Search
  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
Pages
Social networking
Monday
Feb232015

A question of meaning in Law and Religion: Problematizing “the objective normative value system” imposed by judges on the South African Constitution.

Tomorrow the summer school on religion and law will begin at the University of the Western Cape.  I have the privilige of co-presenting the opening paper with Advocate Keith Matthee (a fellow Methodist, Senior Council at the Cape Bar and acting Judge in the High Court).

The Summer School is a collaboration between the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, the University of the Western Cape, the University of KwaZulu Natal and Stellenbosch University.  This year we will focus on the topic of law and religion.

The title of our paper will be:  A question of meaning in Law and Religion:  Problematizing “the objective normative value system” imposed by judges on the South African Constitution.

Here is the abstract:

In a 2001 Constitutional Court case Ackerman J and Goldstone J stated:

Our constitution is not merely a formal document regulating public power.  It also embodies, like the German Constitution, an objective normative value system.” [1]

Our paper seeks to highlight and discuss a key problem in this accepted approach to the South African Constitution. Namely that this approach incorrectly presupposes only one meaning for concepts such as dignity, equality and freedom and that such meaning is ascertainable by reference to an objective value system contained in the constitution itself.

The result of such an approach is that the constitution becomes imbued with theological meaning and power and so oversteps its bounds from being a protector of religious freedom and an arbitrator of religious rights, to holding a normative theological position alongside, or even in conflict, with religious groupings in South African society. 

The problem can be illustrated by means of a comparison of the different conclusions reached by the South African and German legal systems about whether an unborn child is “life” as envisaged in the equivalent provisions in the two constitutions.

Our paper will argue that the following could serve as a contribution towards addressing this legal theological problem:

  1. See the bill of rights for what it should be, a legal document regulating public and private power and not a document for imposing a specific worldview (“objective … value system”) on society.
  2. In every legal decision judges must recognize the role of their own worldview, inclusive of those who hold a worldview that they would describe as agnostic or atheist,  as an authoritative point of reference, (or value system) when they seek to give content to concepts such as dignity, freedom and equality.  This is of particular importance if the judge concerned in her own daily life draws upon a normative religious source, such as the Bible, Quran or some other commonly accepted religious/philosophical document or code.
  3. The various religious communities, inclusive of the atheistic and agnostic communities, must be allowed and encouraged to exercise their unique role when it comes to developing, critiquing, or explicating the “normative value system” referred to in the quote above. In this process the role of the state/courts/law should be to regulate these religious communities inter alia with a view to curbing any abuse in the exercise of this unique role.

I will post feedback on the paper, and the paper itself (once it is published). So please do check back here for more information.

Here is a list of the papers that will be presented:

Tuesday 24 February

8h45-9h15

 

Arrival and registration

9h15-9h30

Bernard Martin (Dean of Law, UWC)

Opening and welcome

9h30-11h00

Dion Forster (SU, Systematic Theology) and Keith Matthee (SU)

A question of meaning in Law and Religion:  Problematizing the objective normative value system contained in the South African constitution.

11h00-11h30

Tea

 

11h30-13h00

Wilhelm Gräb (HU, Theology):

 

Religious Implications of a Constitutional Democratic State: Why the Secular Differentiation is not True and What the Religions can Contribute to Law and Justice in a Constitutional Democratic State

 

Jacques de Ville (UWC, Law)

The khōric Constitution

13h00-14h00

Lunch

 

14h00-15h30

Rosa Schinagl (HU)

Love – a law or an inner drive?

 

Asharaf Booley (UWC, Law)

Women and Islam: An Overview of the Marital Contract and Practices found in Muslim Countries

15h45-16h30

Phillip Öhlmann (HU)

“Faithful men don’t beat their wives?” Measuring religiosity as a determinant of individual actions and social capital

17h00-18h45

Agustín Fuentes (Notre Dame)

Dean’s Distinguished  Lecture (UWC Library Auditorium):

Deep roots for justice, law and religion? The significance of cooperation, compassion and imagination in human evolution

 

Wednesday 25 February

9h00-10h30

Simanga Kumalo (UKZN, Practical Theology):

Religious Organizations and African Immigrants in post-apartheid South Africa: The Case Study of Central Methodist Mission and Bishop Paul Verreyn

 

Miranda Pillay (Religion and Theology, UWC)

Abortion, Law and Religion

10h30-11h00

Tea

 

11h00-1230

Ian A Nell (SU, Practical Theology)

 

Towards a deeper understanding of “Just Leadership”: Engaging Beyers Naudé

 

Johan Cilliers (SU, Practical Theology)

Poverty and Privilege: Re-hearing sermons of Beyers Naudé on religion and justice

12h30-14h00

Lunch

 

14h00-15h30

Mbhekeni Nkosi (UWC, Ethics)

Conceptual clarification of the German restitution model:  South Africa as a case study

 

Grischa Schwiegk (HU) 

Secular distinctions and the problems of ground and motivation in “secular” law – theoretical considerations

15h30-16h00

Tea

 

16h00-16h45

Manitza Kotzé (UWC, Religion and Theology)

Biotechnology, bills and belief: Justification, self-realisation or domination?

19h00

William Storrar (CTI)

Cilliers Breytenbach (Faculty of Theology, HU)

Michael Weeder (St Georges)

Panel discussion (St George’s Cathedral): International perspectives on Religion, Law and Justice

 

 

Thursday 26 February

 

9h00-10h30

Demaine Solomons (UWC, Religion and Theology)

Justice and Reconciliation: Antagonists or soulmates? The Kairos Document Revisited

 

 

Muneer Abduroaf (UWC, Law)

The impact of South African case law on the status of Muslim women: An analysis of court decisions versus the current (2010) Muslim Marriages Bill provisions

10h30-11h00

Tea

 

11h00-12h30

Lana Sirri (HU)

The tensions between ancient and modern interpretations of Islamic law, based on the work of Kecia Ali Sexual ethics and Islam-

feminist reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and jurisprudence

 

Hendrik Bosman (SU, Theology)

“The dialectic of religion and law according to the memories of Moses in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament”

12h30-14h00

Lunch

 

14h00-15h30

Andreas Feldtkeller (HU)

“Justice in Islam between Tradition and Modernity. Some Thought in Dialogue with the “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi”

15h30-16h00

Tea

 

16h00-17h30

 

Open discussion of conference theme

18h30-

Conference Dinner

Life sciences building

 

It looks like an exciting program with a lot to think and talk about!

References:

[1] Please see the quote in, Ackermann, L. 2012. Human Dignity: Lodestar for Equality in South Africa. Juta and Company Ltd. p.28.

Tuesday
Feb172015

Nelson Mandela and the Methodists Italian TV documentary

Below is a copy of the documentary on Nelson Mandela and his Church, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa that was produced and shot by my friend Paolo Emilio Landi.  

You will see our Presiding Bishop (Zipho Siwa), my Bishop (Michel Hansrod), my close friends Revds Kevin Needham, Andre Butner, as well as my mentor and friend, Bishop Peter Storey and my friend Alan Storey (among others) in the documentary.  I also get to say a few words - this documentary follows the connection between Nelson Mandela and the Methodist Church of South Africa.  In part it is based on the research that I conducted in 2014 on Nelson Mandela's faith biography.

