• 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 Church (45)


A spirituality for daily living

In today's VLOG we talk about spirituality for daily living. I visit a beautiful wine farm in Franschhoek and interview a friend, Jacques Bornman @jacquesbornman

The books we mentioned were:

Eugene Peterson ‘Under the unpredictable plant’ and ‘Working the angles’
Trevor Hudson ‘Beyond loneliness: The gift of God’s friendship’
Dallas Willard ‘Renovation of the heart’

Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…

I’d love you hear your feedback, comments, questions and ideas!

Please subscribe and like the video!

Is there something we can do? The church and social change (in South Africa)

Human rights might just begin to become a reality with 'right humanity'! Today I interview Dr Braam Hanekom the Director of the Centre for Public Witness of the Dutch Reformed Church. We talk about what can be done by privileged Churches to help make South Africa a more just society for all our citizens. You also get to see some beautiful scenery between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek in the Western Cape as I drive my trusty old BMW F650 GS.
What do you think? Can you make some more suggestions?
We mention the following books:
Church in hard places
Oneself as another
Road to daybreak
I'd love to hear your ideas, feedback and comments!
Remember, this is not a lecture... just a thought!
Please subscribe and like the video! 

We don't decide who's invited: The Church as inclusive Eucharistic community


Is the Church intended to be a closed (exclusive) community, or an open (inclusive) community?
Today I talk about an image of the Church as a Eucharistic community - and I show you some incredible views of the Helderberg mountains!
My views on this were shaped by the theology (and ethics) of the Anglican theologian Sam Wells, who I met first at Cambridge and then at Duke Divinity school when he arrived there in 2005.
The image is that of a the Eucharistic table - many contemporary Churches have structured themselves more like a restaurant table than a Eucharistic table. What do I mean by that? Well, at a restaurant table you decide who sits with you, you expect service and you are the center of the social attention, you pay for what you want, you are a client. I hear people using this language in relation to their Church, 'I don't like that type of person here', or 'The sermon and music were not very good', 'I am not feeling satisfied with my Church, it is not doing much for me'.
The Eucharistic table is very different, however, at the Eucharistic table we are not the hosts - Christ is the Host! We are invited. That means that we don't get to decide who is at the table. Our responsibility, out of love for Christ and those whom He loves and has invited, is to work out how best to love those around the table. They may be very different from who and how we are. But, like us, they have been welcomed in grace.
Watch the video if you can - I'd love to hear your take on this!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…



Do you know the history of the 'Watch Night' service that is celebrated at New Year?

All across the world today (31 December) Christians in their millions will attend 'Watch Night' services to usher in the new year in a community of faith.

I have attended (and arranged) a dozen or so of these services in my life. It is a wonderful way to journey into the new year in faith and commitment, particularly if you worship within a community whose journey you have shared in during the year and they have shared in yours.

As I looked back on my own sermons and liturgies for Watch Night services, and the sermons liturgies of others, I noticed that the theme of many of these services is reflective - taking stock of the year that has passed. Others are anticipatory - looking ahead to the year to come and making some commitments.

It was Socrates who said 'The unexamined life is not worth living [ὁ ... ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ]' (apparently uttered at his before he was executed for corrupting the youth. It is recorded in Plato's 'Apology' (Ap. 35a5-6)). Indeed, it is important to take stock, to stop and reflect, to give thanks, to let go, and to find the courage and faith to move forward in hope.

If you are attending a Watch Night service today I do hope and pray that it is a meaningful and empowering service for your community and for you, and that it adds to making life worth living.

However, do you know what the history is of this particular service? I was reminded of it again today when I was reading my daily devotion Common prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (which you can access online daily for free at

Watch Night: Established in African-American communities on December 31, 1862, Watch Night is a gathering to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation becoming law. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate States were proclaimed free. Since that date 146 years ago, African-Americans have celebrated the good news of freedom in local churches on New Year’s Eve. Like the slaves who first gathered while the Civil War raged on, we proclaim freedom for all captives in Jesus’ name, knowing that for millions, freedom is not a reality. Our celebration is a commitment to join modern-day slaves and undocumented workers in their struggle for justice.

Perhaps this Watch Night we might be encouraged to remember that we live for more than ourselves? Perhaps we can be reminded of the establishment of this tradition and it can spur is on to ask forgiveness for the ways in which we have participated in and perpetuated injustice in our own lives and choices (the work we do, how we spend our money, how infrequently we serve the least of society). Perhaps it can also spur us on to living for freedom, the kind of freedom that comes from truly living not only in Christ, but for Christ and all those people and things that he loves?

