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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in justice (43)

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.

Saturday
Oct252014

A prayer for peace

I have been reading some of the work of Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston in the last few weeks. I don't know too much biographical information about him, other than that he is an Episcopal priest and a Native American. I also know that he writes (and thinks) beautifully. Here is a beautiful excerpt from one of his prayers. I call it a prayer for peace:

God drive back the dark days of war, place your angels between innocent lives and the tread of advancing tanks, cool the political fires that burn for power and greed, let wisdom prevail and compassion increase….

- Bishop Steven Charleston

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
May272014

Inspired by the prophetic ministry of Rev Prof Peter Storey

I spent most of this morning interviewing Rev Prof Peter Storey about his role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

He was Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe's chaplain on Robben Island. His life and ministry are a strong witness to courage, peaceable, work for God's Kingdom on earth.

His deep faith in Christ the motivation for his tireless work for justice, transformation and reconciliation in South Africa, frequently at great personal cost and threat to his safety.

It was inspiring listening to his life's story and ministry. He indicated that his ministry was shaped by the question 'What would it mean to be faithful to Christ in this situation?' The courage to ask that question, answer it honestly, and live the answer, is a spiritual discipline that will surely result in justice being served and God being honoured.

Saturday
May102014

The coolest #selfie ever! Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu

Today (10 May) marks the birth of one of the most remarkable and courageous Christian witnesses of our time - Beyers Naudé. Oom Bey (uncle Bey, as he was affectionately known) was a Christian minister who faced persecution. Y his countrymen, censure by both the Church and the state, and alienation from friends and the broader community for his witness and work against racial oppression in South Africa. At great personal cost he chose the good of others over his own. This wonderful #selfie of Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu is actually a photoshopped picture from this website (there are a few other really cool pictures there, such a Winston Churchill, Jacky Kenedy, and even their Majesties William and Kate!) This image was originally a picture of Oom Bey and Archbishop Tutu on the occasion of the Arch being awarded the Nobel peace prize. Happy birthday Oom Bey! Today I give thanks for your life and witness and pray that many more women and men would follow your example in South Africa, and elsewhere across the world! I am privileged to be a member of the Beyers Naudé center for public theology at the University of Stellenbosch. The center continues to honour the legacy of Oom Bey by working with the Church and broader society across South Africa (and even the world) to advocate for justice, foster reconciliation and present the possibility of God's Kingdom of justice, peace and wholeness for all people.
Friday
Nov292013

Remembering the life and witness of Dorothy Day

Today many Christians will commemorate the life of Dorothy Day. She was the co-founder of the Catholic worker movement, a deeply committed pacifist and servant of the poor.
Her life was shaped by a contemplative faith, out of which arose her quest for peace and justice in the world.

As with many great leaders she was not free from controversy. 

I have often considered that in order to bring about a substantial and lasting change in society there needs to be a family significant disruption of the status-quo. The 'powers' of every structure and age are resistant to change. It is seldom an easy process, but I do think that a peaceable approach, emanating from a position of deep faith, soaked in grace, stands the best chance of bringing change without resulting in significant brokenness.

My prayer is that I, and many others, will embrace the discipline of daily faithfulness to the Gospel of grace and peace, that in our prayer, our action and our words we will serve in small ways that contribute to the positive transformation and renewal of the world.
Tuesday
Oct082013

It is time to #ShineAlight on Corruption - #EXPOSED2013 is a week away!

