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The New Apostolic Church's Nazi Links
By
Stephen Langtry

The New Apostolic Church, the religious movement that shot to prominence when Thabo Mbeki endorsed their proposal for a new national anthem in December 1998 has a shady past which extends from support to apartheid to a close relationship with the Nazi regime during the Second World War. Mbeki's backing of the proposed anthem by the New Apostolic Church caught many South African by surprise. It was stranger still in the light of the group's history of support for the apartheid regime. Confronted by the information on the group's support of apartheid and Nazism a spokesperson for Thabo Mbeki, Titus Mafolo, said, "It is difficult for the Deputy President to comment on the ins and outs of individual churches." The New Apostolic Church has an autocratic leadership structure headed by a group of men known as "Apostles". The "Chief Apostle" stands at the top of this structure. In 1932, Johann Bischoff, the then Chief Apostle, sent messages of support to Hitler and claimed that Hitler was God's special emissary. When Hitler came to power in March 1933, Bischoff sent a letter to the German congregations wherein he denounced criticism of Hitler's government as "atrocity propaganda". The letter was followed by Sunday evening services, throughout Germany, based on Ecclesiasticus 10:1-5 (from the Apocrypha). The German translation of these verses demonstrates more powerfully than the English the political opinions of Bischoff. Ecclesiasticus 10: 1 reads: "Ein weiser Regent ist strenge; und wo eine verstandige Obrigkeit ist, da gehet es ordentlich zu." ["A wise regent is strict; and where there is a sensible government there is order."] These verses were obviously contrived so as to be made applicable to Hitler. Verse 5 speaks of "einen loblichen Kanzler" ["a praiseworthy chancellor"]. At least 13 German Apostles of the New Apostolic Church were members of the Nazi Party. On 23 April 1933, the organisation's leaders directed the congregations to excommunicate government opponents. New Apostolic youth and women were encouraged to join the youth and women organisations of the Nazi Party. In 1933 alone, the New Apostolic Church contributed more than 121 500 Marks to the state. Individual congregations also engaged in joint fund-raising efforts with elements of the Nazi Party such as the brutal SA (Storm Troops). In response to its loyalty to the Nazis the New Apostolic Church was exempted from all property taxes and most corporate levies. Peter Johanning, the Media Secretary of the New Apostolic Church International, who is based in Germany, refused to comment on questions about the New Apostolic Church's association with the Nazi regime. He said that this was "more or less a German question". Noel Barnes, one the leaders of the group in South Africa also refused to comment but Roy Klibbe, the Public Relations Officer of the group in the Western Cape, said that "mistakes may have been made." Johann Bischoff gained notoriety during his reign as leader of the New Apostolic Church. Under his leadership his son, Friedrich Bischoff, enriched himself by assuming the role of the sole publisher of New Apostolic Church literature. He also established the position of Chief Apostle as a dictatorial office which did not allow any criticism. His megalomania led to a prophecy in 1951 that Jesus Christ would return in his lifetime. Bischoff was already 80 years old when he made this prediction. When he died in 1960 the group suffered a serious setback. Thousands of members left and formed a number of splinter groups in the period before and after his death. The current Chief Apostle is Richard Fehr. He like all his predecessors are German-speaking men. He happens to be a Swiss citizen. Three of the Chief Apostles have been German-speaking Swiss men while four were German citizens. This is despite the fact that more than half of the movement's estimated ten million members are Africans. The New Apostolic Church was established in South Africa in 1889. In 1927, the German immigrant who founded the South African branch was excommunicated and took a large following with him to establish the Old Apostolic Church. There are currently about 250 000 members of the group in South Africa. The South African branch of the movement is divided into two regions led by Noel Barnes and Johann Kitching, respectively. During the 1980s the group claimed to be apolitical and refused to take a position on apartheid. Its official creed stated, "I believe that the government is the servant of God for our benefit; he who opposes the government opposes God, because it is decreed by Him." In 1991, as the demise of apartheid set in the creed was changed to allow opposition to the government that was about to be elected. The new creed states, "I believe that I am obliged to obey the worldly authorities provided no godly laws are thereby transgressed" In 1994, before the national elections Nelson Mandela attended a church service in a Mitchell's Plain congregation of the New Apostolic Church. The New Apostolic Church has a large Coloured membership. The overtures by the ANC can be seen as an attempt to win support from this community. Members of the church are known to obey the church leadership slavishly and would not hesitate to vote for the ANC en masse if instructed to do so. In turn, the New Apostolic Church would gain greater social acceptance and access resources and to the ears of government which it was previously denied as a fringe movement in South Africa. It has already been granted airtime on SABC TV for religious broadcasts.

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