community. The
difference came when the Dutch Reformed Church chose for the upliftment of a single
ethnic group, namely the Afrikaner, and the Chilean Catholic Church kept the whole
Chilean society in view. A second differing and defining factor was the Dutch Reformed
Church aligning with a political party and a political ideology. In the context of the Dutch
Reformed Church the focus on a single ethnic group lead to the development of an
ideology based on the idea that the Afrikaner was predestined by God to bring God s light
to Africa. The idea of predestination later developed into a pseudo-gospel where the
members of this group believed that racial differentiation was a prerequisite for salvation.
The pseudo-gospel, in the Dutch Reformed Church later influenced the church s
comments on and suggestions regarding legislation such as mixed marriages, border
control, geographical settlement and voting rights. The ecclesial reflection of the Chilean
Catholic Church, on the other hand, resulted in a church focused on ministering to the needs of a greater society struggling under a dictatorship. The community suffered
ubductions, unfair labour practices, poverty, torture and harsh living conditions. The
Chilean Catholic Church ministered to these needs by establishing offices around the
country rendering free social, welfare and judicial services. The Chilean Catholic Church
further endeavoured to bring opposition parties into talks to end the time of the military