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  • 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.
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Wednesday
May062015

What hope is there for South Africa? A public theological reflection on the role of the church as a bearer of hope for the future

I discovered today that an article I had written some time ago had been published and made available to the public from the Theological Journal, HTS.

The details for the article are:

Title:  What hope is there for South Africa? A public theological reflection on the role of the church as a bearer of hope for the future

Please follow this link to download a copy from the Journal website: http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/2814 

Abstract:

What hope is there for South Africa? What role can the church play as a bearer of hope in South Africa? This article seeks to address these important questions. Firstly, it problematises the contemporary notion of hope in South Africa by showing that it is a complex theological and social concept. Next, a nuanced understanding of hope is presented by adopting a public theological methodology that brings dominant theological perspectives on eschatological hope into dialogue with the most recent statistics about the quality of life in South Africa from 1994, 2004 and 2014. The article proposes that the complexity of Christian hope necessitates an understanding of the present reality that is held in dynamic tension with the desired future – namely a present-futurist eschatology. Finally the article shows that from this vantage point the church, in its various forms and understandings, is able to be a bearer of Christian hope that can contribute towards shaping a better future for South Africa.

Reference:

 

Forster, Dion A. “What Hope Is There for South Africa? A Public Theological Reflection on the Role of the Church as a Bearer of Hope for the Future.” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, Original Research: P.G.R. de Villiers Dedication, 71, no. 1 (2015): 1–10.

 

 

If you have a chance (and the stamina!) to read it I would appreciate feedback and comments.  There is an itneresting set of statistical data on living conditions in South Africa.

 

Tuesday
May052015

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Beyers Naude's life

Today the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University celebrates the 100th anniversary of Beyers Naude's life - a courageous witness to justice, reconciliation, hope and God's Kingdom on earth.

Pictured here (L-R) areDr Horst Kleinschmidt, Prof Denise Ackermann, Prof John de Gruchy, Dr Murray Coetzee who are all friends and researchers in the Beyers Naude Center.

The meeting was opened with a reading from Isaiah 32.1-8, and 15-20. A deep challenge for our current context.

Here is the text:

"See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.
Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will listen.
The mind of the rash will know and understand,
and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.
No longer will the fool be called noble
nor the scoundrel be highly respected.
For the fool speaks folly,
his mind is busy with evil:
He practices ungodliness
and spreads error concerning the Lord;
the hungry he leaves empty
and from the thirsty he withholds water.
The scoundrel’s methods are wicked,
he makes up evil schemes
to destroy the poor with lies,
even when the plea of the needy is just.
But the noble man makes noble plans,
and by noble deeds he stands." ...

"till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free".

Prof Nico Koopman encouraged us to be inspired by Oom Bey's life to become "faithful disciples and active citizens" for the sake of the healing and transformation of our nation.

Tuesday
Apr282015

The mission of the Church and the Work of God?

A morning discussion with Prof Darrel Guder from Princeton. We are discussing the missional nature of the Church - what does it mean for Christians and the Church to participate in God's work (the missio Dei) of transforming, renewing and bringing healing the world?

Thursday
Apr232015

Community and Xenophobia

The savagery of the last few weeks of xenophobic attacks across the country have reminded me of some the darkest and most painful parts of our national history. I thought back to the violence of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when IFP and ANC supporters butchered one another in KZN and Gauteng. Indeed, these are shameful parts of our national history.

Surely, the events of these past weeks will also be remembered with shame. The attacks on foreign nationals, the withdrawal of hospitality and the destruction of property has shown that South Africa still has some dark and destructive tendencies that need to be engaged and transformed.

In his Business Day Column for today (22 April 2015), Professor Steven Friedman reminded us painfully that in large measure our own response to xenophobia has been the same as those who attack foreigners – we have shifted the blame. We blame others for our falings and in so doing we distance ourselves, we objectify them and exonerate ourselves from any culpability and blame.

Let’s face the truth – we are not good neighbours. I am not talking about ‘them’, I am talking about ‘us’. We have not been welcoming to the strangers in our midst. We have not protected our guests who have sought political or economic refuge within our borders. Sadly, we have to confess that we are not a ‘just’ nation – in face we allow justice to be twisted and manipulated in our presence, and we don’t act. We are a nation that abuses the weak and the powerless. We are that nation. Let’s face it.

I came across this powerful quote from John Howard Yoder that challenges me deeply on this issue:

The political novelty that God brings into the world is a community of those who serve instead of ruling, who suffer instead of inflicting suffering, whose fellowship crosses social lines instead of reinforcing them. The new Christian community in which the walls are broken down not by human idealism or democratic legalism but by the work of Christ is not only a vehicle of the gospel or only a fruit of the gospel; it is the good news. It is not merely the agent of mission or the constituency of a mission agency. This is mission.

- John Howard Yoder, Royal Priesthood, p.91

So I am challenged to repent. This is my nation, both the stranger and the citizen. I am part of this brutal people, and I want it to be different. I want South Africa to be a place of welcome and safety. I want people to feel 'good news' here. And so I say, "not in my name".

I would like to invite you to participate in a conversation on xenophobia in South Africa to be hosted at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. Friday 8 May 12.30-14.00.

Tuesday
Apr142015

Think different and Christian living

I am teaching on a three day course on ministry renewal at Stellenbosch University.  The quote that we are using to frame our thoughts with the group of 15 or so ministers, pastors and priests (most of whom have been in ministry for around 15-20 years) is this one:

Jesus said in his society there is a new way for [people] to live:

you show wisdom, by trusting people;
you handle leadership, by serving;
you handle money, by sharing;
you handle enemies, by loving;
and you handle violence, by suffering.

