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Afrikaner Calvinism 3

February 28, 2013 in Gender Violence, South Africa


As posted elsewhere-

Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

October 2009, 35(2), 89-102
Calvinism and South African women:
a short historical overview
Christina Landman
Research Institute for Theology and Religion
University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
I can not resist:) Yes, I will complete the Breaking The Silence workshops and try to keep up with Oscar-Reeva and Anene -Davids-Kana, and I will post the rest of this Afrikaner-Calvinist study- but this chapter is simply too precious… let’s read it now:)
Calvinism and South African women: a short historical overview page 9
The “natural” place of a woman – a concept borrowed from Calvin’s “natural law” – was in the family, under the head of the family (gesinshoof) , who was to vote on behalf of the family.
This book was aimed at undermining the Dutch women’s suffrage movement, but women anyway obtained the vote in the Netherlands in 1918.

In South Africa, women were far from being allowed to vote, and Calvinist women were far from participating in the leadership of their churches. On the contrary, the leadership of the churches fell fully in the hands of Kuyperian Calvinism.

In 1920 Prof JD du Toit – also known as the poet Totius – headed a “gender” commission of the Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika, which is the most ultra-Calvinist of all the Afrikaans-speaking Calvinist churches in South Africa. This commission recommended that women not be allowed to vote in the church, and also not in parliament.

The recommendations were founded on Kuyper’s book (1914) mentioned above, although Kuyper’s “natural law” arguments against women voting were substantiated by Scriptural references, placing them in the realm of divine law.

The recommendations were accepted by the Synod of the church and a copy was sent to parliament (Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika 1920: Handelinge van die Sinode).

One woman, and one woman only, reacted to these claims. She was indeed the sister of JD du Toit, Maria Magdalena du Toit (1880–1931).

She was unmarried and a teacher, but suffered from tuberculosis and died at the age of 51 – at the house of her brother in Potchefstroom.

In 1921 she wrote a book, Vrou en feminist, this being the only book written in Afrikaans ever that contains the word “feminis(t)” in its title. In this book Marie du Toit answered to the Synod’s decision by questioning what a natural lifestyle for a woman was.

She found society’s restrictions on women to be unnatural, and the church’s limitations unbiblical since Jesus wanted women to be free human beings. Marie du Toit rejected men’s right to decide for women whether they wanted to vote and participate in public life. Nobody can decide for a slave or a woman whether they want to be free.

She recommended that men put themselves in women’s place and experience the suffering of unfreedom (Du Toit 1921:68ff).

Marie du Toit furthermore rejected the Synod’s argument that God had – by nature – given woman a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4) to prepare her for private life within the family. She stated that the differences between natural man and natural woman were minor, making numerous references to intellectually brilliant women throughout history, and quoting Jan Smuts who said that social legislation was in need of women’s insight into social matters (Du Toit 1921:89ff).

Marie du Toit specifially reacted to the claim of the Synod that giving women the vote was foreign to the Calvinist character of the Afrikaans nation. She said that her reaction was not initiated by the volksvreemde ideas of the French Revolution or the English suffragettes, as accused, and that Afrikaans women like her were not driven by an unchristian thirst for power. They simply wanted to address the needs of women. Women could think for themselves, she stated, and she bemourned the fact that women in South Africa did not stand together (Du Toit 1921:93ff).

And now, almost 90 years later, the concern expressed by Marie du Toit that women in the Calvinist traditions in South Africa do not stand together has remained current and topical, when the Synod of the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA: Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika) decided on 1 July 2009 that women would not be allowed to become elders and ministers in this church – and no reaction from the women of this church ensued.

3 responses to Afrikaner Calvinism 3

  1. Its a good read, i think it could have been better if the Calvinist Church Leadership could commend on the facts presented, whether they still hold on to the believe as stated. but all in all, eye opening piece.

    • I am quite sure that there ministers of the Calvinist tradition on the blogs and /or who have read this piece here or on two FB sites where I posted it, one being a response to the Max du Preez piece on Solidarity (FB)
      I was hoping for the kind of response that you refer Thapelo- one can hope hey:)

  2. Welcome Thapelo- this was 2009 hey
    Not much changed I think:)
    Please keep your eye open for the rest of this research which I will post- page by page because it is too long to do as one post.. The writer makes a comparison with the Moravian church which was much more empowering of women:)

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