Defaming Adventism in South Africa by Ron Lawson Reviewed

Koot van Wyk, Kyungpook National University, South Korea, Conjoint lecturer of Avondale College, 27th of October 2020.


When Thutmosis III scratched out on monuments the cartouche of Hatsepsut, his stephmother, after her death, it was with hatred. He was the illegal child of Iset and Thutmosis II, the husband of the young Hatsepsut. When he was born, it was exactly the same time that Moses at the age of 12 arrived at the Palace.

It is the same question we need to ask about Ronald Lawson, an Emeritus professor in the USA: what prompted him to erase proper Adventism practices, ethical and moral stances, music standards? Why is there an ax to grind? Why must Adventist be compared to the Davidic sect and other sects and then analyzed and criticized? Why did he undertake this article on the history of Adventism in South Africa?

Queens College, where Lawson was affiliated with, had a history of involvement with civil rights activism since the 1960’s and 1963. They are proud of that. I presume if you want to be a professor at this College, you need to write your articles with civil right feelings and visions in mind. Thus, historiography should be apologetic historiography towards civil right ideals, or cynical and critical of the opposite identified ideal than civil rights, or otherwise the person cannot teach there.

I am looking for ingredients of opportunism in the writing style of Lawson that caught my eye. The excessive judgment that the church institutions and leaders and people of South Africa failed their prophetic mission, and citations of claims towards that aspect, is prove of some form of attempts to “impress a certain audience for alter motives.”

That is one scenario. Normally, a person cannot be moved to make these sacrifices of proper conscience and I am talking about the judgment that the historiographer makes about data selected and parked in such a way that it is window-dressing of what his audience is going to like and what he is going to convey in such a way that they are going to like it. No matter what. It is this last element that bothers me about the treatment of the data by Lawson.

The role of stereotypes in the background of the author trying to produce historiography, is very important. The populist and media paintwork of “Apartheid” is an aspect that needs reconsideration. Apartheid is not a static motionless application in politics for self-gratification. Apartheid is fluid and it grows and it changed and it transformed over time and this change in colors are very important because they were the building stones of the mind of Mandela. Mandela was educated while in jail and articles like prof. Esterhuizen from Stellenbosch, the economy emeritus professor in Die Burger in the 1970”s and 1980’s were contributive to a transformation of the thoughts of the Afrikaner intelligentsia. Every successive president became different. Churches, and that includes the Seventh-day Adventist church, leaders became more and more convinced that as the wealth and needs of the Afrikaner was beginning to be met, the same need to happen to the other races as well. They were worried that the pace was too slow. I know, because I was there. I do not know if Lawson was there? Is he an outsider view of South Africa? Maybe he should look at a series of doctoral theses that were completed between 1976-1990 and I am sure that in the political arena of South Africa, he will have to rewrite his article. I repeat, the static view of Apartheid is the greatest myth of modern historiography on South African politics of this era. I watched the other night the videos of Jan Smuts, D. F. Malan, Hendrik Verwoerd, John Vorster, P. W. Botha, Pik Botha, F. W. De Klerk and I can only say, if you think everything was static watching this, you were sleeping. If you think they were monsters who hated the blacks with hate-speech, I ask examples. I can afford many to the opposite expressed in public.

Lawson’s first opening statement already is problematic:

“During the Apartheid period in South Africa, the Seventh-day Adventist Church not only failed to critique the discriminatory system, but it formalized the establishment of internal apartheid within the Church, with two (and for some time three) separate race-based organizational structures that had very little contact with one another, and segregated congregations, schools, and welfare organizations.”

Discriminatory system? At Helderberg College Sam Baduza was living across the hall from me and we showered together in the public men’s bathroom nearby and later Naidoo moved in when Sam moved out. Whether it is Bloemetjie, Lawrence Wolf (Jewish), and a list of names between 1975-1983, these were all in the men’s dormitory with us. The same at the girls dormitory. We ate together, play together, pray together, worship together, work together, studied together. “Failed and discriminatory system?” to use Lawson’s words?

Sources. The sources that Lawson is using are good and opportunism in the writing of Hartley and Bainbridge are factors that you need to keep in mind in their phraseology and choice of words particularly strongly focused on the audience and its consequences for their own future employment in Australia and Canada at that time. People say what others like to hear, if it will benefit themselves, that is. 

Then we come to an internet factor about Lawson that is absolute important to put on the table as a reason for the excessive over-reacting heated conscience about actions of the past in Seventh-day Adventist history in South Africa. Before I mention the factor, let me outline the words of a Calvinist Philosopher of South Africa, Hendrik Stoker in 1938 in his book Oorsprong and Rigting Volume 2: He said that the way you live, determines the way you think and the way you think determines your methodology and your methodology determines you product.

In essence, when I criticize Lawson for his manner of historiography of the South African scene and the Church and its institutions, it is because he fails in the first of these: the way Lawson lives. People may say do not play the man. Play the ideas but that is exactly what Stoker said we must not be misguided by.

Now the factor that is online available: Lawson is called a “gay Adventist”.

This factor colors the cynical historiography at a civil rights college in New York for me with very clear paint that he supplies himself. Suddenly, data is not given the changes to present themselves, data are polished and arranged in such a way that they with beautiful phraseology mesmerize the reader into his agenda for some form of gain, recognition, honor, empathy, motives towards inclusion, hunger to cut loose from being called “white racist” even if he is not.

Even though Lawson has produced numerous papers on topics in Adventism, unfortunately all his data needs reconsideration and re-evaluation. To defame Adventism in South Africa for his own fame in New York and the American scene is not the prophetic role that God had in mind for such a gifted individual as he is.