My little piece was filmed in our University Library at Stellenbosch late last year. It is so great to see this story told.  I am so grateful to Paulo and his team for putting it together.

You can read 'Mandela and the Methodists' which I wrote last year and was published in the journal of South African Church History here:  http://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/14102

 

 

Friday
Feb132015

John de Gruchy devotion on Authentic, Hopeful, Action (AHA) in South Africa

Please find a devotion delivered by Professor John de Gruchy (extraordinary Professory of Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch) on Thursday 12 February 2015.

To find out more about the AHA movement please follow this link.

AHA

James 2:14-18

"Faith without works is dead!"

Pessimists say that the cup is half empty; and optimists, that it is half full.  Some people are pessimists by nature.  For them the world, the Hermanus town council, and the church are hopelessly falling apart, South Africa is going to the dogs (don't ask me what dogs have to do with it!), the government is totally corrupt,  people always let you down, young people have no discipline, tomorrow is going to be worse than today -- even when they hear good news they automatically add a negative comment, "yes, but!".  Optimists also seem to be optimists by nature.  South Africa is getting better, the dogs don't bite and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, people are always so nice, young people are a pleasure, and what a great day it is today despite the heat and south-easter, it could be worse.  It is easy to understand why people are pessimists, especially in circumstances such as we see every day on TV.   "It is," Bonhoeffer wrote shortly before his arrest, "more sensible to be pessimistic, disappointments are left behind, and one can face people unembarrassed.  Hence, the clever frown upon optimism."  But then he goes on to praise optimism because it is:

a power of life, a power of hope when others resign, a power to hold our heads high when all seems to come to naught, a power to tolerate setbacks, a power that never abandons the future to the opponent but lays claim to it, 

Pessimists may keep our feet on the ground but optimists keep hope alive.  But perhaps it would be best if we were all realists who accepted the way things are, for good or ill, and then got off our butts to make things better, neither bemoaning nor turning a blind eye to what is wrong or bad.  In the end, does it really matter if the glass is half empty or half full ?  What matters is whether we are going to do what needs to be done to fill the cup to the brim.  If we are not working to make the world a better place, things will get worse whether we are pessimists or optimists.

There were plenty of prophets of doom in the Old Testament.  The difference between a true prophet and false one was that whereas the true prophet told the political and religious leaders how bad things were and they had better change their ways, the false prophets always said things were just fine, "peace, peace, when there was no peace."  But the true prophets were actually being realists.  They were not just saying how bad things were, they were calling on people to change, to change their attitudes, change their hearts and minds, and start doing things differently.  The same was true of Jesus,  Jesus laid it on the line when speaking truth to power, when castigating the religious hypocrites of his day, and the corrupt rulers in the Temple and the Palaces of Jerusalem and Tiberias.  He did not have much faith in their willingness to change.  But he saw possibilities for healing and change in seemingly hopeless situation.  He saw the good in people rejected as irreligious, isolated because they had contagious diseases, shunned because they were tax-collectors and prostitutes, or simply ignored because they were poor.  He did not give up on them.  He exuded the power of life, and  hope.

The apostle James was clearly a realist.  He knew about the great gulf between wealth and poverty in his day but decided to do something about it.  To those who said they believed in God but did nothing to help the poor he retorted "faith without works is dead" and went on to say "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."  Sparklekid Theo likewise tells us "Just get on with it!"  Yes, politicians are corrupt, the power outages are unacceptable, the conditions in the township are bad, but let's get on and do something to make life better for everyone.  That attitude releases the power of life and hope.  And there are many such good news stories being told today around South Africa that demonstrate this in big or small ways.  Listen to one from the kindergarten across the road from Volmoed:

January 2015 kicked off with great excitement and a school filled with 38 little children, some more happy than others to join our school.  Our classes bursting at their seams with small little faces eager to embark on this new exciting path of their lives.  From our 38 students 4 are from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a number from farms in the area and then a host of children from Zwelihle.  Two of our 3 teachers will continue their education this year via Klein Karoo and I am so excited to see how quickly they are developing, not only in their teaching abilities but also in their confidence.

Immediately after the conference held in Stellenbosch last September to celebrate my 75th birthday, a group of participants got together and decided to do something about poverty in South Africa.  They called the project AHA! which stands for "Authentic, Hopeful Action."  They were realists who  did not simply want to talk about change but to act in ways that made a real difference to the lives of the poor.  I was not at that meeting, but I was made the Patron of AHA.  This means that even though  my "shelf-life" is coming to an end I can cajole people into doing things that might make a difference in the lives of poor people.   

The AHA website has many practical suggestions that could make a difference, some of them we could all do without too much effort.  For example if you don't already, you can give R 5 to the garage attendant whenever your car is filled.  This won't fundamentally alter the material conditions in poor communities, but if each garage attendant at Engen down the road got R5 from  five people a day, he or she would earn at least a R100 extra per week.  Multiply that by 10 garage attendants and that would mean a R 1000 would find its way into the life of the township!  And then multiply it across the country at every filing station! 

The list of possibilities whereby we can help make a difference to the lives of other people through authentic, hopeful action is endless if only we put our minds to it and get on with it.   At the very least we could go onto the AHA webpage, or talk to Theo over coffee,  to find out what even those of us whose shelf-life is short can do.  This is surely better than talking ourselves into a state of despair about the state of the nation!  Whether congenitally pessimists or optimists, let us be realists.  Poverty is a crime against humanity, especially in a country where there is so much wealth. We don't need a AHA moment or movement to tell us.  But we do need to act authentically and hopefully, and maybe.  some help to know what we can do, to show by our works what our faith means.  Instead of saying AMEN or ALLELUIA today, let  us all shout  "AHA!" 

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 12 February 2015

Friday
Feb132015

Theology and Public Life - Confronting poverty, unemployment and inequality

Please find a copy of the speech given by Dr Mamphela Ramphele at the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Theology open day on the 2nd of February 2015.

INTRODUCTION

We are privileged to be able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of South Africa’s finest sons, Beyers Naude, born on 10th May 1915. It is fitting that his alma mater has honoured him by amongst others, namingthe Centre for Theology after him and organizing this Annual Lecture to reflecton Theology and Public life.  

Beyers lived his life as a spiritualsearcher for “the truth“.  The search for“the truth” during the dark days of apartheid brought him face to face with thechoice between obedience in faith to God or subjection to the authority of thechurch’s doctrines.  The Dutch ReformedChurch’s doctrines of the time were heavily tainted by chauvinist and racistideology that supported and promoted the socio-economic exclusion of blackcitizens.  This doctrine undermined the pillarson which humanity stands – the fundamental truth that all humans are created asequals in the image of God. Beyers Naude chose obedience to God and paid theprice of social disapproval and exclusion by the Afrikaner establishment. 

Today is an opportune moment for us toreflect on our own journeys as people of faith. We need to examine the extent to which we have made the kind of choicesthat affirm our faith in the equality of humans and commitment to building asociety characterized by Ubuntu – thehuman connectedness that binds us together as equal members of the human race.  Ubunturequires us to confront the legacy of socio-economic and political exclusion ofblack people by a white power structure.   The persistence of Poverty, Unemployment andInequality is a result of our failure to establish the human connectedness thatis essential to making Ubuntu a way oflife.   We are yet to see ourselves inthe faces our fellow human beings made in the image of the God we worship.

