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

Entries in African Theology (10)

Wednesday
Sep102014

Was Nelson Mandela a Christian? Was he a member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa?

In an earlier post I mentioned a research paper that I had worked on entitled "Mandela and the Methodists:  Faith, fact or fallacy?"  This paper was published at the beginning of this month in the academic journal Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae (40th Anniversary special edition).  You can find out more about the journal here.

The paper was originally delivered as the closing plenary address at the Theological Society of South Africa, and today I presented it at the International conference on Religion and Media at Faculdades EST in Brazil. I still am not at liberty to make the full text of the paper available.  However, here are my slides from today's presentation.

 

So, was Nelson Mandela a Methodist?  Indeed, he self-identified as a member of the Church, and my interviews with Bishops and ministers of the denomination confirmed that he was a loyal member of the Church.  See this quote from Presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa:

Madiba remained a committed Methodist throughout his life. As a church, we hail the qualities that confirmed him as a true son of Methodism - a life of faith in God lived in service to others.
Bishop Zipho Siwa

Here are Mr Mandela's own thoughts on the matter (just one quote of many from his writings, speeches and letters that I found).

The values I was taught at these institutions have
served me well throughout my life.  These values were strengthened during our years of incarceration when this church cared for us. Not only did you send chaplains to encourage us, but you also assisted us materially within your means. You helped our families at a time when we could not help them ourselves…  I cannot over-emphasise the role that the Methodist Church has played in my own life 

 Nelson Mandela

Was he a Christian?  I would conclude that he was an African Christian Humanist.  The paper describes the full detail of what that means.  However, here are some reasons why I believe this to be true.  The following list of descriptors of Christian Humanism come for John de Gruchy:

  • Christian humanism is inclusive. “Being human” names our primary identity.
  • Christian humanism affirms dignity and responsibility.
  • Christian humanism is open to insight into our common human condition wherever it is to be found.
  • Christian humanism claims that the love of God is inseparable from the love of others.
  • Christian humanism heralds a justice that transcends material and sectional well-being.
  • Christian humanism insists that goodness, truth, and beauty are inseparable.

 

Mr Mandela mentions in many speeches and his own writings (see for example his address to the Methodist conferences in 1994 and again in 1998, and of course his autobiography 'A long walk to freedom' (particularly the sections on his early life)) that he was deeply formed by two primary communities.  First and most prominent was the African traditional (Xhosa) world view (which I cannot discuss in detail here).  Second was the Christian faith and the institutions of the Christian Church.  These shaped his identity in a profound way.  There is little doubt that like all persons his faith identity shifted and changed at different stages in his life.  Moreover, it would be dishonest to say that he was a Christian in the simple sense that this phrase is used in popular theology.  But, he identified with the Christian faith and with the church.

The important point is to ask, of which “church” was Nelson Mandela a member?

We have already concluded that Nelson Mandela was a member of the MCSA (Methodist Church of Southern Africa). However, of which aspect or expression of church within the MCSA was he a member? The real question is what do we mean by the expression “church”? Dirkie Smit suggests (1) that there are three general forms of being “the church”. I shall briefly present these below.

The local congregation

For many Christians this is most likely to be their primary perspective of the church, a localised community of Christians, organised around regular common worship. Philander points out that this is the physical place, and social group, that people often think of when they answer the question of where they “go to church”, or what church they are members of. Certainly from what we have already established Nelson Mandela was a member of this form of church in his early life (up to 1958). However, we could not say that he remained a member of a local congregation in the years that followed that. As has already been suggested this would simply not have been possible, considering his imprisonment, and later public profile.

The institutional, denominational and ecumenical Church

Smit further points out that for many people the term “church” refers primarily to the organisational or institutional structures. When some people hear the word “church” they may think of the confessional community that they are a part of (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox or Methodist). Philander notes that often this expression of church is what people would point to in answer to the question “what does the church say about unemployment in South Africa”. It could also refer to collective groupings such as Evangelical Christians, or even more formal groupings such as ecumenical bodies (like the World Council of Churches, or the World Communion of Reformed Churches). From what was discussed above one could conclude that Nelson Mandela held his strongest link to this understanding of church – he was a member of a denomination. This type of understanding of the church is often the point at which members engage with issues of social concern and engage policy. Mandela certainly sought to identify with, and engage, the MCSA as a denomination (as was clearly shown in the 1994 and 1998 addresses he delivered to the Methodist Conference).

