The moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) Rev Nelis Janse van Rensburg today apologised for not doing more to defend the character of a Port Elizabeth DRC pastor, Dr Chris van Wyk, who faced trumped-up charges of unfair discrimination for more than a year.
In a statement released yesterday, Van Wyk’s legal team say Janse van Rensburg and other senior DRC leaders owe Van Wyk an unreserved apology for failing to come to his assistance when he was under attack by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) over statements which they all knew he never made.
The SAHRC last week withdrew the charges after Van Wyk’s defence threatened to institute a counter challenge against the commission which had been repeatedly informed about its flawed case based on an incorrect English translation of a theological exchange in Afrikaans between Van Wyk and Janse van Rensburg.
According to a report in the DRC news publication, Die Kerkbode, Janse van Rensburg said he had realised that the charges against Van Wyk “did not hold water” but he had trusted that this would come out in a fair legal process.
“Chris is my brother in Christ and I must take responsibility for the protection of his character. I therefore apologise for not doing more to protect Chris’ character. Nevertheless, I am grateful that the HRC did not proceed with the investigation and ‘trial’ of the charges against Chris. I trust that we will find space and grace to continue to think, serve and work together as colleagues and servants of Christ in God’s kingdom, ” he said.
The exchange between the DRC moderator and Van Wyk, who leads the Summerstrand DRC and is a former senior national leader of the DRC, followed an assertion by Janse van Rensburg that “sexual orientation is a good gift from God’s hand which we may receive with gratitude and cherish with care”. Van Wyk responded that if one accepted the moderator’s line of reasoning, that could mean a sexual orientation such as paedophilia could be understood as a gift from God to be celebrated. Somehow, in the ensuing case and press reporting, Van Wyk was falsely accused of comparing a same-sex union with paedophilia.
In their statement, Van Wyk’s attorney, Robin O’Brien and his counsel, Keith Matthee SC, also criticise the press — especially Die Rapport — for misreporting the case for politically-correct reasons; and the SAHRC for willingly being used to further the agenda of the complainant, “Queers without borders”.
But they reserved their sharpest rebuke for Janse van Rensburg and senior members of the ANC establishment, saying: “However, without a doubt the most disturbing feature of this saga, is the complete failure of Rev Nelis Janse van Rensburg, much of the leadership of the NG church, many leading NG academics and Die Kerkbode to come to the assistance of a brother in Christ and a longstanding colleague, who has given his all to that denomination for the past 30 years. (It is reminiscent of the apartheid days when the leadership of the NG church, once again for politically expedient reasons, failed a person such as Dr Beyers Naude. The same would apply to the Rapport newspaper.)”
The statement also says that the DRC leadership should reflect on the following words (paraphrased) of Martin Niemoller: “ ‘First they arrested the Communists – but I was not a Communist, so I did nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats – but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then they arrested the trade unionists – and I did nothing because I was not one. And then they came for the Jews and then the Catholics, but I was neither a Jew nor a Catholic and I did nothing. At last they came and arrested me – and there was no one left to do anything about it.”
Van Wyk and Janse van Rensburg are on different sides of a divide in the DRC over confirming same-sex civil unions and appointing gay pastors. At its general synod last year the DRC agreed to leave decisions on these matters to individual congregations and ministers.
Last week, on the day before he learned that the SAHRC’s case against him had been withdrawn, Van Wyk addressed a group of Port Elizabeth pastors, warning them to prepare themselves to face ethical challenges from secular culture and even from within their churches.