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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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NEL, Marius. Mother tongue in the church: The Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (AFM of SA) and Afrikaans as an illustration of the role of mother tongue in the church. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2019, vol.59, n.2, pp.177-191. ISSN 2224-7912.

The article is written from the perspective of an Afrikaans-speaking Christian and uses the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (AFM of SA) as a case study of language, specifically mother tongue, that (probably unconsciously) perpetuates apartheid structures. The AFM originated in 1908 as a multiracial church led by two American missionaries, John G. Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch, who from their involvement in the Azusa Street revival (since 1906) in Los Angeles came to Africa to proclaim the message of the outpouring of the Spirit. In particular, Lake was determined that worship remains multiracial and his ministry was characterised by several clashes with white believers, especially surrounding his intimate relationship with Elias Letwaba, a prominent black leader. When Pieter L. le Roux was elected as first South African president of the AFM, the church organised itself in patterns of congregations that matched the existing racial grid that characterised the South African society, by institutionalizing segregation between races by means of its church order. Especially Afrikaans-speaking whites took the lead in organising the church along racial lines. In 1996, the former four divisions of the AFM, black, Indian, white and mixed race-population churches, united in all its structures, but most congregations today still exist according to the formerly segregated appearance of languages and geographical areas, although leadership meetings and conferences within the church are multiracial with English as medium of communication. Some neighbourhoods have become multiracial but even in these the worship services still remain arranged mostly in terms of race, with the exception of English-speaking congregations and formerly white Afrikaans-speaking congregations in the Cape Province that included some of the mixed race population. However, most Afrikaans-speaking and black congregations are exclusively based on racial foundations. After a historical survey of the situation in the AFM, the article discusses the challenges that language diversity in the church implies and the sustainability to represent the diversity of the church in the local congregation. Various suggestions are being made that can accommodate the language sentiments of white Afrikaans-speaking members of the AFM, while also contributing to establishing the people of South Africa as a rainbow nation.

Keywords : unification; multiraciality; Afrikaans; segregation; daughter churches; composite division; united church; Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa.

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