Our Theme: Confronting Poverty,Unemployment and Inequality gives us an opportunity from a Theology andPublic Life perspective to reflect on the texts of great thinkers about this brokennessin the human connectedness in our society. It is also an opportunity for us to recommit to healing ourselves asindividuals, our communities and our society as a whole.  In this lecture I would like to reflect onthree points:

1)   Thatthe process of Confronting Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality is inextricablylinked to the restoration of the moral health of individuals and the health ofour political community.

2)   Thetough choices that Spiritual Leadership faces in responding to the call topromote the structural transformation that is fundamental to uprooting Poverty,Unemployment and Inequality.  

3)   Theneed to nurture the Green Shoots of a new Struggle for True Liberty

 

CONFRONTING POVERTY, UNEMPLOYMENT ANDINEQUALITY

Our society is struggling to come to termswith the essential structural transformation that is required to build thecountry we committed to establish to make freedom a reality in the daily livesof all citizens.  The growing poverty, persistentunemployment and yawning chasm of inequality are symptoms of a society withdeep wounds and excruciating social pain for those on the wrong side of thedivide.  The euphoria of 1994 blinded usto the reality of the extent of transformation and healing needed to build thenon-racial, non-sexist and just democratic society envisaged in ourconstitution.

We need to confront and dismantle thesocial structures, that enabled a minority to exploit a majority of ourpopulation, that remain intact to date. For example our cities remainsegregated. Dormitory townships are supporting the prosperity and comfort ofthe well to do areas with their labour, consumer spending and taxes.  Take the case of staple food items such asbread.  A recent analysis shows that atownship such as Soweto with approximately 2million poor and unemployed people spendabout R10m per day on sugar-laced bread amounting to R3.65bn per year.  All that money leaves Soweto and billionsmore from other townships. Ultimately leaves South Africa as repatriatedprofits of multinational bread companies. This economic model can only generatepoverty for the majority and super wealth for the minority that owns most ofthe capital in our economy. 

Our education and training systems stillchurn out poor quality outcomes for the majority of children and young people.This leaves them ill-prepared to seize the labour market and self-employment opportunitiesin our economy.  The productivity of oureconomy suffers from the poor quality human capital.  The humiliation of life in poverty in themidst of conspicuous consumption is a source of re-traumatization, a disabling senseof worthlessness, anger and frustration. The social instability, brutality of violence and extent ofself-sabotage in those dormitory townships are a direct result of thestructural violence the society visits upon them daily.  This violence and social instability willincreasingly spill into well to do areas of our towns and cities.

The celebrated Indian Economist, C.T.Kurien, laments the pursuit of wealth at the expense of those excluded andexploited.  He urges the global communityto confront the traditional economic model. He is concerned about the reduction of humanachievement to monetary achievement. In virtually every field from technologyto spirituality success is increasingly measured in terms of a monetary number.The relentless pursuit of these numbers has taken its toll on social processeseven as it has led to the over exploitation of natural resources without even apassing thought to the needs of future generations.  He defines poverty as “the carcassthat remained from wealth acquisition.”  SampieTerreblanche brings this concern closer to our own situation: “In South Africa we can regard (black)poverty as the carcass left over from (white) acquisition.”[1]

Inequality generated by this economicmodel and the disrespect that goes with it, adds salt to the wounds of thosewho have to endure its burdens.  Thesocial fractures occasioned by the triple burden of poverty, unemployment andinequality undermine our connectedness as a human community.    

What are we to do to contribute to theprocess of structural transformation that is essential to healing the socialpain and wounds of our society as people of faith and citizens and peopleobedient to God in Faith? I am encouraged in this exploration by the congruencebetween the views of St. Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dag Hammarskjold andRabbi Jonathan Sacks on the freedom we have as human beings to choose how tolive as creatures designed for connectedness with other humans.   Allthese thinkers link human freedom to action in the service of others.

Augustinians place a strong focus on sinas “attempts to flee from other humans,and also from God, (as) the really fundamental characteristic of what sin is. It(sin) is an attempt to treat others as objects so that we do not have toconfront what it would be like to treat them as humans and be exposed to theirclaims upon us as humans.”[2]  

Both Bonhoeffer and Hammarskjold (who werecontemporaries born in different parts of Europe) define sin asself-centeredness – to be curved in upononeself.  Freedom in their view isinseparable from unreserved service. Freedom “is a freedom in the midstof action, and the action required is the action to serve others.”[3] For both of them the life of aChristian is that of one who lives and acts in the midst of the needs of theworld.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his wisereflections on Freewill had this to say: "Whenlife becomes cheap and people are seen as a means to an end, when the worstexcesses are excused in the name of tradition and rulers have absolute power,then conscience is eroded and freedom lost because culture has createdinsulated space in which the cry of the oppressed can no longer be heard."[4]

 The exclusionarysocial structures of the apartheid exploitative system designed to create “insulated space in which the cry of theoppressed could not be heard”, sadly remain intact to date.  Many of us living in the leafy suburbs ofmajor towns and cities can not, and do not, and will not hear the cry of thosestill living with unspeakable pain of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  We flee – physically and symbolically fromthe places where we would have to confront the claims that our fellow humansmake on us as a connected human race.   

Not unlike “the pre-conversion” BeyersNaude, we have found it difficult to challenge the establishment, because weare of it.  Those in government authorityand in leadership positions in the private sector are part of us.  We are a part of networks of support andpatronage that operate amongst those seen to be loyal to the political andeconomic establishment.  

Many of us as people of faith have foundourselves caught in the horns of a dilemma. How to be supportive of a newgovernment led by struggle heroes, whilst being obedient to God in faith and beingon the side of those crying under the burden of persistent injustices in theirdaily lives?  How do we remain true to ourobedience to God in faith in a society that seems to have come to tolerate continuedpoverty, unemployment and growing inequality? How do we challenge impunity in public life by the very people alongside whom we fought against the impunity of the apartheid system?  How long is long enough to begin to demandaccountability in public life as non-negotiable?

Beyers Naude, as a member of the AfrikanerBroederbond, faced the same dilemma when it became obvious to him that theAfrikaner establishment was committing atrocities such as the Sharpeville Massacre,and the systematic denial of the human dignity of his fellow citizens simplybecause they were black.  He too was toldto be patient by his friends, the likes of Rev Bertie Brink, who said: “Brother Beyers, I just want to advise youthat it is going to take years and years before our church realizes thatapartheid cannot be spiritually justified. Therefore, we must be patient.”[5]   

In our midst today are also peoplecounseling patience.  There are thosesuggesting that 20 years is too soon to expect transformation to have the desiredimpact on the lives of people living in poverty, unemployment and suffering thepain and indignity of inequality.   Many others are saying that 20 years is toolong for those children who still do not get the high quality early childhooddevelopment they need to lay the foundations for success in life.  More and more are saying that 20 years is toolong for those cohorts of young people – black and poor - 50% and more of whomdrop out of our school system due to poor quality teaching and learning intheir foundation years.  

Young people are saying that 20 years istoo long for those who against all odds, make it into the minority who qualifyfrom high school, yet end up without opportunities for higher education andskills training to prepare them for successful careers in the 21stcentury.  A growing chorus says that 20years is too long for the thousands of women and children who die unnecessarilyin childbirth due to poor quality health services despite the science andresources we have to stop the carnage.   