May the year ahead be filled with joy, blessing, peace and flourishing for you, your family, your community, and even those who are different and far off.


#ZumaMustFall - the strength of democracy and the weakness of whiteness

South African social media has been abuzz with another catchy hashtag this week - #ZumaMustFall.

Thousands of South Africans reacted to President Jacob Zuma's shock announcement that he had axed a (relatively) trusted and responsible finance minister, Nhanhla Nene, and replaced him with a completely unknown small town mayor with no suitable experience or qualification for the post, other than patronage and loyalty to the President and his corrupt cronies (David van Rooyen).

It would seem from media reports that Mr Zuma decided to axe Mr Nene since he (Mr Nene) had refused to allow the treasury to approve a shady deal to replace Airbus planes for the beleaguered national airline carrier South African Airways (SAA). There is widespread speculation (including pictures and reports from persons close to the President) saying that Mr Zuma is involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship with the chairwoman of SAA, Dudu Myeni (who has been shown to be inept in her position and suggested to be corrupt - the deal in question seems run through with irregularities in the tender process, shady suppliers and middlemen getting payouts and financial kickbacks). It would seem that Ms Myeni allowed a contract with Airbus to expire by mistake (or through carelessness) with massive economic consequences for the national fiscus. When Nene said the nation would not pay for her mistake and it seems that Mr Zuma lost his cool and fired Mr Nene.

The repercussion of this decision - in a week where South Africa's economic rating was downgraded to just above Junk Status - was severe. Within hours the Rand fell to its lowest rate against the Dollar, Pound and Euro, since the early 1990's (over R22 to the pound, almost R16 to the Dollar and close to R17 to the Euro). The banking sector lost billions of Rands in value (as did other shares) as the currency was rapidly devalued. I read yesterday that Barclays Bank is now looking to sell it shares in ABSA bank in South Africa as a result. It is sure to have further direct and severe economic consequences. As with all such events the rich will loose value, but the poor will suffer most.

The reaction to Mr Zuma's clearly irrational and politically motivated decision was so sudden and strong that within a number of hours it seems he was engaged by political parties, business leaders and the labour movements - by the end of the weekend he had overturned his decision and appointed a previous minister of finance Mr Pravin Gordhan. Three ministers of finance in a single week. That must be a new record?

The Rand is now slowly recovering to its levels before this debacle (which was already a low value as investors have lost confidence in the South African economy, economic governance, labour unrest, and the openly corrupt national and business leadership).

Public sentiment - at least among those who control the media and have access to social media (which is still largely white, brown and black elites and the middle classes) was clear: #ZumaMustFall

The question is, whether the removal of Jacob Zuma is really a solution to the current social, political and economic crisis in South Africa?

I am always a little cautious of placing so much hope on dealing with an individual person. What is clear is that Mr Zuma is not solely to blame for the woes of South Africa. He clearly has support within the governing ANC party, so they should share some of the blame (and so should the population who keeps them power by their votes - which includes me). Moreover, the reality is that the challenges that we face in South Africa are not only political problems, they are social and economic in nature. Racial enmity, intolerance, ongoing racism and of course the massive challenges of poverty and economic inequality are huge concerns. In this regard the powerful and the privileged must share the blame for our current problems.

Craig Stewart spoke at the United Against Corruption public march in the Company Gardens in Cape Town yesterday. He made a very valid and important point:

Mr Zuma had used his privilege and power for personal gain and corruption. We have continually called for him to 'pay back the money' (R250 million used to upgrade his private home). 

White South Africans (who hold both power and privilige as a result of Apartheid) continue to use their privilege and economic power to enrich themselves - Stewart said it was time for these elites to find ways of 'paying back the money' for the common good of all South Africans.

I think his analysis is very helpful. Indeed, we will not solve South Africa's current problems only be removing a corrupt political leader. We need to take responsibility for our part in it.

White South Africans will have to be courageous in finding ways to redistribute their privilege, power and wealth among all of South Africa's citizens. I wonder if we will have the courage to support a movement #WhitePriviligeMustFall - or whether those who hold power and privilege can only see it and address it in others?

