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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.
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Entries in justice (51)

Tuesday
Jan122016

Christians and pessimism - A reminder to live for hope from Oscar Romero and Henri Nouwen

Last year was a tough year for many people around the world. I know it was difficult for many of my friends and family. Over the last couple of days I have had a number of conversations with friends who are feeling hopeless and concerned about issues ranging from politics, to economics and the environment.

In my reading I have come across a few quotes that challenge me to remember that as a person of faith I should live by a different standard. Christians live with a hope that is real, yet our hope cannot be collapsed into history, past, present or future, in its entirety. Yes, we must pay meticulous attention to what is happening around is. We must act with courage, grace and love in all situations. However, our hope is larger than history, it is based on a reality that is more real than our perception of what we believe to be real. Our hope comes from being claimed by the God of history. Our hope is eschatological - the fullness of life through the fullest Person (Jesus Christ) in the fullness of time.

Living with this kind of hope takes courage. It takes courage to live for someone, and something, more important than our immediate reaction to people and events. It takes grace to act, and react, in a manner that is different from other persons and the rest of the world. It takes commitment to live for the common good rather than just one's own comfort and security. It takes hard work and patience to stay on the path of rightness and justice for the long haul.

I pray that I will have the wisdom to live in this way, and that others will choose the live a life that is much better than mine.

Here are some quotes that inspired and challenged me on this journey:

“Christians cannot be pessimists. Christians must always nourish in their hearts the fullness of joy. Try it, brothers and sisters; I have tried it many times and in the darkest moments, when slander and persecution were at their worst: to unite myself intimately with Christ, my friend, and to feel a comfort that all the joys of the earth do not give – the joy of feeling yourself close to God, even when humans do not understand you. It is the deepest joy the heart can have.”

- Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

"To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work."

- Henri Nouwen, Bread for the journey (p.8)

And this quote about the importance of daily spiritual discipline in this life:

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world — free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless… I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”

- Henri Nouwen

Monday
Jan112016

An excellent book on the Theology of Migration, Travel and Justice by Joerg Rieger

I received a copy of my friend Joerg Rieger's book 'Faith on the road: A short theology of justice and travel' (2015, IVP Academic) in the mail today.

I had the joy of reading it last year just a few weeks before the recent crises of migration in Africa, Asia and Europe hit the headlines. Rieger's understanding of what it means to be a just society - even a just planet, deeply shaped how I feel about migration, travel and pilgrimage.

I was so honoured to be asked to write one of the commendations for the back of the book. Here is what I wrote:

'Faith on the road' explores the complexity of faith, identity, economics and social justice through the lens of travel. This is a superbly written volume that approaches these complex issues in a thorough and helpful manner. It has changed how I think about travel, migration and faith. I highly recommend this book!

Brian D. McLaren said the following:

From his reflections on travel in the Scriptures to his experiences as a motorcyclist, Joerg Rieger invites us to see how travel changes more than our location: it can change our hearts and transform us from tourists to advocates for justice and peace.

Indeed, I do think this is one of the most helpful books on issues of migration and travel at present. If you are trying to work out what a just, ethical, stance to migration (and migrants) should be I am sure that reading this book will help you. If like me, you have the privilege (and the responsibility) to travel in your nation, continent, or across the world, then this book is important to read! There are important ethical issues around travel, the environment, borders and globalization to consider. Or, if you are interested in notions of pilgrimage as part of your faith or culture, then this book will also help you.

Hey, if you ride a motorcycle and have faith - then this book is for you! Joerg and I have had many great conversations about our shared joy of motorcycling (we both ride BMW GS bikes).

Here is the publisher's description for more information:

Millions of people travel every day, for what seem like millions of reasons. Some travel for pleasure, others travel for work and education, and many more travel to find a new job and a better life. In the United States, even those who don’t travel far still frequently find themselves on the move. What can we learn from these different forms of travel? And what can people of faith learn from the Christian and Jewish traditions that took shape on the road? From the exile from Eden to the wanderings of Jesus and his disciples, the story of Scripture is a dynamic narrative of ceaseless movement. Those who let themselves be inspired by this movement, and are willing to learn from others and from mistakes made in the process, are well positioned to make a difference in the world, not only at home but also around the globe. In this revised edition of the author's book Traveling, Joerg Rieger reflects on how Christian faith reorients the way we think about and make journeys in our lives.

You can get your copy of 'Faith on the road' from IVP here, and from Amazon (either in print or kindle edition) from the link below.

Once you have read it I would love to hear your thoughts or questions! Drop me a comment below or contact me via Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday
Dec312015

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 http://www.commonprayer.net).

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.

Sunday
Nov292015

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

This article appeared on News24 today:

http://www.netwerk24.com/Nuus/Algemeen/meer-liefde-in-hof-as-kerk-20151128

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!

Saturday
Nov212015

The secret of life is love

I came across this beautiful quotation today and wanted to share it here:

“The secret of life is love. In love we go out of ourselves and lay ourselves open to all the experiences of life. In the love of life we become happy and vulnerable at the same time. In love we can be happy and sad. In love we can laugh and weep. In love we can rejoice and must protest at the same time. The more deeply love draws us into life, the more alive and, simultaneously, the more capable of sorrow we become. That is the dialectic of the affirmed and loved life.”

- Jurgen Moltmann

It rings true for me.

The God who is love calls us to a life of love.

In responding to that call daily we become truly alive. Love is not only the core of life, but also the source of living - it brings about justice and it opens the possibility for joyful existence.

Last night Jurgen Moltmann was interviewed at the Homebrewed Christianity gathering here at the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta. I will post a link to that interview as soon as Tripp Fuller makes it available.

In the meantime I invite you to watch this lovely interview between Jurgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf on a theology of joy:

http://youtu.be/s04zdvrBz-c

Blessings from Atlanta!

I will share a bit of a 'travel report' as soon as I get a chance. It has been wonderful to visit New York, Princeton (the Seminary, University and our good friend Will Storrar at the Center for Theological Inquiry), and just as wonderful being in Atlanta.

At the AAR I presented a 'country report' on the scope and nature of public theology on a panel this morning, and tomorrow I shall present a paper of Nelson Mandela and African Christian Humanism in the Wesley Studies group).

Until soon,

Dion

Wednesday
Oct212015

#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.

Tuesday
Oct062015

#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.

Tuesday
Jun022015

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!

Friday
May222015

Bram Fischer on white privilege (still true 50 years later!)

What is needed is for White South Africans to shake themselves out of their complacency, a complacency intensified by the present economic boom built upon racial discrimination. Unless this whole intolerable system is changed radically and rapidly, disaster must follow. Appalling bloodshed and civil war will become inevitable because, as long as there is oppression of a majority, such oppression will be fought with increasing hatred.
SACP. “Letter sent by Bram Fischer to his Counsel in February 1965 when he went underground, and read to the court My goodness! This was written in 1965 and it is still as true for South Africa today (and particularly for me as a white South African) as it was 50 years ago! I spent the morning with Bram Fischer’s daughter and a group of concerned citizens at an AHA (Authentic Hopeful Action) meeting to strategize for a better future for South Africans and South Africa coordinated by my friend Paul Verryn. We must find a way to move forward with change for the common good of all South Africans! How is it possible not to act when we live in a nation where 20 million people go to bed hungry at night?
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.

Friday
Feb132015

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

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

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

AHA

James 2:14-18

"Faith without works is dead!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 12 February 2015

Saturday
Dec202014

Are 'whites' South Africa's problem?

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


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

 

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

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

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

I would love to hear your perspective.