Like Beyers Naude, we face the choicebetween obeying God’s call to us to respond to the demands of our fellow humanbeings to make true liberty visible in our society or continuing with thestatus quo.  We are challenged to admitthat true liberty is not divisible – we cannot be free when the majority of ourfellow human beings remain un-free.  Wehave to tackle both the structural and psychological impediments to connectingthe moral health of individuals and the health of our political community withthe goal of true liberty for all.   Wehave to accept that a corrupted polity will effectively corrupt its citizens,and corrupted citizens will effectively corrupt their polity.     

We have made the big mistake ofjettisoning the psychological dimension of the struggle for true liberty in1994.  People who have been deeplywounded by decades of humiliation by political and socio-economic exclusion,cannot simply stand up and dust themselves up and move on.  The superiority and inferiority complexes ofracism and sexism, as well as the assault on the culture and self-image ofblack people, have left a multiplicity of deep wounds to heal on theirown.  A healing process is needed toacknowledge the wounds, apply the balm of truth speaking between perpetratorsand victims, and dismantle the structures that continue to wound millions ofblack people.  

Reconciliation can only come from puttingright that which has gone wrong (structural transformation).  As citizens and as Faith Based Leaders wewere too hasty to declare victory, especially after the Truth and ReconciliationCommission (TRC) process in the late 1990s. We left too many wounded people, who are the majority population, totheir own devices by excluding socio-economic violations of human rights fromthe TRC process. We have also not followed through with the minimalist reparationsproposed in the TRC Report.

What is needed is a new business model forour economy.  We need to rethink andtransform the socio-economic structures of our cities to stop the haemorragingof cash from the poorest to the wealthiest parts of our urban landscapes.  We need to address the cost of poverty in transportcosts, time away from families and lack of leisure and other facilitiesessential to enhancing the quality of life for poor people. We need to advocatefor, and champion larger investments in quality public services to enhance theoutcomes of education and health for all citizens.  

We also need to be open to innovations inpower generation technologies that focus on renewables and new human settlementmodels that integrate residential and industrial/commercial productiveactivities.  Our economy can only growfaster and in a more sustainable way by adopting models that promote the utilizationof the talents and energies of all able bodied people willing to participate inbuilding ours into a great society. 

We need to dismantle our “insulatedspaces” and be present in the lives of those wrestling with the triple burdenin our midst.  We need to listen to thecry of those black people plunged into self-hatred because of the dailyhumiliation and denigration they continue to endure.  We need to understand that destructivebehavior including self-sabotage, in personal, community and public life of ournation, is a direct result of the psychological liberation work yet to be done.  

Too many white people remain burdened by asuperiority complex that distances them from their fellow human beings.  There are too many white people who stilljustify the legacy of privilege they continue to enjoy as an entitlementresulting from their superior education, skills and harder work.  There are still too many men who believe thatthey are entitled to lead rather than recognize the complementary strengthswomen bring to leadership.

Beyers Naude, as founder and head of theChristian Institute, was one of the first white people in the 1970s torecognize the importance of psychological liberation through raising the consciousnessof both black and white people about the impact of racism and socio-economicexclusion on human relationships.  Beyershad benefitted from Afrikaners consciousness raising and solidarity action toheal the psychological wounds of humiliation Afrikaners suffered at the handsof the British.  He supported the BlackCommunity Programs (BPC was the development arm of the BCM) to model practicalmanifestations of self-reliance to drive black led sustainable developmentprojects.   

The gap left by the neglect of psychologicalliberation has been filled by, amongst others, the new churches.   Theyoffer salvation for those suffering the pain of being in the margins of society.   Some of these new churches, despite theirlimited human and material resources, are answering the call to hear the cry ofpain by being present in the daily struggles of poor people. 

But many of these new churches aremega-businesses with global links to centers in the USA and SouthernAmerica.   They offer a prosperity ministrybased on transactional relationships involving significant financialcontributions and unquestioning obedience to the authority of church leaders.   The level of desperation and loss ofself-esteem of the congregants involved is reflected by the extent to whichthey engage in further humiliating acts such as eating grass, drinking petrolor slavish submission to abusive church leaders.   How do we stop the sin of fleeing from theclaims these desperate fellow humans are making on us as humans? 

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF LEADINGSTRUCTURAL TRANSFORMATION

Dag Hammaskjold’s life of public serviceas Secretary General of the United Nations in the Cold War era of the 1960s, isan inspiration we might draw on in this exploration of our own healing journeysas we confront the challenges and opportunities of structural transformation ofour society.  Hammarskjold’s life of publicservice was anchored on the search for life’s meaning.   This search led Dag to conclude that the wayby which one finds life meaningful is the way of experience; one seeks meaningby “daring to take the leap intounconditional obedience you will find that ‘in the pattern’ you are liberatedfrom the need to live ‘with the herd’. You will find that thus subordinated, your life will receive from Lifeall its meaning, irrespective of the conditions given you for its realization”.[6]

The liberation from ‘the need to live with the herd’ and enjoyment of the benefits ofbeing a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, is what enabled Beyers Naude toleap into “unconditional obedience”to God.  The question for us today is howwe are to liberate ourselves from ‘the needto live in the herd’ and commit ourselves to tackling the structural andpsychological obstacles to true freedom for all South Africans?  The church at various stages in its life,including during the struggle for freedom from apartheid, anchored its missionon the connection between the moral health of individuals and the health of ourpolitical community.  

Imagine if people of all faiths were tomake 2015 the year of breaking down the edifice of socio-economic structuresthat perpetuate poverty, unemployment and inequality in the contexts we livein!  People of Faith across the religiousspectrum have historically been involved in advocacy for social justice and as actorsin socio-economic development projects, especially education and health care.  What stops the church today from respondingto the desperate needs for quality education, health care and promoting humandignity in our homes and communities?

There are inspirational stories emergingfrom across our country of citizens doing extraordinary things with limitedresources.  Take the example of civicengagement of retired people in Hermanus, in the Western Cape, who havecommitted themselves to transforming the local schools in the poor township ofZwelihle into high quality places of teaching and learning.   Enhancing education quality is transformingthe mindsets of those involved on both sides of the divide.  It sets the stage for dismantling the dividesin Hermanus between masters and servants, opening the gate towards rebuilding asociety of equal citizens.

Other citizens in Gauteng and Mpumalanga aresimilarly helping to make excellence affordable to poor communities through lowcost private schools.  Forgingpartnerships between poor public schools and better-resourced schools, is alsoworking wonders in enhancing performance across the board.  These are not, and should not be acts ofcharity. These are citizen responses to building a society we can all be proudto live in. 

Imagine if citizens of Stellenbosch wereto step outside their comfort zones to support the push for quality educationfor every child in settlements on your doorstep such Khayamandi!  The knock-on effects would includecollaboration between the very high net-worth residents and the poor people ofKhayamandi. Together they would build a re-connected healing community ofStellenbosch, where human dignity is celebrated at home, at work and in thewider community.  The same amazing thingscould happen if Cape Town leafy suburban citizens would dare to reconnect withtheir fellow humans on the Cape Flats.