In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward women [and men], towards slaves, toward all and every single thing. Because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.

- Rudy Wiebe, ‘The blue mountains of China’ (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970:215-216)

I find this quote deeply challenging.  Loving discipleship, focussed on the Lord of Grace, in order to live in a different way, perhaps even a better way.

Wednesday
Apr082015

Deep solidarity and justice 

In my devotions this morning I came across this prayer:

Lord, reveal to us all that makes itself an enemy to the life you want for us. Help us hunger so deeply for the freedom of all your people that we risk walking among enemies who pervert justice. Reveal to us when we ourselves act as enemies to your kingdom of justice and peace. Amen.

This prayer reminds me that as a Christian I am called to deep solidarity with all persons. It reminds me that love should overcome fear, prejudice, and power. It reminds me that my humanity is tied to the humanity of all persons and that where I can I should always strive to live with courage and sacrifice for the common good.

Tuesday
Apr072015

Choose a different way (together) - On Rwanda and reconciliation

In my morning devotion today I read about the start of the genocide in Rwanda on 7 April 1994 (just 20 days before South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994).
Here is the summary of those events from “Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals”:
‘On April 7, 1994, a civil war broke out in Rwanda as Hutu extremists began brutally killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Over the next one hundred days, nearly a million people were killed in the worst occurrence of genocide since the Holocaust. An estimated 75 percent of the Tutsis living in Rwanda were murdered.’
The following story is told from after the genocide:
‘When Cardinal Roger Etchegary visited Rwanda on behalf of the pope in 1994, he asked the assembled church leaders, “Are you saying that the blood of tribalism is deeper than the waters of baptism?” One leader answered, “Yes, it is.”’
How sad! Two things were clear in Rwanda. First, this genocide was an ethnic crime - the violence was motivated by hatred and distrust among people of different ethnicities and cultures. Second, however, is that 98% of Rwandans (perpetrators and victims) were Christian. How could that be? That followers of the Prince of Peace could hate one another so much? How could it be that those who live by the way of truth could be so easily misled about their sisters and brothers?
We must choose a different way. We must choose a way of peace and reconciliation. We cannot choose against our fellow humans. By choosing for one another we choose for the common good.
Pray for us in South Africa. We too are a largely Christian nation in which people choose against each other. Here is another quote from “Common Prayer”:
'Charles Péguy said, “We must be saved together. We cannot go to God alone; else he would ask, ‘Where are the others?’ ”’

Tuesday
Mar312015

The reality of South Africa's economic crisis, and what you can do about it

The most recent Institute for Futures Research report (Stellenbosch University) shows that South Africa is a nation in deep economic crisis.  Sadly, it is predicted that unless we act decisively and courageously we will continue to face economic challenges and decline.

Here are a few of the facts:

We have accepted that we will operate with a deficit budget (our expenses exceed our national income and will stay that way), we have low productivity and high labour costs (a 2% increase in productivity of labour, and an average of 10% increase in wages). We rely on foreign investment to fuel our economy since our internal economic base is too small to keep the economy growing.  However, there are too few people in South Africa to pay the bills, which means that debt is increasing (the household debt to disposable income ratio averages at 80%!) This will become worse as fuel prices increase, electricity prices increase and farming shrinks. At the same time we have become hostile to foreigners and paint a picture of a corrupt, volatile and uncompetitive economy - which means that foreign investors are fewer and fewer. The "upshot is a continuous erosion of the domestic and international competitiveness of South African produced goods and services" (Andre Roux in Strategy Insights Report: Economic, IFR, Vol 23 No 03 Mar 2015). 

It doesn't have to be this way!  

We can stand together and deal with poverty, inequality and corruption.  It takes a choice that is sustained through our collective action.

What we need in South Africa is a commitment to the common good of all, a commitment to active citizenship that holds the citizens to account, and will not allow either government or big business to steal from us.  That is part of the good news - we are a democracy that still has the right to exercise our democratic freedom.  We can, and should, use those rights to hold our political and economic leaders to account.

South Africans deserve it, and so does South Africa.  We are a nation with such great promise in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Let's hold hope high and work for the good of all.

I choose to act.  I will act for the common good.  I will work for reconciliation.  I will work for justice. I will not be silent.

Tuesday
Mar312015

The (im)possibility of forgiveness

As I come closer to completing my second PhD which focuses on concepts (and processes) of forgiveness and reconciliation I have been thinking a great deal about the complexity of true forgiveness.

I often hear people saying "I cannot forgive that him (or her), what they did to me was simply too bad".  Indeed, forgiveness is difficult.  Is it ultimately about gaining my own freedom?  Or is it about giving freedom as a gift to the 'other'?  Or, is it an interplay of both of those?

I found this quote from Jacques Derrida on forgiveness quite challenging in the possibility, and impossibly, of forgiveness - I like to phrase it as the (im)possibility of forgiveness.

Forgiveness only becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible.

...

If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself. It can only be possible in doing the impossible.

- Jacques Derrida

Have you ever forgiven someone for something that seems unforgivable?  How was it possible?  What helped you to do it?  Did you follow a process?

 

Sunday
Mar082015

Cape Town Cycle Tour 2015 Argus

Off to school! My darling Megan and I are heading out for a shorter Argus Cape Town Cycle tour this year. Because of fires that have devastated the Cape peninsula the race has been shortened from 109km to just 47km. So we are planning a fun little spin off to Muizenberg and back. I am riding my Alex Moulton small wheel bike this year. Normally I ride my Brompton, but this year I decided to do something different.

We are looking forward to a fun ride!

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