The church as believers, salt and light in the world

Smit points out that the third way in which people think of the church, is as individual believers who are salt and light in the world, each involved in living out their faith on a daily basis in their own particular ways. This is a very important way in which the church can participate in being an agent and bearer of hope in society. In reading Nelson Mandela’s speeches and writings one can credibly maintain that he saw himself as a person of faith who lived out his particular understanding of his task in the world in this manner. He often refers, as was shown above, to the fact that he “formed” for his work in early life (both through African culture and the ministry of the church).

Here are the references to the articles pointed to above:

1. Dirk Smit presented a more nuanced perspective on the Church sighting six variation forms, “gestaltes”, in Dirk J. Smit, “Oor Die Kerk as ’N Unieke Samelewingsverband,” Tydskrif Vir Geesteswetenskappe 2, no. 36 (1996): 119–29.

 2. Dirk J. Smit, Essays in Public Theology: Collected Essays 1 (AFRICAN SUN MeDIA, 2007), 61–68.

 

Monday
Jun042012

Bigger stories - Are you creating bigger stories that transform communities?

This is a beautiful video by The Work of the People - it asks a few critical theological and missional questions.

What did Jesus come to do? If we know what Jesus came to do, and we are called to be the 'body of Christ, then what is the work of the Church?

I'll be using this, and a few other videos, as part of my lectures to a group of Master of Theology students in Missional Leadership next week.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this video, and particularly what you think about the mission of the Church.

Tuesday
Apr202010

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology

Yup, the title of this post is a mouthful... It happens to be the title of an academic article that I wrote some time ago that is being published.  

The article will be published in the July / August edition of the SPCK Journal 'Theology'.  This is by far the most prestigious journal in which I have had the privilege to publish an article.  I am truly amazed that it was accepted, and humbled to have it there.

Perhaps the title was so obscure that they thought it was worth a chance!?  The full title of the article is

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology: An African theological contribution towards an integrated relational ontological identity (Theology, July/August 2010 Vol CXIII No 874 ISSN 0040-571 X).
The article comes from a body of research that I conducted over a period of some years in which I investigated the problem of individual identity (what does it mean to be 'me').  How is my identity formed in relation to other persons and my context?  And what aspects of the Kosmos can be relied upon to validate who I truly am?  Do I rely on my appearance, or my experiences, or is there something more concrete and substantial to 'true identity'?
 
This article focusses on the importance of relationships and intersubjective identity as the locus of understanding who we are as human persons. It relates these important social aspects of our identity to three prominent Christian doctrines (the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) - it is something of a systematic approach).  
I have another article from this same body of research that contains more of the neuroscience and psychology of identity that will be published in the South African Journal HTS later this year.  And then I am still working on the book 'Why you may not be who you think you are.  Adventures in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy' (I am under contract to Cambridge Scholars Press for this book).
Here's the abstract for this article in 'Theology'.
African theology has a great deal to contribute to the theological discourse on human identity. Relationships are central to the formation, expression and understanding of who an individual person is. The African philosophy of ubuntu, more accurately expressed as umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons), affirms the critical under- standing that identity arises out of intersubjective interactions between persons. This paper discusses how concepts of identity in African philosophy and religion can enhance our theological understanding of individual identity. Hence this research presents an African theological approach to identity that is systematized in relation to the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of salvation.
If you're interested in reading more about my research in this area, and various other thoughts on neuroscience, identity and Christian theology please follow this link.

 

Friday
Jul172009

Peace and belonging...

 

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa

Please see this link for more on 'identity', belonging, community and identity (ubuntu).  

Please aslso see this article, entitled, 'Do South Africans exist?'.  It is an academic article on identity, relationship and the African philosophy of ubuntu that I prepared for the Theological Society of Southern Africa.  It gives a fairly good introduction to the African philisophical and theological perspective on identity. 

I would love to hear what your perspective is on the notion of belonging and peace!

 

[You may have arrived here from a link on Ron Martoia's VelocityCulture site - if not, then please visit Ron's site for the context to my comment written below on 2 March 2010]

Hi Ron,

This is a challenging question indeed!

I think that part of what has made the Church such a significant place of community is the reality of life’s diversity. Joy, sorrow, life and death. When I was still a pastor of a local church I often used to stand in front of the communion table in the sacramental area and marvel at all of the stages of life that are marked in that space.

I would celebrate life and baptise the children of my members there, I would confirm the faith of young people who had discovered Christ since their baptism, I married many of those young people in that same space, and I even had occasion to bury one or two who had passed away at far too young an age.

