Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Rest in Peace: John Norman Jonsson (1925-2011)

On Saturday, I received the news that my former teacher, Dr. John N. Jonsson, died at his home in South Africa. I’ve been waiting for more details and obituary since.  Here’s one from Associated Baptist Press:


by Lori Fogelman Wed. 01 June 2011

Waco, TX (ABP)

John Jonsson, an emeritus professor of religion and former director of the African Studies program at Baylor University, died May 26 at his home in South Africa after an extended illness. A native South African, Baptist pastor and scholar, Jonsson openly protested the South African system of apartheid from the pulpit, the classroom and in other public forums, including a run as an anti-apartheid candidate for the South African parliament.

Funeral services are scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Friday, June 3, at Rosebank Union Church in Johannesburg. Baylor’s department of religion and Seventh and James Baptist Church, where Jonsson and wife, Gladys, were members when they lived in Waco, will hold a memorial service for Jonsson at 5 p.m. Monday, June 13, at Miller Chapel.

Jonsson grew up in South Africa, where his parents were Scandinavian missionaries among the Zulu peoples.  He was actively involved in protesting apartheid, and in 1977 ran as an anti-apartheid candidate for the South African parliament. He lost by less than 1,000 votes.

In 1985, he was the only Baptist minister to sign the Kairos Document, which called on all churches to demand that the government give equal rights to all South Africans. As a result, the government took away his passport, and from 1985 to 1989 he was not allowed to enter South Africa. In 1989, he was one of the few white citizens of South Africa to be invited to attend the first Conference for a Democratic Future in South Africa, resulting in the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.

For more than two decades, Jonsson served in the Baptist World Alliance as a member of the Human Rights Commission.

Jonsson joined the Baylor faculty in 1992 as professor of religion and director of African Studies and held those positions until his retirement in 2002. Before that he taught missions and world religions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1982 to 1991, occupying the W.O. Carver chair.

In honor of Jonsson’s retirement, Baylor named a lecture series after him, prompting a letter of congratulations from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Jonsson earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Natal and his B.D. from Spurgeon’s College in London. He was principal at Baptist Theological College, lecturer in history of religions at the University of Witwatersrand, senior lecturer at the University of Natal and acting head in 1981, when Professor Gunther Wittenberg incorporated the Lutheran Theological Institute into the University of Natal. He also co-founded Treverton College, a private interracial institution in South Africa.

Jonsson was preceded in death by his son, David. He is survived by his wife; three children, Lois, Sylvia and Sven; and seven grandchildren.

Lori Fogleman is director of media communications for Baylor University.

June 1, 2011 - Posted by | Baptists, heroes, obituary

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