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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.
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Entries in justice (40)

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)

 

Monday
Jun242013

A prayer for Nelson Mandela, and ourselves

Last night a friend from the UK asked me if I could write a short prayer for Nelson Mandela that could be used by some Christians in the UK. After some prayer and thought I wrote the following:

Loving God, the world is yours. You have lovingly created each person, and by your grace you sustain and transform creation day by day. We praise you for every aspect of nature that displays your Glory.

Today we want to thank you for your son Nelson Rolihlala Mandela. In his life you have shown us the courage of standing for justice, the patience of suffering for peace, and the hope that forges forgiveness. We thank you for giving him the gift of wisdom to lead, the gift of mercy to forgive, and the gift of love to break down the walls that divide.

Today we pray that you will complete your perfect will in him. Offer him peace in his time of struggle. Surround him with love as he faces the unknown; and when the end of this life comes embrace him in your love and restore him to fullness of joy.

We pray that the courage of his conviction will continue beyond his earthly life. May the principles justice, reconciliation and peace that he suffered for be rooted more deeply within us. May his life inspire us to live more sacrificially for you and for the sake of all whom you love.

All this we pray in the name of Jesus, the great liberator, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen


There are the thoughts that informed this prayer.

In this prayer I tried to capture a few elements:

- A prayer of petition ask for God to bless and care for his son Nelson.


- A prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for the many good things that we have been blessed to witness as a result of his courage and conviction for justice, and reconciliation.


- A prayer for strength, for him, his family, and for all of us, that we may continue in the work that God worked through him.

Please continue to pray for our precious nation, and for the freedom that Mr Mandela lived for. We are facing some challenging times at present.

With grace and peace in Christ,

Dion

Thursday
Feb142013

Franco and Sophie - a story of grace

God gave me a wonderful gift this week. It has been an exceptionally busy couple of months with my work at 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption', Unashamedly Ethical and the University. Between travel, meetings, conference calls, speaking engagements, writing and supervision I hardly felt like I was touching sides.

The busyness of life has a way of drawing me away from what matters most. I begin to adopt a functional, rather than a reflective, orientation towards life. My days are spent on tasks rather than prayer and people. This can quickly lead to disconnection from God and God's wonderful world, and the people in it.

Last week was no different. We had a great contact week with our Master of Theology students who are doing the course in missional spirituality. Rev Trevor Hudson and Prof Robert Vosloo came and did the input sessions with our students. I sat in on most of the lectures, and also spent time with the individual students and the group helping them to work towards their research tasks and assignments. At the end of the week the examinations began for the group of students from last year's MTh course. In all 12 students had an opportunity to give a defence of their Masters research projects. This is an exciting time where the students present their ideas and the faculty (lecturers) get to engage with them. Whilst it is an exam, it is also a great time of learning and sharing.

On Monday afternoon one of my Masters students did his defence and did a great job. He has passed and will get his degree. It felt good to celebrate this significant milestone with him! However, as I left the University to rush home in order to go onto a conference call with colleagues in the UK for EXPOSED my mind was already focussed on tasks.

I drove out of Stellenbosch and as I passed Stellenbosch square I saw two people on the side of the road, a young boy and his mother. The mother was clearly very drunk. In fact, she was so drunk that she could not stand or walk without stumbling. She was dangerously close to the moving cars and her little son was applying all of his weight to try and pull her out of the road. My heart was touched. Seeing a little 6 year old boy struggling to help his mother in this situation left me very bruised. So, I turned my car around to the other side of the road and stopped to pick them up.

God had given me the gift of Franco and Sophie. Franco is six years old and has just started school. Sophie is his mother. Her husband died of HIV/AIDS a while ago and she has a drinking problem. Franco was trying to help his mother home.

After I had put Sophie in the front seat of the car, and get Franco securely fastened in the back (in Liam's 'booster seat') I took them home. I discovered that Franco has a brother - he is 9 years old. How sad it is that these two boys bear the responsibility of caring for themselves and their mother. Of course this event touched a very tender part of my own life and brought back memories from my early childhood.

I couldn't do too much for them. After getting Sophie and Franco safely home we talked for a while. I first spoke with Sophie about her life and her struggles. I encouraged her to seek help and prayed with her. It was a hopelessly inadequate response to this very serious situation. I then spent some time with Franco. I told him how beautiful and brave he is. I reminded him that God had made him a very special boy and that God has a wonderful plan for his life! I reminded him that he is loved and that God had sent me to collect him and his mom that afternoon. All that I had in the car to give him was an apple, a banana and one of Liam's story books. He was over the moon with the book.

Franco and Sophie have been living in my heart and mind all of this week. As I go to meetings, as I meet people, as I speak at events, as I plan, as I write, as I pray... God has given me a gift. It is a sad gift, but it is important.