However, the gravity of that sacred space was seldom recognised. I certainly overlooked it frequently, and I think the members of our congregation (much less the members of our city) hardly ever saw its significance!

In Africa there is a wonderful saying ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu’ [roughly translated it says 'a person becomes more fully human through other people', or 'I am who I am because of who you are']. I have written about the African philosophy of ubuntu extensively (see this link for an introductory articlehttp://www.dionforster.com/blog/2009/7/17/peace-and-belonging.html ). I think there is a critical link between relationships and true identity. We can only become more fully human when we live our lives with others.

In this light I have found the following quotes encouraging and challenging:

- ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.’ – Desmond Tutu
- ‘The holy task is not about becoming “spiritual” nearly as much as becoming human.’ – Richard Rohr

I agree that congregations are often bad at creating community – a lot of contemporary Christianity tends to present Jesus as a combination of my personal therapist and a stock broker… This is a common thread in just about every country I have visited in the world! Christians tend to seek entertainment rather than truth, we want comfort rather than companionship.

However, what is certain is that we need some form of community to tie our lives to the lives of others. Such ‘intersubjective’ interactions make us more fully human, and in so doing help us to become more like the archetypical person, Jesus.

I suppose that like you I am more committed to helping people connect meaningfully than I am about getting people to join churches. But, I am still committed to a local church.

Your insights are challenging as always!

Dion

 

 

Friday
Nov092007

Widows, witchcraft, and the abuse of African culture to deny Southern African women their rights...

Culture is a necessary thing - it structures our lives in relationship, it adds meaning and depth to communal practices, it enlivens our history, and shapes our future.

You would know that I ardently encourage the adoption of the ideology of ubuntu as a principle for relationship based justice, harmony, and equity. I do so primarily because there is so much of this ideology that can positively shape society (particularly societies that have become competitive, self obsessed, and disregarding of the rights and responsibilities that we have for one another's wellbeing). In fact, I find many more Gospel values in the principles of ubuntu than I do in Western Capitalist individualism...

However, there is a HUGE disconnect between the ideology of ubuntu and its ethical application in contemporary Southern Africa. Whilst the ideology is touted by many, there are very few who hold it dear enough to actually practice it!

I wrote a paper on this subject that you download and read here.

Sadly, my experience has been that even in traditional African communities, as soon as the individual can afford a BMW, buy a house in the subburbs, and outwit, outlast and outplay other persons, the ideology and philosophy of interdependent identity and harmony in relationship is chucked out of the windows in the pursuit of individual gain!

Sadly, culture is abused by many as a tool to justify abusive practises, and at the same time avoid responsibility. This disturbing article comes from the Mail & Guardian newspaper.


While the United Nations Millennium Development Goals aim to empower women and eradicate poverty, Southern African inheritance practices are having the opposite effect -- leaving widows impoverished, maligned and separated from their own children, says a recent study out of Mozambique.

The study by Save the Children highlights how tradition -- which dictates that the man's family can devolve the deceased's assets among themselves -- leads to widows being made scapegoats for their husbands’ deaths and losing custody of their children.

Maria Delia and Isauru Mandlate, part of the team that conducted the study for the Save the Children Foundation in Mozambique, say that in addition to dealing with bereavement, a widow faces the immediate loss of her home and all her possessions.

Women are commonly accused of bewitching their husbands and causing their deaths, and this is used as a pretext for refusing them their inheritance.

“The family is not interested in negotiating, they just want the goods, "says Delia. “This is revenge for her having 'killed' her husband. They are really rough and don’t leave her with a single penny."

But even more painful than the loss of material possessions, say the researchers, is the way the husband’s family will poison the children’s minds, leading them to believe their mother is responsible for their father's death.

"The children are not allowed to visit their mother -- the children are told to run away from their mother if she comes to visit," says Delia.

Widows who refuse to participate in the ritual of "purification" -- which requires them to have unprotected sexual intercourse with a male member of their husband’s family to dispel bad spirits -- are banished from the family and even the district.
The result is that dispossessed widows turn to sex work or cheap manual labour to survive and are more vulnerable to risky sexual activity and HIV infection.

Delia tells the story of a young widow whose husband died of Aids. "Her husband had gone to South Africa to work on the mines and while he was away she lived with her in-laws. When he became ill he came home and she cared for him. When he died, they [the in-laws] kicked her out."

The woman ended up living in a mud hut, without even a bed to sleep on and just the clothes on her back. She survives on the few stalks of maize and vegetables she can grow.