It's time to let your light shine!
Have you arranged your Vigil, Church service, business gathering, or prayer meeting for some time during 14-20 October yet?  Simply go here:  http://www.exposed2013.com/act/10-action-tools/33-organise-a-vigil
Or, follow these simple instructions!
1.  Please watch this short video (2 minutes) about the EXPOSED Vigils http://t.co/i9EK7QqqjK
2.  Simply invite a few friends, set a venue, and download sample prayers, scripture readings and the video from here http://www.exposed2013.com/act/10-action-tools/33-organise-a-vigil
3.  Please register your Global Vigil on the global map here, so that others can see it (shine a light!) or join you if it is an open meeting or service!http://www.exposed2013.com/act/10-action-tools/78-register-your-vigil
4.  Post some pictures, video, or a short report on your website, facebook and twitter.  Please use the hashtag #ShineALight 
5.  At your Vigil, and during the week, please get as many people as you can to sign the Global Call to end corruption. Simply go here on your computer, cellphone or tablet http://bit.ly/signGC or visit the website and sign up there, or download and print a sign up sheet to gather signatures automaticallyhttp://www.exposed2013.com
In a week's time we shall be joining millions of people from 138 countries around the world in Christian witness!  God cares about the poor and about corruption - it is time to shine your light!
Here is a simple, and powerful, way in which you can show your solidarity with this great cause.  The Bible tells us 'Learn to do good, seek justice, stand for the rights of the poor and oppressed' (Isaiah 1.17).
1.  Please print the attached 'Sing up Sheet' and carry it with you for the week.  Do your best to fill a few sheets with signatures for the Global Call to end corruption! We need One Million signatures to take to the G20 in 2014!  
2.  Please print the 'One in a million' sign and keep it with you.  Please get as many people who have signed the global call to take a picture of themselves holding the sign 'I'm one in a million'.  Ask them to post their picture on twitter, facebook, to send it to friends or family.  
Graham Power is One in a Million - founder of Unashamedly Ethical and the Global Day of Prayer
Please use the hashtags #shinealight and #EXPOSED2013 so that we can get some real traction! (See the example photograph of Graham Power, founder of the Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical movements, attached to this message).
Completed forms can either be scanned and emailed back to me, or you can enter the details on http://www.exposed2013.com or directly at http://bit.ly/signGC (note the capital GC for Global Call).
Thanks so much for your partnership in this important work!
Together with you in Christ,
Dion

 

Friday
Aug162013

Giving thanks for the life of Brother Roger - Taizé Community

Today I give thanks for the life and ministry of Brother Roger today. The establishment of the Taizé community is a continuing gift of renewal and missional blessing to the Church across the world.

It reminds me that simple courage and constant obedience can often be used by God to bring about transformation, healing and renewal.

 

In 1940, despite the spread of war in Europe, Roger Schütz crossed the border from Switzerland into France to pursue a community life characterized by simplicity and the fellowship described in the gospels. From early on in his life, Brother Roger knew that such a life together could be a sign of reconciliation for Christians from different denominations.
After settling in a French village called Taizé, Brother Roger was caught for hiding Jewish refugees and had to leave France after two years. When he returned after World War II had ended, he was accompanied by a few men who became the first brothers of the Taize community, which grew into an ecumenical community with brothers on all continents, bearing witness to what brother Roger came to talk about as a “parable of community.”
On August 16 2005, during evening prayer in the Church of reconciliation at Taizé, Brother Roger was stabbed to death by a mentally ill woman.
- Common prayer (16 August 2013) -  http://commonprayer.net

 

Saturday
Jul272013

Back from Nigeria! Off to Johannesburg - FastForward leadership conference

The last two weeks have been another whirlwind! I arrived back form an amazing trip to Lagos in Nigeria where we had the most amazing opportunities to meet beautiful people doing truly wonderful work in the Church and the broader community! While there I had the change to speak at a number of events and meet with some wonderful Church leaders and Christians in business. There is a strong commitment to the societal transformation and there was great support for the Alpha Course - a most amazing tool for evangelism.  We also had great support for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' and the work of 'Unashamedly Ethical'.

This morning I flew to Johannesburg to speak at the FastForward leadership conference at the wonderful Gracepoint Church!  This is a most remarkable Christian community that holds personal holiness and social holiness in equal esteem.  Indeed, one can only honour God when one is right with God and in right standing with God's will in the world.  Gary and Jacqui Rivas are doing amazing work here.  I am thankful for them, their ministry and our friendship.  Truly amazing people in an amazing community of faith.

I promised to upload my slides from my talk at the conference today - however, my internet access is a little sketchy, so please do check back in a day or so when I get home I will upload my slides and the videos that I used at the conference. If you are interested in an earlier post I did on the subject of the Church and its growth and change please follow this link for some thoughts and ideas that I had back in 2009.

Tomorrow I will be speaking on justice and partnership at their morning services in a message entitled 'A partnership between the pavement and the pew'.  This morning I was inspired by this beautiful quote in my morning devotions.  Perhaps it will challenge, inspire and encourage you on your journey of loving service?

People may come to our communities because they want to serve the poor; they will only stay once they have discovered that they themselves are the poor.

Jean Vanier (founder of the L'Arche communities)