Albert Mohler gives a realist portrait of Mandela’s legacy

Albert Mohler encourages Christian readers to take a realistic view of Nelson Mandela’s legacy. While Mohler recognizes the achievements that led to Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize, he also includes a provocative question about Mandela’s early career:

When you think of Nelson Mandela and reflect on his life, and now on his death, there are many worldview issues that are immediately implicated. One of them has to do with the fact that Nelson Mandela was, by any honest analysis, a terrorist. That immediately raises a deep moral issue. How can someone be so honored who had at any point resorted to terrorism in order to achieve a political objective?

Mohler follows with an interesting discussion about how one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. You can read the rest of it here. Mohler discusses Mandela’s life on “The Briefing” podcast as well. You can download it here or listen below.



  • Keith Kraska

    “When it comes to human rights and human dignity, Nelson Mandela has to be put on the side of the heroes, not only of the 20th century, but of any recent century.”


    Here’s why:

    He was a champion of the genocide of the unborn. He denied freedom and life to an entire class, an entire generation of people. He was certainly a terrorist to them.

    Why are so many in the church rushing to basically canonize this man? Why are we grasping at any religious straw in his life? Is it our all-too-common celebridolatry that is so desperate to claim any famous or renowned person who mentions God as one of us?
    We don’t know his heart. We don’t know his walk. We don’t know whether he ever really repented and gave his life to Christ. Great moral achievements (in some areas) don’t cut it at the judgment. While of course I don’t know either way, I have no reason to believe he’s not in hell right now. So no, I’m not putting him on the side of any heroes.

  • Curt Day

    Can we classify Mandela as a terrorists like we could Begin? Begin was involved in attacking civilian targets and his victims had not participated in any civilian massacre. Now, were the targets of Mandela’s actions civilians? Because if not, he could not be classified as a terrorist. And, unlike King, he had to lead groups who were targets of massacres. Mandela saw violence as a necessity in the struggle against apartheid. But not all such violence is terrorism.

    Now I asked the above questions not knowing enough history to answer them. Our own gov’t call Mandela a terrorist but whether he was one or not depends on the definition of terrorist. The official definition makes the target of one’s actions or threats the determining factor as to whether one is a terrorist or not.

    • James Stanton

      Curt, I don’t know. Mandela was imprisoned because he was an enemy of the state committed to its violent overthrow. I think we could call violence against state institutions for the purpose of political intimidation a kind of terrorism. That being said he was also a freedom fighter. Two sides of the same coin perhaps. Mandela, however, was redeemed in that he emerged from prison seeking a different path.

      I tend to think the official position of the government on Mandela had more to do with Cold War politics than on Mandela’s methods. That is, the United States as a government supported plenty of violent revolutionaries, oppressive governments, and regime change when that was seen as in the interests of American foreign policy. Mandela was seen by some like William Buckley at the time as a kind of destructive Leninist figure if he were released from prison.

      History tends to be kind to such figures if there is a consensus as to the overall rightness of the cause. Martin Luther King was hated by many as a communist agitator prior to his death. He, of course, preferred non-violence from the beginning.

      • Curt Day

        I like your response. I would add to that that we have to distinguish between a person being an enemy of the state from a person being an enemy of the gov’t or the status quo. To call all who oppose the gov’t or who oppose the status quo and enemy of the state is to make generous assumptions about both.

        And after the massacres that took place, we might want to examine if Mandela’s analysis of the necessity of violence was at least understandable. I, myself, cannot participate in armed resistance. But sometimes I can’t answer the questions that those who see armed resistance as a necessity have, such as in Mandela’s situation,

    • Sasha Halvern

      Terrorist Nelson Mandela went to jail for killing innocent people, including many children, and he stayed in prison for refusing to renounce violence. He was the founder and leader of UmKhonto we Sizwe (MK), the terrorist wing of the ANC and South African Communist Party. In addition to bombing public places such as marketplaces and railways, he and his group threw bombs in civilian homes, placed bombs in cars going through busy streets, and burned thousands of schools. They made a habit of tying up his political opponents, placing tires over their heads, and setting the tires on fire (necklacing). MK specifically targeted, tortured, and killed white farmers and their wives and children. It’s no surprise that until 2008, Mandela was listed on the U.S. terror watch list.

  • Bill Hickman

    It’s important to discuss Mandela’s entire life honestly, but I don’t think the “terrorist” label is too helpful. If one supports the 2nd Amendment because one thinks Americans might need to take up arms against the US government someday, I don’t see how one can call Mandela a terrorist for advocating violence against a regime that *actually did* murder and brutalize its own people. By the same logic, was Malcolm X a terrorist? I think we tend to reserve the label “terrorist” for violent people whose political claims we fear or don’t understand. We should just retire the label and focus our discussion on the moral merits of a person’s advocacy of violence.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    No, Mandela can’t be classified as a champion of life, in any sense of the word. Aside from Mandela’s own work as a communist terrorist, his wife was a terrorist in her own right who regularly bumped off anyone who got in her way, and Mandela never rushed to stop it. Furthermore, why in heaven’s name is Mohler pulling out the odious “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan, when this has been used by liberals untold times to eliminate distinctions between heroes and villains in the haze of moral relativism? Comparing Mandela to George Washington–really?? Very poor, shoddy work from Mohler. Not up to his usual standards.