The study says patrilineal African societies view male heirs as continuing the family line, while women are seen as assuming only the role of temporary guardians of assets. As a result the deceased's family members feel they are entitled to all his material possessions -- even if the widow has worked to contribute to the shared assets.

The report notes that despite Mozambique being a signatory to instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the government has yet to produce comprehensive legislation on inheritance.

In South Africa this tradition has been challenged by progressive human rights legislation, where a precedent was set by the Constitutional Court in 2004.

Nontupheko Bhe, a widowed Khayelitsha woman, approached the court to have the Black Administration Act -- which provided that if Africans died intestate their estate would be devolved according to customary law -- declared unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the Act was an "anachronistic piece of legislation which ossified 'official' customary law and caused egregious violations of the right of black African persons” and found that "whatever the role of male primogeniture may have played in traditional society, it can no longer be justified".

Despite this landmark ruling, the law is often at odds with deep-seated cultural norms and many women remain unaware of their rights.
"In many instances the widow is made aware of her rights too late and the assets have been claimed by the in-laws or the livestock is already sold," says Busi Motshana, a para­legal at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre in Acornhoek, Limpopo.

In addition to ignorance of their rights, there is also a culture of silence among women and children -- who are generally passive participants in traditional society. In rural areas access to facilities and institutions of justice is an added obstacle. The drawing up of a formal will is rare, in part due to issues of access, but also due to the fear that doing so is tantamount to inviting an early death.

"This is becoming an issue as more people die of HIV/Aids," says Delia.

"More needs to be done in the communities to educate and inform these women on their rights and also encourage community reform."

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Sunday
Oct142007

(Southern) African Christianity - Christian Theologian and his family engage in the African ritual of animal sacrifice.

They said it couldn't be done, but here's the evidence, Southern African Christian Theologian, Dr Dion Forster, engaged in an act of ritual sacrifice today. When asked for comment he replied "This is our culture... Our people are known for it. Particularly on special days like today - we wouldn't have it any other way!"

Pictured here, Dr Forster, burning the flesh of a dead cow (commonly referred to as 'steak, chops, and wors (sausage)'. What makes the act even more of a scandal is the fact that Dr Forster, an ordained Methodist Ministers, is wearing the traditional vestments of the Springbok Rugby team! His wife said "I tried to talk him out of it, but he is just so committed to the Springboks! He said that he had been praying all night, and that God was surely going to support his team [God's team] the Springboks in tonight's semifinal match against the Pumas".

When asked if Dr Forster would be preaching at the Bryanston Methodist Church this evening, he replied "Yes, my people expect it, and after all, that's where we belong... However, tonight's sermon will be kort en kragtig [short and powerful]"

This one's for you Sifiso and Samke! Don't be sad in the US my friends! You're a Africans, no matter where you go we are one - simunye (and other favourite South Africanisms!! umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu!. We miss you guys, but you will be back soon!

OK, now for the Benediction.... Go Bokkkkkkeeeee!!!!!

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Sunday
Aug052007

I'm a black, African-Christian, social-activist, and proud of it!

Yep, that's right, I'm proud to be a black, African-Christian, social activist! If that doesn't make sense then please read my paper below. I prepared it for the Oxford Institute where I will deliver it in the Systematic Theology working group.

You can download the paper here:

Dr Dion Forster - Oxford Institute 2007.doc

Here's the real title and abstract.

Title: The appropriation of Wesleyan pragmatism and social holiness in Southern African Methodism. By Dr Dion Forster

Abstract: While Wesleyan theology shares many core elements throughout the world, there can be little doubt that it finds rich and diverse application and expression in the many varied contexts in which Methodism has taken root.

This paper will present an overview of the application, and unique expression, of Christian Perfection as it has taken shape within Methodism in Southern Africa. Christianity, and in particular Methodism, is a dominant faith perspective in Southern Africa. This phenomenon, it will be argued, is largely due to the pragmatic nature of Wesleyan theology, and its emphasis on social holiness. This research aims to add value to the corpus of global Methodist Theology that tends to be dominated by western theological perspectives. Thus a new perspective on Methodist theology will be given by means of articulating the unique tenets of Southern African Methodist Theology. Insights gained from this study may be of value in similar contexts where Methodist theology is seeking to find a unique, and contextually relevant, expression. Moreover, understanding how Methodist theology is being shaped in the two-thirds world, an area in which Methodism is growing, may give some valuable indicators for the formulation and expression of Methodist theology elsewhere in the world.

