The Rev. Beyers Naude has reached the point where his opposition to apartheid almost looks easy.

He no longer agonizes over the implications -- for his career, his social standing and his respect in the Afrikaner community -- of his unyielding stand. There's nothing left for him to agonize over.

He has given up his place in the white Dutch Reformed Church, where he once was a major figure, to become a minister in the black branch of the church. He has resigned his membership in the all-white Broederbond, the influential secret society of Afrikanerdom, and he has been ostracized by the Afrikaner community, which views him as a traitor.

With nothing to lose, he is free to follow his conviction that his place -- the place for all believers in decency -- is on the side of blacks in their struggle for liberation.

He was in Washington, during what turned out to be a sort of impromptu South Africa White Week, to premiere his new television documentary, "The Cry of Reason." (The week also saw the premier of Donald Woods' movie on Steve Biko, "Cry Freedom," and visits from the new director general of the South Africa Foundation and Sheena Duncan, head of Black Sash.)

"My main purpose {in the documentary} is to convey, especially to the whites of South Africa, a message both of concern and of hope," he said in an interview. "My concern is that whites, acting out of a fear that is partly founded, are trying to maintain an impossible system. But I also believe that if they can overcome their fear, there is in South Africa a tremendous potential of hope to build a new country and a new future."

He doesn't underestimate the power of that fear. Even after his conscience told him that his church's justification for apartheid was wrong, he was "afraid to follow the consequences of my understanding."

But after moving into the black community and "seeing with my own eyes, hearing with my own ears and experiencing through personal contact" the horrible effects of apartheid, Naude cast his lot unequivocally on the side of liberation.

(Americans who wonder why it took some special experience for a man such as Naude to discover the horror of apartheid should ask themselves how much they know about the day-to-day horror of the American slums -- and how much less they would know if the government not only perpetuated the horror but also prevented the dissemination of news about it.)

But if Naude understands the fear of white South Africans -- fear of loss of political and social power, fear of industrial chaos, fear of black revenge -- he believes that failure to overcome that fear and work for real change will make things far worse for them.

"The major problem is to overcome the fear and be willing to risk for the future. At the present moment, that's not happening. A few whites are seriously rethinking their situation, but their numbers are too small to bring about any major political change.

"In the immediate future, there will be an intervening period of growing conflict and the escalation of violence. I cannot see that we are going to avoid it."

On the other hand, he said, he is encouraged by the willingness of the black leadership to negotiate a nonviolent solution.

"I attended the Dakar consultations between the African National Congress and the Afrikaner group, and for four days we sat down and debated and discussed these issues. Their outspoken stand with regard to white fear was 'we understand it, we sympathize with it, but we cannot afford to accommodate that kind of fear in a future society of South Africa by giving your white minority specific privileges and rights that the community as a whole does not enjoy.' The 60 or so Afrikaners in the group came away with a much deeper sense of the possibilities for the future.

"My concern is that the government will not allow that process of intercultural debate and discussion to proceed on a wide, national level."

Is Naude hopeful in spite of the government's intransigence?

"Hopeful, yes, but I don't want to create any false impression that the foreseeable future is going to be a peaceful one, that it is going to be one without major conflict. I'm afraid we've got to face that, as blacks already have. After all, some 30,000 young people -- 10,000 of them under 18 years of age -- have been shot and killed in the townships."

Can Naude imagine things becoming so polarized that he will be forced to choose not just between right and wrong but also between white and black?

"Oh, yes."

And in that case, wouldn't this Afrikaner clergyman, however liberal in his views, have to choose white?

"I will not choose white," he says. "I cannot choose white. I've already chosen, and my choice is with the black community and its struggle for liberation."