The over-60s in our society are anunder-utilized resource. Theis resource could be harnessed to tackle structuralconstraints to sustainable socio-economic development.  Many citizens in this age group have a wealthof experience, scarce skills and independent financial means.  Imagine connecting our huge youth base – thelargest proportion of our population (59%) under 35 years – with the almost 10%of our population who are retired and still energetic!   The enthusiasm and energy of youth inspiredand nurtured by mutually supportive relationships with older generations couldbecome a winning proposition for our society. 

The linking of hands to innovate andexperiment with new business models to accelerate economic growth, educationand training as well as job creation, could see us turning round our moribundeconomy into a thriving one.  We could turnthe challenges of the triple burden into an opportunity to build bridgesconnecting us as fellow human beings.  Becomingmore attentive to the needs of our fellow human beings and learning from oneanother, are the ingredients needed to build a more prosperous, inclusive and stablegreat country together. 

GREEN SHOOTS OF A NEW STRUGGLE FOR LIBERTYFOR ALL?

There are encouraging signs across ourcountry that people of faith are waking up to their responsibilities andrecommitting to obedience to God in faith. First, many individuals are openly searching again for appropriateresponses to the growing social justice challenges in our midst.  The courage to engage in a new struggle onthe side of poor people is being championed by a growing number of faith-basedleaders.   

The South African Council of Churches(SACC), that played a seminal role in proclaiming liberation theology andsupport for the struggle for freedom, is being revived after years ofneglect.  Leaders such as Rev FrankChikane, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Ms. Hlope Bam, have stepped up to the role ofgiving the SACC revival a boost.  Here inthe Western Cape The Religious Leaders Forum led by Rev Xola Skosana is gearingup for a stronger prophetic voice and greater responsiveness to the cry ofthose living on the margins of our society.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has also taken a bold step by putting a stop to its priests acting as Chaplainsto the ANC.   The Chaplaincy of the ANChad become controversial in its support of the ANC’s claim to “being of God”and therefore deserving support from God-fearing citizens. 

The Archbishop of Cape Town, ThaboMakgoba, has also come out in support of actively standing with thosemarginalized by poverty and indignity.  Hehas called for 2015 to be a year of “renaissanceof the spirit and the reconnection with the values of our constitution and ourspiritually guided families …… You have the chance to shape our country’sdestiny.  Destiny is not a matter ofchance, but a matter of choice.”[7]

There are other encouraging initiativesafoot as well.  The Authentic HopefulAction (AHA) had a soft launch in December 2014 to mobilize action against thetriple burden of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  It draws its strengths from the Second KairosInitiative that presented an open letter to the ANC leadership in 2012,challenging the persistent social injustice and growing corruption ingovernment.  The success of AHA willdepend on its ability to ignite the imagination and energy of citizens and thefaithful to mobilize a sustainable social movement for a new struggle forsocial justice.

The successful sprouting and blossoming ofthese green shoots depends on the extent to which they inspire citizens acrossthe spectrum to rise to the challenge and opportunity of building a movementfocused on uprooting poverty, tackling unemployment and inequality.   The question for you and I here today is howwe respond to the call to obedience as we go back to our bases?  Are we ready to ”take the leap of obedience” and start the process of dismantlingthe socio-economic barriers we have built in our own lives or those weperpetuate to insulate ourselves from our fellow human beings?  Are we ready for the journey to reconnectwith our fellow human beings?  

CONCLUSION

Let me conclude by bringing in the voicesof young men from Khayelitsha whom we seldom have the opportunity to listen to.   They are part of a group supported by aninitiative by two traditional ballet dancers that enabled them to escape theclutches of gangs to rebuild their lives They are exceptional in theirperformance as dancers moving gracefully in a celebration of ballet and Africandancing motifs.   The untapped talentamongst these young people is immeasurable. Let me share with you the lyrics of a song they composed during oneevening during a weekend away organized by their mentors:

 

Ndiyoyika

Ndiyabuza kaloku, yini

na sibulalana sodwa

Bayaphi ubuntu

 

Sesisele sisodwa

simunamunana nak’ilahle

baphi na abadala

ndiyabuza kaloku.

Sifuna wena Mama nawetata

Uyabanda umzi ongena

mfazi

 

Kwanele ma-Africa

Kwanele bantwana

Bo’mtonyama

Masibambaneni

 

I’m afraid

I’m asking why are we

killing each other, where

is our humanity

 

We have been left alone

Trying to find answers

Where are the elders

I’m asking

We want our mother

and father

A house with no woman

is cold

 

It’s enough my fellow

Africans

It’s enough sons and

daughters of the soil

Let’s unite

How are we to respond to these voices?  We have the power, theresources, the experience and models of success, to root out poverty,unemployment and inequality.  The keyquestion is whether we are willing to make the choice to respond and expressour obedience to God through service to these young people and others in ourmidst so we can restore our human connectedness.   

Mamphela Ramphele

Active Citizen

2/2/2015

 

[1] C.T. Kurien, Wealthand  Illfare — An Expedition into RealLife Economics, Books forChange, 139, Richmond Road, Bangalore-560025. Rs. 390. Terreblanche, S. AHistory of Inequality in SA: 1652-2002, University of Natal Press, 2002p413.  

 

[2] A Conversations With CharlesMathewes, Ass Professor of Theology at the University of Virginia andauthor of A Theology of Public Life, Cambridge, USA, 2007, Boisi Centrefor Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, USA.

[3] Dag Hammarskjold’s White Book – An Analysis of Markings,p129, Gustaf Aulen, 1969, Fortress Press.

[4] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,Covenant and Conversations 5775 one Ethics, Freewill

[5]  Beyers Naude, My Land vanHoop, Human and Rousseau, 1995:43

[6] Dag Hammaskjold, Markings, p114, as quoted in An Analysisof Markings , Gustaf Aulen, p35, Fortress Press 1969.

[7] Time for a New Struggle,Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, Sunday Independent, 11/1/2015

Monday
Jan262015

Invitation Stellenbosch Theology Day - Dr Mamphela Ramphele on poverty, inequality and joblessness in South Africa

Dear friends,

I would like to invite you to attend the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Theology Open Day on 2 February 2015.  There is no cost and it promises to be an interesting and topical day of input and reflection on some of the current issues we face in South Africa.

You are also more than welcome to attend the opening service of the Faculty of Theology at the Stellenbosch United Church on 1 February 2015 at 19:00.

Please see the details below.

Best regards,

Dion

The annual Theological Day, which is the start of the academic year of the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU), will take place on Monday 2 February 2015 from 09:00 – 13:00 in the Attie van Wijk Auditorium at the Faculty of Theology, 171 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch. The theme for the day is: Theology and Public Life: Facing the Challenges of Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality.

Prof Nico Koopman, dean of the Faculty of Theology will introduce the theme, followed by Dr Mamphela Ramphele who will deliver the keynote address. Rev Malcolm Damon, executive director of the Network for Economic Justice, Prof Ronelle Burger from the department of Economics, SU and Prof Piet Naudé, director of the SU Business School, will make further inputs during the panel discussion.

In 2015 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Beyers Naudé’s birth, and the topic for the Theological Day is well in line with his concern for a theological and prophetic response to public life, including socio-political and economical aspects. In 2015 we also participate in the 30th anniversary of the Kairos Document which is known for its prophetic message. Last year at the Theological Day former minister Trevor Manuel spoke on the National Development Plan, followed by responses by theologians and church leaders. This year we want to continue this conversation: How should Christians, churches and the ecumenical movement respond to the giant challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality? Hopefully this can contribute to a process of further mobilization and theoretical and theological depth. 

