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South African Baptists report more reconciliation progress

WASHINGTON (BP)–Continuing steps toward reconciliation are being taken in South Africa by the predominantly white Baptist Union and predominantly black Baptist Convention, according to reports received at the Baptist World Alliance offices in Washington.
Baptist leaders of the union and convention announced during a Nov. 6-8 meeting in Kempton Park, Tembisa, they will hold their own kind of “Truth and Reconciliation” event in April 1998, akin to the South African government’s reconciliation proceedings currently under way.
And next July, a public rally is planned to celebrate the progress toward reconciliation when Baptist leaders meet in Durban, South Africa, for the BWA general council. Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, said, “We look forward to the public rally where we can celebrate this with Baptists from around the world.”
Of the “Truth and Reconciliation” event, Terry Rae, Baptist Union general secretary, said, “We are modeling this on Genesis 33 where Jacob and Esau were able to meet each other and reconcile, finding the face of God in each other.”
At that time, Rae said, the union and convention hope to bring together “those who have been deeply hurt and affected” by the division between the two Baptist bodies “and give an opportunity for people to express their hurts and find forgiveness and reconciliation.”
While they will remain as two separate organizations, Desmond Hoffmeister, convention general secretary, and Rae signed a resolution that allows individual churches to choose with whom they affiliate “with a minimum of friction and conflict.” This had been a particularly difficult point as both organizations contain a sizeable number of black churches.
Convention and union leaders also agreed to share information about each other’s future visions and affirm each other in public forums as well as at regional and church levels.
Hoffmeister and Rae, in the joint statement, said they had “experienced the presence and power of God” shown in the harmony and openness of their two delegations at the November meetings. “We thank God we have discovered a significant measure of common ground and we are anxious that the same spirit be experienced at regional and local levels,” they said.
The reconciliation efforts gained momentum in August 1996 in a prayer meeting proposed by Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary John Gordy and led by SBC President Tom Elliff, when union and convention leaders felt a new spirit of forgiveness and love toward each other. A year ago, further progress came at a prayer retreat held by the union and convention, in which Lotz was the Bible study leader.
Since then, Rae said, “We have made great strides in healing the hurts of the past as well as growing in understanding.”

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  • Wendy Ryan