The Bible says "Learn to do what is right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow" (Isaiah 1.17)

Please can I ask you to pray for Franco, Sophie and Franco's little brother? Please ask God to care for them. Please pray that Sophie will find the help that she needs, and the Franco and his brother will be spared from neglect or abuse. Please pray that they may reach the beauty of potential that God has placed in them. Please don't make the mistake that I make and get so busy that you neglect the opportunity to be wounded by suffering.

Friday
Aug032012

The ABLI Forum in Uganda - The Bible and politics

The relationship between the Bible and politics has been somewhat controversial over the centuries.  There are those who say that intention of scripture is to direct our spiritual lives, as a result, for example, many South Africans were told not to mess with politics during the apartheid era.  Then there are those who understand that faith is a fundamentally political - since our faith addresses every aspect of our lives it has a significant impact on every choice and action that shapes life.

I am currently in Uganda to speak at the African Biblical Leadership Innitiative (ABLI) Forum.  It is a wonderful group of people who gathered here!  I am meeting many of them for the first time.  Others I have known for some years.  It is such a blessing to be with these sisters and brothers - we share many common objectives and ideals.

The vision of ABLI is to empower leaders (African and elsewhere) with Biblical truths that will foster integrity and justice in the world.  ABLI is working to raise up leaders so that nations will be transformed by God’s truth, love and justice.  The ABLI forum meets each year just before the meetings of the African Union and it focuses on sharing and discovering a Biblical approach to Good Governance, Conflict Resolution, and Economic Life.

I have the privilege of representing ‘EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption’ and the Unashamedly Ethical campaigns at ABLI - this invitation came via our coalition partners Micah Challenge.  I have opportunities to speak and conduct a workshop with the leaders of the Bible Societies from across the world.  This is a significant opportunity to encourage our sisters and brothers to heed the challenge of Micah 6.8 ‘What does God require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’.

Among the thoughts that have shaped my input for this wonderful group are these:

Both religion and politics are concerned with how we should organize societies. Yet the tendency for Christians has often been to begin with the politics and work back- wards to find religious rationale for our political beliefs. As a result, most people read the Bible not to challenge our deeply held beliefs, but to affirm the decisions we've already made with our lives. 

- Tim Suttle God’s Politics.

As you will see on this blog, I tend to agree with the perrennial view of the Bible, namely that it is critical in shaping our individual and collective lives for justice, peace, mercy and wellbeing (rather than just a source document from which we pluck a few verses to support our individual choices and actions).

Of course such a view is seldom popular, since it does challenge the establishment somewhat.  It would seem that much of popular Christianity has a view of Jesus that is something between a personal therapist and a stock broker.  I think the loving way of Jesus is far more revolutionary and transformative than that!

When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.

- Dom Helder Camara

I found this quote from NT Wright quite helpful:

The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God's wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of 'God's kingdom' through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power.

 —  N.T. Wright, New Testament Scholar at University of St. Andrews

I believe that the central political question is the management of public power in order that there should be an economically viable life for all members of the community. Thus justice is front and center and some texts, especially in Deuteronomy, are for the distribution of wealth in order that all may be viable. Obviously such justice is marked by mercy, compassion and generosity. The purpose is to create a genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors.  

 —  Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Scholar, Columbia Theological Seminary

And of course no post would be complete without quoting something from Stanley Hauerwas!

The chief political concern of the Bible is to worship God truly. 

—  Stanley Hauerwas, Theologian and ethicist at Duke Divinity School  

I agree with this last quote wholeheartedly - the chief political concern of the Bible is to declare and celebrate the worth of God in every aspect of creation.  We do so by establishing systems that express God's ways, God's eternal shalom in our economic, political and social policies, as well as in the Church's work of mission and evangelism.

Children's Choir singing at the opening ceremony at Lake Victoria

Please could you pray for my family, Megan, Courtney and Liam?  I have had a lot of travel in the last few weeks.  Please ask the Lord to protect and bless them, to keep them healthy and to continue to provide for all our needs.  Please could you also pray for our EXPOSED, Micah Challenge and Unashamedly Ethical teams in South Africa and elsewhere in the world?  Please pray that the Lord would give them great love and boldness to stand for His standards of righteousness and justice in the Church, Business and Government. Frequently such a stance comes at great personal cost.  Please also pray for me as I travel and have chances to speak and to meet with sisters and brothers.  Please pray that God gives me wisdom, humility, conviction, passion and most of all His love for this world and the people and systems He loves and wants to transform. Please pray that I serve our sisters and brothers well at ABLI, and here in Uganda.

Thank you so much for your partnership in the work of God’s Kingdom!