“Unity that sanctifies diversity”. Cottesloe revisited.
The Cottesloe Consultation (1960) is an important milestone in the ecumenical struggle against apartheid and racism in general. This article tries to find out whether the theological arguments developed within the ecumenical movement are solid enough to withstand the threat of divisions on the basis of race, nation, tribe, and ethnicity that have the potential to tear apart the one church of Christ. In order to answer the questions the historical and textual background of the text of the Cottesloe Consultation is analyzed. It reveals that exactly at the place where the text tries to theologically justify the diversity of people within the unity of the church of humanity, the drafters could not rely on help from the theological commission of the World Council of Churches, and relied on an expressions coming from the defense of the then apartheid churches in South Africa, that is “unity sanctifies diversity”. It illustrates that next to a moral answer the theological argument still requires further development.
A draft of this article was presented at the Annual meeting of the Theological Society of South Africa on the theme of “Ecumenical Movements in South Africa: Edinburgh 1910, Cottesloe 1960, and Beyond” in Bloemfontein, 29 September – 1 October 2010.