    • Bill Hickman

      Esther – why omit any mention of Mandela’s role in transforming a murderous, racist regime? And why was George Washington’s use of force so self-evidently right while Mandela’s was wrong? To me, Mandela’s use of violence had a clearer moral justification.

    • James Stanton

      Mandela was not a communist terrorist. This would imply that he engaged in terrorism for the sake of establishing a communist government. This is false.

    • Chris Ryan

      How would you differentiate George Washington’s use of violence to free Americans, from Nelson Mandela’s use of violence to free Africans?

      • Esther O'Reilly

        Ehm *clears throat delicately*, well we could start by noting that Mandela was behind bomb plantings that regularly killed innocent people (over the course of YEARS in the 80s), whereas George Washington led soldiers against soldiers. Just a minor little discrepancy…

        • Lauren Bertrand

          Statements like Esther’s beg the very, VERY uncomfortable question: are there any civil rights leaders that the Southern Baptists can embrace? Seriously–the SBC was quite vociferous about Martin Luther King being a communist back in the day. So was the KKK. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the SBC renounced is fiercely racist history in the 1980s, if it continues to this day to recontextualize prior racial confrontations in a way that turns white segregationists (in this case, the Afrikaners) into victims. No matter how much you like Herman Cain or Ben Carson, they wouldn’t have encountered some fundamental barriers (and probably still did) that only civil rights leaders could abolish.

          Oh, and how much could Mandela have done during those YEARS in the 80s? He was in jail. On an island. Not exactly the same capacity for leadership as Washington. I know I’ll never convince you that Mandela is anything more than a proxy for anti-white-ism (or whatever you want to call it), but statements such as these (which have been sadly abundant on Evangelical blogs these past few days) only reaffirm the widely held belief among the rest of America that many white Evangelicals still harbor some serious tacit racism.

          • Sasha Halvern

            Lauren, there are civil rights leaders that Christians can embrace and follow without qualms- those civil rights leaders that preached Christ and Him crucified, and live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Nelson Mandela, who bombed innocent women and children with the terrorist organization he founded, who pushed for the legalization of taxpayer-funded abortion, pro*titution, por*ography, ga* marriage, and gambling, who turned a blind eye as rape and human trafficking and murders (over 100,000) exploded during his presidency, who heaped up much wealth for himself at the expense of others and lived a licentious life, who befriended the likes of Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein and supported regimes perpetuating human rights abuses…is not that man. Show me a civil rights leader whose heart is set on Christ, and you will have shown me a civil rights leader who I will extol and follow.
            -apologies for the asterisks – they’re there because otherwise the comment won’t go through

          • Esther O'Reilly

            *shrug* Pretty sure MLK is basically a saint across the board no matter who you ask. I for one think it’s unfair to compare him to Mandela. I may disagree with MLK’s ideology, not to mention his personal morals, but I don’t think he’s a terrorist because he wasn’t.

            And please, must we go round the endlessly tedious mulberry bush of “YOU JUST DON’T LIKE X ‘CUZ HE’S BLACK!!!!” again? I’ll be the first to say the KKK were terrorists, or any other violent white supremacist group. The real question is, are you willing to be just as honest about violent terrorists who happen to belong to a minority group?

        • Bill Hickman

          Killing combatants can be just as wrong as killing civilians if it’s not backed by a just cause. Also, George Washington didn’t always employ conventional warfare:

          I’m not saying I agree with Mandela’s support for certain violent acts. It just seems like we’re quicker to define notable minorities by their transgressions and slower to induct them into the club of Great Men.

        • Chris Ryan

          Actually the term “lynching” comes from the actions of one Col. Charles Lynch, an Revolutionary War officer from Virginia who hanged, tortured, and imprisoned civilian loyalists to the Crown without trial. He served with George Washington in the Virginia House of Burgesses before the war & under him during the war. Every war has its crimes & that which George Washington led was no different. So, yeah, Washington vs Mandela? No real difference.

    • James Stanton

      “Furthermore, why in heaven’s name is Mohler pulling out the odious “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan, when this has been used by liberals untold times to eliminate distinctions between heroes and villains in the haze of moral relativism?”

      Not only by liberals. Political conservatives have decades of history in supporting terrorists. This goes from supporting right wing terrorists in South America (Contras) and Africa (Jonas Savimbi) to radical jihadists in Afghanistan and most recently to the Iranian MEK. You may oppose this slogan but it is politically neutral.

  • Ian Shaw

    Chris, you’re right. Did Christ not tell Peter to put down his sword? Did the Apostles fight back when they were being persecuted? Could you make the claim that under no circumstance, the NT does not advocate violence in any way shape or form?

    • Chris Ryan

      I don’t think man’s ways are God’s ways. Christ saw a lot of death visited upon innocent people and chose not to attack it (not to mention, obviously, His own). The Apostles were exclusively concerned with personal salvation not earthly justice. So, while there are Christian theories to support Just Wars (defense of self or innocents) I doubt Christ would ever have served as Commander-in-Chief of some Army fighting a Just War. So it kinda fails the WWJD question.

  • Ian Shaw

    I don’t understand why everyone liked the guy. He was a radical before prison and instituted horrible laws after becoming president. Just because he was black and was the figurehead of the end of Apartheid, does not make him a Christian or deserving of a sainthood. Social justice is not a substitute for redemption in Jesus. Of course, here in America, they are becoming synonymous. Being good or trying to do good things gets you into heaven. Completely contrary to Scripture.

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