Attendance is free and all are welcome! Limited parking is available at the faculty and guests are advised to park in The Avenue or on the banks of the Eerste River (opposite Paul Roos Gymnasium). Please allow ample time for traffic.

The welcoming church service of the faculty will take place on Sunday 1 February 2015 at 19:00 at Stellenbosch United Chrurch, 8 Van Riebeeck Street, Stellenbosch. Dr Dion Forster will deliver the sermon and Dr David Hunter will be the liturgist.

Enquiries: Helette, e-mail hvdwest@sun.ac.za, tel 021 808 3255.

Sunday
Jan252015

A celebration for no reason

I love a good celebration - a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday or the dawning of a new year.

I wonder how many times I have missed the miracle of today, this ordinary day, because my eyes have been fixed on the future, anticipating something to come?

This beautiful quote reminded me to celebrate this day for no particular reason. After all, it is as special and miraculous, as wonderful and as blessed as any high feast or great milestone - this day is worth celebrating!


Today is a day of celebration for no reason. I cannot think of a better special occasion. Therefore, I invite you to join me in celebrating this arbitrary moment in time, this one day in your life, for no particular reason other than you are here. You are here to see the beauty of the world shine around you. You are here to love someone, laugh with someone, share with someone. You have this day to let your imagination go, to remember the good times, to write another footnote in the story of your life. And all of those are reasons to celebrate for no reason, other than gratitude for another day from the Maker of days. (Bishop Steven Charleston)

My daughter went to Church this evening and we had an hour or so free before we had to collect her again so we decided to go to the beach. We wet our feet, enjoyed the sea and the sun, had an ice cream, chatted and laughed, and had a celebration for no reason! It was great!

So, I invite you to celebrate this day! Don't let the moment pass. Recognize that it is a gift, a moment filled with grace, and give thanks.

Saturday
Jan032015

Robots are starting to break the law and nobody knows what to do about it

More than 10 years ago I wrote about this challenge in my doctoral research. At the time it was not yet feasible, but as the story at this link shows, robots can now commit crimes (or at least perform actions that we would consider criminal).

http://fusion.net/story/35883/robots-are-starting-to-break-the-law-and-nobody-knows-what-to-do-about-it/?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email

The issue that the referenced article doesn't consider is whether the acts are actually criminal. Did the robot have criminal intent or was it just randomized action on the part of a non-conscious machine? While we may consider these actions criminal I doubt the robot had any sense of the difference between the 'criminal purchases' and other randomized 'non-criminal' purchases.

Still, it highlights an interesting ethical issue, what do we do when criminal activities take place by non sentient, self directed, machines or programs? Perhaps at best we could deactivate the machine and aggregate its code or re-program it with more sophisticated coding that takes our sense of criminal activity into account. In more serious cases we could ask whether the creators of the machine or program had criminal intent and pursue them for their intent and action (enacted by proxy through the machine or program).

You can read more about my thoughts and research on these issues (although I did shift from Artificial Intelligence to Neuroscience):

http://www.dionforster.com/blog/tag/neuroscience

This article in Sci-WEB used some of my Artificial Intelligence research:

http://www.dionforster.com/blog/2010/4/14/sci-fi-meets-society-my-artificial-intelligence-research-use.html

Saturday
Dec202014

Are 'whites' South Africa's problem?

 A good friend of mine, Sanda Fata, posted a quote on his timeline last week that caused me to reflect and think very deeply. I respect Sanda and so trust his perspective. Here is the status that Sanda posted:


Most white South Africans don't want to be part of South Africa, but all they want is huge stake of South Africa (Nkosivumile Gola) uvuthiwe mntanam.
The statement above touches on two very sensitive issues, namely the massive issue of inequality between South Africa's citizens, and of course the painful and ongoing issue of race politics.

 

I am convinced that the issue at stake in South Africa is not a race issue (race classification and the empowerment of one race and denigration of another is the cause of our problems, and so it cannot be our solution). As I prayed, and thought about this issue I wrote the following response to Sanda.

Comrade Sanda Fata - thanks for sharing this. It caused me to think deeply. I agree with part of the statement of Comrade Nkosivumile Gola. Indeed there are certain South Africans who want a larger stake of the nation at the expense of others, and I am afraid that in large measure they are white South Africans. However, I think that it is a mistake to tie the struggle for emancipation and transformation to race. It is a mistake because it is wrong and so in the long run it will be futile. We cannot base our struggle on something that people cannot choose or change. The core of the issue here is not whiteness, it is something more powerful, something about which people can make choices and can actually choose to change. Apartheid ideology did its best to problematise blackness. We can see how wrong that was. I contend that it is a mistake to judge persons based on something they did not choose and cannot change. So, what should we do? In my view our struggle should be a class struggle. There are South Africans of a certain class that subjugate others through their choices, their consumption of resources, their desire for power and wealth at all costs, their denial of human dignity (and so also human rights). These South Africans are white, but they are also brown and black. It is their choices around class that are problematic (hence I contend that a class struggle is necessary, and not a race struggle). A class struggle emerges when there are competing social and economic interests between people in society (such as access to health care, education, dignified work, a living wage, the right to flourish). These choices can be changed by the classes who hold wealth and power, and so I feel we need to spend our energy, time, and creativity addressing the class issue rather than the race issue. History has shown that race struggles are based on prejudice (about something that people cannot choose or change) and so they never succeed. Persons who appeal only to race do so because it is very easy to blame the 'other' who is different from ourselves, but it is a mistake since there are poor whites, poor brown people, as well as wealthy black people, powerful black people etc., I would encourage you to look at this great book by my friend Joerg Rieger We hope to have him visit South Africa again soon: Rieger, Joerg ed. 2013 Religion, Theology, and Class: Fresh Engagements after Long Silence New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Theology-Class-Engagements-Approaches/dp/113735142X

At the core of my argument is that South Africans need one another. Our diversity is a gift. I am convinced that we need each other in order to forge a better future for all, we cannot attempt to make things better by once again polarising persons along the lines of race. Moreover, I am convinced that social and economic issues are central to the struggle that we face in South Africa today - indeed, suffering is still almost entirely a reality among our black sisters and brothers. However, it is not their race which causes this suffering, it is our economic and political choices. Inequality is a class issue, not a race issue.

I would love to hear your perspective.

Wednesday
Dec172014

On reconciliation - Nico Koopman and Oodgeroo Noonuccal

My colleague Prof Nico Norman Koopman's column on reconciliation in today's Burger newspaper reminded me of this piece of poetry:

I could tell you of heartbreak, hatred blind, 
I could tell you of crimes that shame mankind, 
Of brutal wrong and deeds malign, 
Of rape and murder, son of mine; But I’ll tell instead of brave and fine 
When lives of black and white entwine 
And men in brotherhood combine— 
This I would tell you, son of mine.
~ Oodgeroo Noonuccal - Son of Mine, 1960

A prophet of hope in our time!

Here is Nico's column from Die Burger for 16 December 2014:

Steeds op soek na helende versoening

Die 1996-Grondwet van die Republiek van Suid-Afrika pleit vir die heling van die wonde van die nasie. Op Versoeningsdag fokus ons uitdruklik op hierdie helingsproses.

Drie interaksies bied riglyne vir hierdie proses. Gedurende die negentigerjare is ek en Vader Courtney Sampson van die Anglikaase Kerk kapelane op die kampusse van die Universiteit Wes-Kaapland, en die destydse Skiereilandse Technikon en Bellville Onderwyskollega. Courtney verduidelik op ‘n keer aan my dat sy bediening gedurende die verloop van ‘n jaar die moeite werd was as hy een bruin en een swart student kon help om vriende te word, en as hulle buite klasverband sosiaal met mekaar kan verkeer!

Sampson het toe al besef studente en personeellede kan saamwerk oor kleurgrense heen, maar hulle ervaar kleurgebaseerde skeiding buite die amptelike studeer- en werksituasie.

In een van my heel laaste gesprekke enkele weke voor sy dood met prof Russel Botman praat ons oor die wyse waarop sosio-ekonomiese klowe wat meermale langs kleurlyne loop, dit moeilik maak vir baie van ons studente om buite die klas-situasie oor kleurgrense vriende te word en blywende verhoudinge te bou.

By die onlangse gradeplegtighede van die Universiteit Stellenbosch pleit ons kanselier, dr Johann Rupert, telkens vir, wat ek wil noem, die heling van ons land se mense. Hy is besorgd oor die stukkendheid wat die geweldsoptrede van die apartheidsmagte, onder meer die moordbendes, in Suid-Afrika gebring het. Hy verwys ook na die stukkendheid wat die geweldsoptrede van sommige elemente in die anti-apartheidsbeweging meegebring het, onder meer deur middel van halssnoermoorde.

Hierdie geërfde geweldskultuur dra by tot ons afgestomptheid vir die wreedheid en verontmensliking in ons samelewing. Verlede week se moord van ses jongmense in Kraaifontein kry byvoorbeeld nie die prominensie en ontlok nie die skok wat dit verdien nie. Hy is ook besorgd oor talle mense wat sosio-ekonomies stukkend is.

Rupert daag gegradueerdes en akademici uit om meer aktivisties te wees, om meer daadwerklik op te tree, om meer te praat teen alles wat stukkendheid meebring, en om meer te soek na heling en menswaardigheid vir almal.

Sampson leer ons helende versoening beteken dat mense oor grense heen vriende word. Botman pleit vir die oorkoming van sosio-ekonomiese ongelykheid as ‘n weg na helende versoening. En Rupert pleit vir aktivistiese individue en instellings om helende versoening, menslikheid en vrede te bevorder.

Versoeningsdag kan ons dalk help om opnuut te ontdek dat die aktiewe optrede van elke individu uiteindelik ‘n groot verskil maak. Om weer die woorde van ‘n ou gesang in herinnering te roep: Kleine druppels water, kleine korrels sand, vorm die oseane, bou die vasteland. Vriendskappe soos dié van Courtney Sampson se studente los nie alle probleme op nie, maar dit bied hoop vir die oorkoming van stukkendheid en sosio-ekonomiese klowe, onmenslikheid en geweld.

Nico Koopman is dekaan van die fakulteit teologie, Universiteit Stellenbosch

 

Sunday
Dec072014

Speaking truth to Power - even addressing ourselves

Last week a senior minister in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa was Honoured for the role he played in serving South Africa during the apartheid struggle. He also happened to be a senior member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) during his life.

The event at which he was Honoured was held in a Methodist Church, and the prominent display of ANC banners on the stage has caused some concern and a lot of discussion on the matter.

I can understand why! Because of our history in South Africa we are very sensitive about the relationship between the Church and the State. As you may recall 'apartheid' ideology in South Africa had a strong theological underpinning. A particular Christian Denomination supported, endorsed and informed the apartheid Nationalist government from the early 1900's until the collapse of apartheid in the mid 1990's. In fact the Dutch Reformed Church was scathingly known as the 'National Party at Prayer' - thankfully that Church had bravely acknowledged their error and is doing a great deal to work towards a free and just South African society.

However, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa seems to be falling into the same trap! Somehow it was easy to see how problematic such a tie between the Church and the State was when it was 'their Church' and 'their political regime'. Now, however, it is 'our Church' (and its members) that occupy positions of power in business and the state (they should be positions of service, but I seldom see such an attitude among the powerful). It is 'our political party' that is in power. Even though we can see that all is not well - the government is unjust, it is subverting justice and covering up wrongdoing and unethical behavior. The ANC is engrossed in party political agendas rather than working for the freedom of all. And... The Church is silent. We found it easy to speak prophetically to others, but far more difficult to speak truth to power now. Perhaps it is because we are the ones in power!

So, it was the memorial to this prominent colleague that has caused public debate. In the Church ANC banners and colors were displayed behind the pulpit. The Secretary General of the ANC sat on the stage, and was listed as a key speaker, alongside the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

This goes against our Church's polity (as presented in our 'Book of Order'), and so many of our members were unhappy and voiced their concern on a Facebook post.

Of course there were those who tried to silence the conversation - some saying how much good a partnership between the state and the church has done for the community. Others trying to say that such critique should be done in private and not on a public platform - it reminded me so much of the struggles we had with conservative white Christians during the apartheid struggle!

This morning in my devotions I read the following passage:

Ambrose of Milan (339 – 397): A provincial governor in fourth-century Italy, Ambrose was drafted to serve as bishop before he was even baptized. Reluctant to serve the church at first, he took the task seriously when he finally accepted the call. Ambrose gave away all of his possessions, took up a strict schedule of daily prayer, and committed himself to the study of Scripture. Called from the world of politics to serve the church, Ambrose was a leader who spoke truth to power and did not back down, insisting that “the emperor is in the church, not over it.”

(from 'Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals, 7 December).

Indeed, we would do well to remember that the emperor is in the church, not over it.

Please pray for us. We need courage to speak loving truth to power, particularly when it is ourselves we must address.

By the way, the book that my friend Dr Wessel Bentley and I wrote called 'Between Capital and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State relationships' has a chapter in it written by the Rev Prof Peter Storey entitled 'Banning the flag in our Churches'. It is well worth reading in the context of this debate - please follow this link (copy and paste it into your browser) to get a copy of the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B008YSKUG4/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1417935998&sr=8-1

Thursday
Nov272014

San Diego - American Academy of Religion (AAR)

As I write this I am sitting in a rather comfy seat in the JetBlue terminal at JKF airport in New York - it is thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year! In hindsight it might not have been all that wise to travel home today! Still, as I told a friend, I have flown through Lagos airport in Nigeria, which on a normal day makes JFK on Thanksgiving look like a quiet country airport! It is 5am here and the airport is bustling with people heading all over the USA to be with family and friends.

I arrived on an overnight cross-country flight from San Diego (we left there at 9pm last night). My next flight leaves JFK at 11am for Dakar, then from Dakar I go to Johannesburg and then from Johannesburg to Cape Town and home with my darlings!

