In his inaugural speech May 10, President Nelson Mandela made five references to religion and the freedom of worship for all faiths, marking a clear end to what church leaders say was long-standing preferential treatment of Christians under the now-defunct system of apartheid.

Mandela, a black liberator and political prisoner for 27 years, said the struggle for democracy had never been a matter pursued by one religious community.

“In honoring those who fought to see this day arrive, we honor the best sons and daughters of all our people,” Mandela said. “We can count amongst them Africans, coloreds, whites, Indians, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews—all of them united by a common vision of a better life for the people of this country.”

Christians are speculating about the future for churches under a government dominated by Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party. As with virtually all institutions, churches face challenges and opportunities amid the current transitions. And many church leaders are calling on Christians to redouble their efforts to help shape the “new” South Africa.

A NEW POLITICAL CLIMATE

Political changes may bring the biggest challenges for the church. For example, several Communist officials are prominent within the ANC.

“The churches all the time will be cautious and wary of a government that has very strong Communist connections,” says presiding Methodist Bishop Stanley Mogoba, a leading anti-apartheid activist. “But the Communists in the ANC, in my view, are very pragmatic people, and they know communism has not succeeded in the world.”

Communists in South Africa are being “closely watched,” Mogoba asserts, adding that anti-Christian policies would never work in the country, where more than 70 percent ...

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