Indeed, as Tshepo Lephakga, a friend and colleague from UNISA points out - the majority of the South African population are not immediately and directly impacted by fluctuations in currency exchange - the present discontent is a problem for the priviliged (who are predominatnly white). Most of the black South African poor suffer the slow violence of poverty every day - the value of the Rand will only impact their lives further down the line. Those who are most vocal are the ones who currently have wealth and fear loosing it. Here is Tshepo's post:


Are people touched by the decisions made by JZ or the reactions of the global capital to the decisions made by JZ?I...

Posted by Tshepo Lephakga on Sunday, 13 December 2015


You can listen to Stewart's speech at the bottom of this post.

The further insight that shaped my thinking so far is that from Prof Steven Friedman the prominent political analyst.

Prof Friedman offered a very helpful insight, namely that in a very significant manner these recent events showed that perhaps Mr Zuma and his cronies are not as powerful as they thought they were. When they make irresponsible and bad decisions that have such visible negative effects democracy still functions - Mr Zuma was forced to undo his decision. Friedman further points out that what this shows is that there are (among the many factions in the ANC) clear fault lines between the rural political leaders and the urban political leaders. Friedman feels that it is far more important to have robust systems that can engage corruption and irresponsibility, than simply personalising politics (as is happening in the #ZumaMustFall movement) in the hope that removing one person will solve all of our problems. There still seems to be some power in our democratic system, as this last week's events showed. This is hopeful. We need to work to protect these freedoms.

So, this has been a tumultuous week!

I am thankful that the people of South Africa are finding their voice - the #FeesMustFall and the #ZumaMustFall movements (although very different) have shown that the general populace are finding ways of expressing their discontent with leaders (who should be servants) who are only out to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.

It has also helped me to understand much more clearly that the vocal minority do not represent the daily concerns of the majority - this does not mean that the concerns of this vocal grouping are not valid, but merely that we need a more nuanced solution to the problem. That solution will involve not only addressing the corrupt other, but also addressing the privileged self.

Here is Craig Stewart's speech - I encourage you to watch it. It is very helpful.


Craig Stewart (Director of The stood in front of hundreds of protesters today and gave the most inspiring, challenging and godly address I have ever personally heard someone share at a public rally. Thank you Craig for being a brave and faithful leader who with Liesl, Zach, Eliza and Vivian Stewart are inspiring and leading us forwards and Miles Giljam (@unitedagainstcorruption) for his leadership in uniting the church and citizens to stand up and call for justice and a new leadership to achieve it #ZumaMustFall #SouthAfricaMustRise #TheChurchMustSpeak

Posted by Annie Kirke on Wednesday, 16 December 2015


Here is Steven Friedman's post:


Thwarted attack reins in the ANC’s rural baronsby Steven Friedman, 17 December 2015, 05:48 SOMETIMES, failing to...

Posted by Steven Friedman on Wednesday, 16 December 2015




#LiefdeIsLiefde - on the weakness of Church law and the inevitability of just change

This article appeared on News24 today:

For those of my friends who do not read Afrikaans, the article tells how Dutch Reformed theologians (among others from Stellenbosch and Pretoria) have engaged the law commission and leadership of their Church because of their retraction (or suspension, pending a church legal inquiry) of the decision to fully recognize persons with a same sex orientation within all aspects of Church life and ministry.

The Church's decision to follow this legal route is deeply disappointing and a very sad betrayal of its stance on the Gospel and human dignity.

It is encouraging to see pastors and theologians standing together on this matter of Christian justice. Of course the change is inevitable - in fact it is an eschatological certainty.

Justice will come because of the just nature of God.

The church's law commission can not subvert God's grace forever.

We are fortunate to have the choice to decide how we will place ourselves in relation to what God will do.

I agree with colleagues Nelus Niemandt and Retief Muller in this article. It is well worth reading. Let's continue to pray and work for justice in this important matter.

This quote below is very helpful. Of course the law referee to here is not Church law, but religious law as found in the Hebrew Bible. But the principle is equally valid!

“For while the law gives us a bottom-line way to live, the way of love calls us beyond the law. Love pushes us beyond duty, rather than stopping there, and acts when we don’t know for sure what the ethical thing to do is. If the ethical question is, “What must be done?” love adds, “I will do more.” If our ethical compass is not able to give us a clear direction to travel, love sets out anyway. The way of love provides a way when ethical demands have had their say or do not know what to say. Is this not what Jesus was calling us to?—to live beyond the law so as to fulfill it. In this way this story attempts to draw out the truly radical nature of love as expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus. For he expressed a love that pushed further than any law could express or command dictate. He exuded a revolutionary life that always sought to be faithful to the law by outstripping it.”

Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales

Aluta cotninua. Vitoria ascerta!


#StelliesFeesMustFall - economic justice and the importance of the voice of our students

These are important times in our nation as students across the country express their voice on issues of economic justice - here the #StelliesFeesMustFall students are visiting the Faculty of Theology.

Our colleague and comrade Thando Joka made a challenging and strong statement as a student of the faculty concerning the steep increase in university fees for 2016 and access to education for all.

Our Dean, Hendrik Bosman, responded by expressing a word welcome to the students and colleagues.

I am convinced that transformation and equality are essential to secure a better future for us all. If we cannot change the current inequality in South Africa, it is unlikely that there will be any place for me or my children in the country's future - white power and white privilege cannot continue. It will not be tolerated. We have to find ways of to make this nation a better place for us all.

I am not sure exactly what the answer is to these complex issues - but I can identify some of the problems. That is not a bad place to start. There are probably many answers, and many solutions. But there are some things that I can do, and must do.

How is it possible that some of us can live with 'too much' when others do not even have enough to survive? If you are interested in reading something that I wrote on the Christian faith and economics you can download and read this chapter that I wrote in a book some years ago.  Here is the reference:  

Forster, D.A. 2007. Upon our Lord’s sermon the mount: Discourse 8: Economic justice., in Reisman, K.D. & Shier-Jones, A. (eds.). 44 Sermons to serve the present age. London: Epworth Press. 141–150.


Megan, Courtney, Liam and I have been a steady journey of 'downward mobility' in the last year or so. We have sold things like cars, computers, gadgets. We have cut off unnecessary things like DSTV (cable TV) and subscription services. We have limited our household budget and tried to support more worthy and important causes.

We are attempting the 'live more simply, so that others may simply live'.

Interestingly I was teaching a class on human dignity and economics which was disrupted and ended today as the protesting students arrived.

What is certain is that we have work to do in South Africa. I am grateful for the energy and hope that I see among students and colleagues.


#ChurchesUnitedAgainstCorruption - #UAC @SAChurchesUnite why it matters

A week ago (30 September 2015) thousands of Christians gathered in cities across South Africa to show their discontent with increasing corruption in government and business in South Africa. It was beautiful to see women and men from a wide variety of denominations and theological traditions uniting to show that they are not afraid to act against persons who use prominence or power in politics or economics for personal and unjust gains. I was pleased to participate in the gathering in Cape Town, and know of friends who participated in Durban and Johannesburg gatherings.

Of course there are various forms of corruption - persons who pay bribes, and persons who solicit them, so that deals can be done. These drive up the costs of products and services, meaning that less can be done for the common good.  Fewer schools can be built, fewer hospitals staffed, fewer meals dispensed, fewer persons brought to justice, fewer crimes are solved, fewer communities are safe, and it is the poor and the powerless who suffer first, and who suffer most.

Someone asked me whether marches like this matter. Of course on some level they don't. In truth, nobody will admit to being 'for corruption', even the most corrupt have a public rhetoric against corruption - it is what they need to retain the trust and inactivity of those who allow them to remain in office, or conduct corrupt business.

On the other hand events like this are of critical importance. They matter because we cannot be silent in the midst of injustice.  Events such as these matter because we are showing that more and more sectors of South African society are impatient with the injustices and inequalities that are upheld by corrupt persons and corrupt practices.  Events such as these matter because they show that we have a moral conscience, and that people from different religious groupings, and different traditions, can stand together.  They matter because they show that we are not powerless or voiceless.  They matter because they show that we are citizens who are engaged.

So, I would encourage you to act. Recognise that you have a right, even a responsibility, to speak out when things are wrong. Call those who abuse their office or position in business for unjust means to account. Remind elected officials that they are civil servants of the people, not civil masters. Remind businesses and business people that we, the consumers, are the ones who hold the wealth that allows them to operate, and if they will not do so for the common good we can exercise our right to choose someone or something else.

If you are a follower of Jesus it is important to remember that submission to his Lordship has political, economic and social consequences.  What we believe must change how we live - and it should always be for the common good. This is the way of the servant King. As Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, the church does not have a social ethic, it is a social ethic - we are to become what we believe, our story, our witness, our worship, is to reflect what we believe and what we hope for.

