The religious community has condemned apartheid as evil and morally reprehensible. A significant number of church leaders have called for economic sanctions against South Africa, including a withdrawal of all investment by foreign multinational corporations.

However, in our desire to do something, we have failed to connect actions with outcome. Our agony over the plight of the blacks in South Africa has often trapped us into taking actions that may be more pronounced in their symbolism than in their capacity to bring about substantive changes.

The world religious community should use all its moral resources to mobilize world public opinion against apartheid and to bring pressure to bear on the South African regime. But more important, it must become a force of positive change rather than negative exhortations.

One of the difficulties in a transition to a post-apartheid South Africa will be the immense economic costs of improving the physical and social infrastructure if black people are to have any hope of a better well-being. The short-run costs would have to be borne by the productive sector -- that is, the private sector and the white population. This would clearly impose an extraordinary burden and probably retard if not demolish any chance of recovery and growth. It would also have the effect of raising the resistance of the white population, thereby creating the potential for further bloodshed.

What is needed is an aid program that would increase the chances that the existing economic structure would not be destroyed but that its productive energies would be harnessed for the benefit of all South Africans. The world religious community must seek to influence the governments of the Western democracies to create such a major aid effort, along the lines of the Marshall Plan.

On its part, the U.S. government should make an initial and immediate commitment of $200 million in foreign aid to a new South Africa. This aid should be allocated primarily for the well-being of South African black people and should be directed toward housing, education and economic development. It should be managed without the involvement of the present South African government. Instead, it should combine elements of private enterprise in the United States with initiative and commitment on the part of the black people in South Africa.

The U.S. government should also make a declaration of its intent to increase the level of this aid in predetermined amounts in response to specific actions to be taken by the South African government in negotiations toward reaching a political solution. This promise of aid should be linked with a pledge to impose economic sanctions if progress toward pre-agreed goals were deliberately slow or not forthcoming.

All we seek is a willingness to think about the positive things that can be done to bring about change in South Africa. The anniversary of the Soweto Massacre on June 16 offers an opportunity to create a gigantic worldwide movement against apartheid. Its force would shake the conscience of humanity from its lethargy.