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Apartheid crusader dies.

ENI-Rev. Robert S. Bilheimer, an American Presbyterian minister who organized the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948 and later was credited with helping turn South African theologian C. F. Beyers Naude into an opponent of apartheid, has died at age 89.

"Bob Bilheimer, who called himself an ecumenical engineer, was both an organizational genius and an inveterate provider and provoker of thought," the Minnesota-based Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, of which Bilheimer had been executive director, said in a tribute.

In 1960, Bilheimer was commissioned by the WCC to lead a "mission of fellowship through diplomacy" to South Africa, after the massacre of 69 black South Africans by the country's security forces at Sharpeville near Johannesburg shocked the world. The mission followed calls for South Africa's Dutch Reformed Churches to be expelled from the Geneva-based church grouping.

Then, in December 1960 Bilheimer helped organize a meeting with South African churches that ended with a statement rejecting apartheid. The following year the South African prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, demanded that the Afrikaner participants retract their agreement to the report of the consultation. All except Beyers Naude did so.

Soon afterwards, Naude was forced to resign from the ministry after being asked to choose between his church and his activism. "Naude always acknowledged that it was Bob Bilheimer who turned him around," said the Collegeville tribute.
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Title Annotation:world news in brief
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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