I would like to invite you to visit the Churches United Against Corruption website, or consider joining the campaign Unashamedly Ethical.


Podcast - Prof Barney Pityana on Discipleship and Active Citizenship in South Africa

You can download Prof Barney Pityana's opening Keynote on Discipleship Active Citizenship which was delivered on 2 June 2015 at the Winter School of the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University from this link [mp3 file, 50MB]

The Winter School is hosted by Ekklesia and the Beyers Naude Center for Public Theology in the first week of June each year.  This year's theme is 'Changing the world? An invitation to faithful discipleship and responsible citizineship'.

I apologize for the poor sound quality of the recording.  I recorded it using my cellphone and so there is some ambient and room noise in the recording.  However, it is well worth the inconvenience to hear Prof Pityana's lecture.

I was deeply struck by a few comments that Prof Pityana made. Among them was the observation that the three most prominent public persons in SA at present (President Jacob Zuma, Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and the leader of the official opposition, DA leader Musi Miamani) are all ordained pastors of independent Christian Churches.  Prof Pityana discusses this phenomenon and asks some questions of the type of Christianity that is represented by these persons, and also how this reflects on us a nation.

I'd love to hear your comments, thoughts and feedback!


Hybrid identity, historical complexity, social identity and transformation - South Africa needs transforming individuals - Nico Koopman

This morning I attended the opening of the 'Talking Back' think tank on LGTBIQ identities and queer perspectives at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.

Prof Lious Jonker opened the event by telling some of the contested and liminal history of Stellenbosch, the Stellenbosch University and the location and identity of the Faculty of Theology.  He reminded us that just like places, geographical spaces, ideas and movements, we all have hybrid identities that are constantly developing, facing ongoing change and construction, yet they are located in a particular space and need to operate from there.

He shared some sections of Prof Nico Koopman's colum in today's 'Die Burger' newspaper.

Here is Prof Koopman's column.  It is a deep challenge to live for human dignity, take personal responsibility for the common good, and exercise tolerance and cooperation for the transformation of society for the better.

South Africa needs transforming individuals

Our societies need not only transforming institutions, we also need transforming individuals. We need people who impact positively on society, and who help society to reflect human dignity, with its three building blocks of justice, freedom and the healing of wounds of people who suffer under our socio-economic and political systems. We also need individuals who are focused on their own transformation and renewal.

Transforming individuals have the ability to deal with complexity constructively. Complexity has different faces.

Transformation people are people who can live with plurality. They embrace the multiplicity of identities and cultures, views and perspectives of reality. Religious and secular comprehensive meaning-giving frameworks help us with the development of an ethos of tolerance and embrace.

Renewing people understand that our lives are riddled with ambiguity, with multiplicity. They therefore know that the same notion can have divergent meanings for different people. For some people words like transformation and justice are a cause for rejoicing. For others they imply a threat, a reason for anxiety. The word reconciliation comforts some, while others feel the word frustrates their struggle for a life of human dignity.

Renewing people realise that to live as a human being, is to live with ambivalence, with duality. A situation, system, person or group is not singularly good or singularly bad. Both positive and negative aspects are present.

Agents of transformation reject oversimplification and see the nuances and shadings of issues. They realise that oversimplification leads to inadequate solutions.

People who value their own renewal and the renewal of society, also guard against anti-intellectualism and irrationalism. They embrace intellectualism. They want as many facts on the table as possible. They want to be informed before they make choices or act. Intellectual exertion helps to protect them from the almost irrational absolutisation of the own opinion, and the resulting stereotyping and stigmatisation, demonising and destruction of those who differ from one. The Christian tradition teaches that where people love God with all of their minds, anti-intellectualism and its negative outcomes can be overcome.

Transformation people live with paradoxicality, with apparent, but not real, contradictions. For example they understand that it is possible to create greater inclusivity without creating new exclusions.

People who serve transformation, are also people who recognise the tragic and dead-end (aporetic) character of reality. They identity with disadvantaged and wronged people. And where there is this love and concern for frail and vulnerable people, we develop the creativity, imagination and will to find renewing ways out of blind alleys.

Nico Koopman is dean of the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

I would love to hear any thoughts you have. We are indeed living at an intersection in South Africa between different classes, cultures etc.  We need people who are willing to live as transforming and transformative individuals for the common good of our shared future in South Africa. I am deeply challenged by this.


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.


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: