Kairos Document

Kairos Document
   In the 1985 Kairos Document, South African theologians and lay people, mostly from the Reformed Church tradition, condemned the government for imposing apartheid and the church for cooperating with it. It presented a Christian justification for revolutionary change.
   As the level of violent resistance to apartheid intensified in South Africa in June 1985, a large number of leaders from South African Protestant churches came together to draft a Christian response to the crisis. An initial text circulated informally for broader feedback and support. The finished document, formally published in September, took its name from its opening affirmation, "It is the Kairos or moment of truth not only for apartheid but also for the Church."
   The document criticized the government for using the Bible and traditional theological themes to justify its oppressive policies and actions, and for commissioning chaplains in the army to support its position. It then criticized the Protestant churches. Though they had championed praiseworthy themes - reconciliation, justice, nonviolence - the weakness of their social analysis allowed them to conform to oppression. The churches had taken a quasi-Gnostic position that divorced theological affirmations from life in the mundane world. Spirituality had become individualistic and lost its social dimension.
   The theologians analyzed the South African situation as one of oppressor and oppressed. In such a condition, the government loses any moral right to govern and (picking up a theme from liberation theology) the biblical God always comes out on the side of the oppressed as Liberator. They concluded, "To say that the Church must now take sides unequivocally and consistently with the poor and the oppressed is to overlook the fact that the majority of Christians in South Africa have already done so. By far the greater part of the Church in South Africa is poor and oppressed." The church was called upon to "mobilize its members in every parish to begin to think and work and plan for a change of government in South Africa . . . and [it] will have to be involved at times in civil disobedience."
   The original publication of the Kairos Document carried 156 names of leaders from some 20 South African Protestant denominations. The document helped push the Nederduitse Gere-formeerde Sendingkerk of Suid Afrika [Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa (DRCM)] into adopting the Belhar Confession in 1986. Together, the Kairos Document and the Bel-har Confession initiated a process of negotiations to heal the racial divisions in the Reformed Church community that culminated a decade later in the merger of the predominantly black Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa and the predominantly white Dutch Reformed Church in Africa into the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.
   The Kairos Document has become a model for theological activity based upon the concept of Kairos as a moment of grace and opportunity in which God issues a challenge to decisive action. The Kairos concept has subsequently inspired Christian groups involved in liberation struggles from Europe to the Philippines. In 1998, a group in Zimbabwe issued a similar document denouncing the government for replacing the old white colonial regime with an African-led regime that continued oppression and corruption.
   Further reading:
   ■ Kairos Document, Available online. URL: http://www.bethel.edu/Kairos Documentletnie/AfricanChris-tianity/SABelhar.html
   ■ The Kairos Document: Challenge to the Church, foreword by John W. de Gruchy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1986)
   ■ Louise Kretzschmar, The Voice of Black Theology in South Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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