The reason for this trip was to participate in the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) which took place in beautiful San Diego this year. I participated in three 'streams' of the AAR/SBL. Primarily I was in the Wesley Studies stream - on my first day I sat next to Douglas Meeks (who I have known for some years since first meeting him at Christ Church College, Oxford University in 2007), behind Randy Maddox (from Duke Divinity School, who I have also known for some years - probably as long as Douglas Meeks), and in front of Ted Campbell who I met while he was President of Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Chicago in 2005. The Wesley Studies sessions were great and it was wonderful to be a part of them and share a bit of a perspective from South Africa. I told the group about my research on Nelson Mandela and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and it looks like this group may consider focussing on Wesleyan Public and Political Theology around the world as a result of that. I hope to be able to participate in that group in 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. The point of interest is how John Wesley's theology in its various forms has made an impact on Public Theological discourse in different places in the world. Just this year I have seen how it has been received in Malaysia, in Brazil and of course in South Africa. I'm sure that it will make for some fascinating papers and discussion!

The other group that I participated in was Joerg Rieger's discussions on religion, economics and class (as part of the Theological Ethics stream). Joerg and I had dinner together on the 24th of November, it was great to catch up and hear of his work in Dallas and he new projects. His book 'Occupy Religion' was a point of discussion, and of course the reception of Liberation Theologies in his context and in ours.

One of the issues that I want to reflect on a lot more is the notion of class as a social differentiation. In one of the sessions there was a discussion on class, religion and economics and the point was made that in the United States (and so I guess in South Africa as well), we often collapse race and economics into one another. For example, if one were to do a demographic study of South African society it would be true to say that black South Africans are generally poorer than white South Africans because of the legacy of apartheid. Moreover, the wealthiest members of South African society are almost all white (of course that is changing rapidly with Black Economic Empowerment, but by and large it is still the case that white South Africans are among the wealthiest persons in the country, what the 'Occupy movement' have called the 1%). However, because we tend to associate and differentiate by race the middle class, or those with limited privilege tend to associate with their counterparts in the 1%. However, if we consider class, rather than race, as an economic differentiator we would very quickly see that the average white South African has more in common with his or her black South African counterparts than with the 1% (whether they be white or black). The illustration used in the sessions was that an American who earns $200 thousand per year has more in common with a poor person than with Bill Gates - simply stated they are in closer solidarity with the poor than with the 1%. This 'deep solidarity' as Joerg puts it requires a certain kind of response from the faithful Christian. When we are in solidarity with persons of our class it allows us to use our limited privilege to support people in our class and engage oppressive social and economic systems from a point of relative power (or at least more power than those who are less powerful than we are). This was an important thought for me.

I find it particularly poignant since we are launching a new movement in South African on the 2nd of December called the AHA movement (a movement of hopeful action that will facilitate creative and engaged conversation and thought around issues of poverty in South Africa).

Lastly, I participated in the Matthew studies group. It was wonderful to catch up on the most recent developments in Matthew Scholarship - even though there were no papers touching on the topic of my second PhD (Matthew 18 and forgiveness, intergroup contact theory). I had a chance to meet with my Doctoral Supervisor / Promotor, Prof Jan van der Watt from Radboud University. Ben Whiterington was also at that meeting.

Among the other persons that I met at this AAR/SBL meeting were Miroslaf Volf (I had a chat with him about the most recent research that I had been doing on faith and work. He was very kind to listen, comment and offer encouragement. Like many others who I met, however, he was most excited to know that I am from Stellenbosch University - people sure to love that beautiful place and are always keen to find an excuse to spend more time in beautiful Stellenbosch). I also met Prof Darrell Guder from Princeton who is visiting Stellenbosch in February 2015 for a missional theology conference we are hosting. It was also wonderful to spend some time with my friends Prof Wentzel van Huyssteen (also from Princeton) and Elizabeth Gerle (from Upsala, who is also a STIAS fellow and is keen to be back in Stellenbosch).

Then, it was so awesome to be in San Diego with my long time friend and colleague, Dr Wessel Bentley (and his son Matthew - such an amazing young man!) It was wonderful to have breakfast and catch up on the days events with Wes and Matt. They also seemed to have a blast. I am so encouraged by Wessel - not only is he a brilliant theologian and scholar, he has maintained great balance as a dad, bringing his son along to experience America and the AAR.

Then I attended papers by my good friends Dr Charlene van der Walt (in the feminist Biblical interpretation group - she is doing incredible work that is going to be a huge help to me in finishing this second PhD I am busy with), and Dr Retief Muller (in the African studies group). They were both fantastic. Profs Julie Claassens, Jeremy Punt, Lious Jonker and Elna Mouton were also there from Stellenbosch, as were Prof Ernst Conradie and Christo Lombaard from UWC, Jonathan Draper, Smanga Kumalo and Gerald West from UWC. It was also great to get to know Dr Jacob Meiring (from Pretoria) better. I also got to meet, for the first time, two friends that I have only known via social media - Dr Curtis Holtzen and Lisa Beth White. Curtis did his PhD at UNISA many years ago and we connected online around the institution. Lisa Beth is a United Methodist minister who has been very kind and encouraging over the years! She is completing a PhD in Mission at Boston - it was wonderful to finally meet her in person.

Another highlight was hearing former US President Jimmy Carter talking about religion, women and issues related to the environment. His basic message is that religion has an important role to play in shaping society for the better, and that two critical issues in our time that require our positive action are environmental stewardship and engaging gender inequality around the world.

So, all in all it was a wonderful opportunity to connect with old friends, make new friends, and think deeply and learn a lot!

One less good memory of the trip will be the darn cold I contracted on the flight over! My goodness, I felt poorly for most of the week and still don't feel great. However, that didn't stop me from grabbing a bicycle from the Kimpton Hotel Solamar where I was staying (a beautiful hotel!) and going for two rides around San Diego. On Sunday morning I did just over 30km's along the San Diego Harbour front from the Island to the mainland. The second ride was around 20km (on that day I was really not feeling well), where I rode up to Balboa park, it was so beautiful up there. I am impressed with the city of San Diego - beautiful people and a beautiful place.

All that being said, I cannot wait to be home with Megie, Courtney and Liam. I find that it becomes more and more difficult to travel without them! So, enough typing, time to find where my next flight boards and get home!

I have uploaded a few photographs from the trip with this post. I'm afraid they are not formatted since I am typing this post on my iPhone.

Sunday
Nov232014

Faith and work in South Africa - Do Churches adequately care for their members?

Does the Church in South Africa adequately support members for their daily work life?

My most recently published research discusses this question and shares some statistical data gained from the broadest and most recent empirical research on faith and work in South Africa.

The article is entities 'Called to work: A descriptive analysis of Call42's research on faith and work in South Africa'. You can read, or download, a copy of the research article here: http://koersjournal.org.za/index.php/koers/article/view/2143

Here is the abstract for the article:

Very little empirical research has been conducted into faith and work, particularly as it relates to the experience and expectations of Christians in the world of work in South Africa. This article discusses the most recent research of this kind that was conducted by Call42. Call42 conducted an empirical research project on faith, calling, and the world of work between 2011 and 2012. The findings were released to the public after July 2012. Not only is this the most up to date data on this subject at present; the research findings and research process are also worthy of academic consideration. The Call42 research was initiated and commissioned by a group of young Christian professionals (mainly engineers) and as such it brings a perspective on faith and work from within the primary context of the world of work, rather than the theological academy or the church. The findings of the research have implications for the church and its officers (priests, pastors and leaders). It also arrives at some conclusions for Christians in the world of work, students who are contemplating a vocation or career path, and companies and organisations that have an explicit or implicit Christian orientation.