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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • 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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Entries in Brazil (4)

Saturday
Sep132014

A wonderful day in São Paulo - heading home from Brazil

We spent a beautiful day visiting sights in São Paulo with our friend Elaine from UCT and Roberta her school friend from here in Brazil.

We went to Páteo do Collegio (where the first Jesuits arrived and the city of São Paulo began in the 1600's), then to the São Paulo Cathedral, and ended the day at the modern art museum Icentário Pinacoteca. Now, Starbucks!

Tomorrow I head home to my precious family! This has been an amazing trip. I am so grateful to have visited, but I am very happy to be going home!

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.

 

Wednesday
Sep102014

South South partnership - Brazil and South Africa / Public Theology

This week I have been in Sao Leopoldo in Brazil at Faculdades EST for the bi-annual conference (this year focussing on religion and the media).  It forms part of the South South partnership that exists between Faculdades EST and some Universities in South Africa (these include the University where I teach, Stellenbosch University, as well as UNISA, UKZN and even a colleauge from the University of Cape Town).

South Africa and Brazil share a number of similar aspects in our social, political and economic history and current reality.  Both have suffered under oppressive regimes.  In both instances the Church and religious organisations played a significant role in helping to end the oppression.  Liberation theologies, public theologies and post colonial theologies are common discourses in both settings.  Of course they are not the same - there are many obvious, and some less obvious, differences in the two contexts.  However, there are great opportunities for mutual enrichment and support.

Thus far the partnership has involved the exchange of academic staff, exchange of Masters and PhD students, and projects which have resulted in publications (such as the book that will be launched tomorrow evening, and the set of publications in English that will go into the Journal of Theology for South Africa JTSA).  Language is something of a barrier, since we only have one colleague from South Africa who speaks Portuguese, and only a few colleagues from Brazil that speak English.  I have committed to try and learn Portuguese in the years ahead so that we can serve the partnership better from our side.

It has been wonderful to hear the debates and inputs on public theology, liberation theologies, and a variety of contextual and post-collonial theologies.

On Thursday evening for fly back to Sao Paulo to have a meeting with the Vice Rector of International Affairs at USP.  USP and Stellenbosch have an institutional agreement that is now being developed into a South South partnership between the two Universities.  USP is one of the largest, and most prestigious, Universities in South America.

This post contains a few photographs taken on the trip.  One is of me and one of my former students, Ndikho Mtshiselwa.  It was great to see him here.  Among the other colleauges were Prof Nico Koopman, Prof Rothney Tshaka, Prof Rudolf von Sinner, Prof Reggie Nel, Dr Pieter Grove, and Dr Elaine Nogueira-Godsey.

Tuesday
Jun152010

It's NOT a defection - World Cup Soccer 2010 support on the day! How do you decide!?

I've had this conversation with many of my friends, "so who will you be supporting in today's match!?" Of course there must be some grace in allowing one to support a team other than your OWN team for other matches.  Am I right?  Perhaps it is no so much that you want your 'daily team' to win their fixture as much as you may not want them to loose! Ha ha! I'll support Bafana Bafana to the end (although I do have a penchant towards teams from the Southern Hemisphere, and then within the Southern Hemisphere for teams from Latin America (and of course Africa!))

Well, today I'll be supporting Brazil as they face up against North Korea. The reason is simple  - I have good friends in Brazil (among them is @Olgalvaro Bastos).

So, how do you work out which team you will support on the day (if your own team is not playing)? I'd love to hear some intricate, or not so intricate, theories of support! In conclusion let me say Viva the Vuvuzela! God bless South Africa, Africa and her football teams! And may Cape Town's security guards return to their jobs of keeping people safe during the world cup!

Oh, and if you're looking for actual results, fixtures, and some useful information on the soccer teams, the groups and other world cup news please see this post.