Monday
Jun252007

The paper I presented at the Theological Society of South Africa.

There are few things quite as boring as sitting through some strange man telling you all about neurons, dendrites, objective and subjective reality, quadrants, hierarchies and a host of things that would normally put the average person to sleep...

However, whilst there are few things as boring as being PRESENT to hear a paper, the one SURE FIRE thing that IS MORE BORING is reading someone else's BORING paper.... Ha ha!

So, I just wanted to announce that there will be a test for all my friends (particularly for those of you on facebook that keep poking me!) So you had better start reading the paper (all 31 pages of it) or else you may not go to heaven! What do you think Wessel, is that a fair soteriology!?

So, click here to download the BORING paper!

Do South Africans exist.doc

Here's the Abstract (hint - study this and you should be able to pass the test ;-)

A generous ontology: Identity as a process of intersubjective discovery - An African theological contribution.

The answer to the question "who am I?" is of fundamental importance to being human. Answers to this question have traditionally been sought from various disciplines and sources, these include empirical sources such as biology and sociology, and phenomenological sources such as psychology and religion. Although the approaches are varied they have the notion of foundational truth, whether from an objective, or subjective, perspective in common. The question in the title of this paper comes from the title of a book by WITS academic, Ivor Chipkin, entitled, "Do South Africans Exist? Nationalism, Democracy and the Identity of 'the People'" (2007). This paper will not discuss Chipkin’s thoughts on nationalism and democracy in any detail, however it will consider the matter of human identity that is raised by his question. The approach that this papers takes on the notion of identity is significantly influenced by Brian McLaren’s postmodernist approach to Christian doctrine as outlined in his book "A generous orthodoxy" (2004) - a term coined by Yale Theologian Hans Frei. The inadequacies of traditional approaches to human identity and consciousness that are based upon 'foundational knowledge' will thus be considered. Both subjective and objective approaches will be touched upon, showing the weaknesses of these approaches in dealing with the complex nature of true human identity. The paper will then go on to present an integrative framework for individual consciousness that is not static or ultimately quantifiable, rather it is formulated in the process of mutual discover that arises from a shared journey. The approach presented here draws strongly upon the groundbreaking work of Ken Wilber and Eugene de Quincey and relates their ontlogical systems to the intersubjective approach to identity that can be found in the African philosophy of ubuntu. This paper will show how the ethics and theology of this indigenous knowledge system can contribute toward overcoming the impasse of validating individual identity and consciousness.

Monday
Jun252007

Take a look at this....

This book arrived in my post on Friday... What's so special about it!? Well, isn't it a nice cover?


Check out the last name and title of the chapter on the left hand side page (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it), and the fourth name and description on the right hand side page! ha ha, that's the great thing about this book with the rather 'generic' cover... I have a chapter published in it! I presented a paper on consciousness, identity, and Africa Theology (particularly the ethics of ubuntu) and it was published in the book. It is wonderful (and vain - Lord forgive me) to see one's name in print!

So, there we go! Have a blessed week!

Tuesday
Jun122007

The Theological Society of South Africa

For those who are budding theologians, and those who have already blossomed, the Theological Society of South Africa (this is the South African society for professional theologians, much like the board of chartered accountants is for accountants, in South Africa) will be meeting at our humble seminary from Wednesday to Friday next week. One can be nominated to membership of the society once you have a Masters degree in Theology, and then once a member, one is expected to conduct research and present it at future gatherings.

The theme for this year's conference is:

Saints, martyrs and ancestors: Theological reflections on prophetic witness

Clearly, this is a very topical issue for consideration among African theologians! I am very proud to say that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is extremely well represented on the program. And, that we have four scholars from our faculty at John Wesley College presenting papers (Dr Joan Jackson (formerly Millard)- who teaches Church history, Dr Neville Richardson -our principal and lecturer in theological ethics and Wesley studies, the ALMOST Dr Wessel Bentley (his doctorate is in, being marked as we breath!) - who teaches Systematic Theology, and yours truly, uQira Mfundisi uDokotela Dion Forster - lecturer in Systematic Theology and New Testament).

I have included, for anyone who is interested, the program with the list of sessions, and a document that contains the abstracts for each of the papers that will be presented. I, personally, cannot wait to hear Wessel, Neville, Joan, and of course Klaus Nurnberger (on Richard Dawkins' God delusion).

TSSA07 Final Programme.doc

TSSA07-Proposals2.doc