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

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

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in politics (19)

Monday
Apr022018

A politics of forgiveness in South Africa? Is forgiveness even possible?

In my new book 'The (im)possibility of forgiveness?' I present the complexity of notions of forgiveness in South Africa. South Africa's apartheid history (and current reality) is extremely traumatic. It continues to dehumanize the majority of the citizens of South Africa. 

I tend not to speak of a 'post-apartheid' South Africa since I feel that even though we live in a democratic dispensation where apartheid laws have been dealt with, the daily reality of most of our citizens is that apartheid is more entrenched than ever before. Except, now instead of it being primarily a political system in which an unjust state is the supposed enemy, it is a subtle economic system that is deeply entrenched in the social imagination. Some find it extremely difficult to imagine a South Africa in which no person has too much while another person does not even have enough to survive. The 'enemy' we now face is so seductive. It runs across racial and class barriers, seducing us into greater and greater sin. We want to own more possessions, gather more wealth, live in greater opulence, and experience so much more freedom and pleasure. And so, the rich grow richer, while the poor grow poorer.

It is primarily Black South Africans continue to be systematically oppressed through this unjust (economic) system, with unequal ownership of land, and the dominance of whiteness in social spaces and the media. If you want to hear more about my reasons for advocating against the use of 'post-apartheid' as a reasonable statement, or category of thought, then please watch this short video. Simply stated, if I were to claim that we live in a post-apartheid society it would not be true in relation to the daily experience of most of South Africa's citizens. Not only would it be a lie, but it would be a callous lie since it would deny the reality of hardship, suffering and pain that people experience every day.

Hence, while South Africa is closer to democracy (where citizens have the right have to rights), the reality is that politically and economically those rights remain out of reach for most. We are in 'most apartheid' South Africa. In this context, forgiveness becomes a deeply political concept.

Hence I ask, for what reason would White South Africans wish to be forgiven? Is it so that we can be set free from the guilt of our past, and the ongoing guilt of our present way of living? Nathan Trantaal speaks of the 'gif [poison] in vergifnis [forgiveness]'. Forgiveness can be a weapon that creates wounds. A White South African can seek it from a place of power and dominance - asking to be set free without having to face the consequences of our sin (economic sin, racial sin, social sin).

So, if we were to think about a polis in which forgiveness was not only a belief, but a reality, what would it look like? What would it take to get there? I am inspired by Miroslav Volf's idea in 'The end of memory'.

I am often asked when I speak about forgiveness, whether when we forgive, are we expected to forget? I think that forgetting altogether can be dangerous. However, what if we were to live for a world in which a memory of justice, reconciliation, mutual respect, the celebration of diversity, and true wholeness was what we remembered instead of our brokenness, enmity, greed, and fear? How would we need to start living today as a society, a polis, to make such a memory real in the future? This is what Stanley Hauerwas would call a political eschatology.

In this reality forgiveness cannot only be only as a spiritual or a theological reality. It must be concrete, it must be real. The content of true forgiveness should be experienced in a society of justice and grace.

However, it is also inadequate to think that once a political or economic 'transaction' has been enacted that forgiveness would have been achieved - the transactional view of forgiveness is as inadequate as the purely spiritual view.

Please don't missunderstand me - I firmly believe that we need a redistribution of land in South Africa, we need a transformation of our economy, and we must work for a reality in which the majority of our citizens benefit from the bounty and beauty of our land. However, when these necessary things are achieved, we will not yet be reconciled - forgiveness will not yet be achieved. These social, political and economic realities are not the 'end' of forgiveness (its fulfillment or achievement), no, they are the beginnings of forgiveness. Beyond the transaction we need something more, something gracious, something spiritual, something that is shaped by justice but achieved in grace.

I hope that you can see why this notion of forgiveness is such a complex concern? I long for us to be honest about the complexity of the politics of forgiveness in South Africa. It is only when we are willing to count the cost, and even more, to live with grace, that we can move beyond poisonous forgiveness to life giving, life affirming, and real forgiveness. A forgiveness that heals instead of harms.

Here is a copy of the Stellenbosch University Forum lecture that I gave on this topic in September 2017. I was honoured, and very grateful, to be invited by the University to deliver this lecture. The lecture was entitled 'The (im)possibility of forgiveness? Considering the complexities of religion, race and politics in South Africa'. The lecture has been reworked and will soon be published in a book on Religion, Violence and Reconciliation in Africa (published by SUN Media).

Here is a direct link to the youtube link below.

Friday
Oct062017

Graduating with a 2nd PHD in Holland - the possibility of the (im)possibility of forgiveness!

I am so grateful to be traveling to the Netherlands tomorrow (with my wife Megan!) to graduate with my 2nd PHD at Radboud University, Nijmegen in Holland.

The graduation ceremony (and defence) will take place at 16.30 on Wednesday 11 October 2017 - if you read this beforehand you can watch the ceremony online via this link.

I started my research at Radboud University in December 2013. I worked on the project, and spent some wonderful months, at Radboud University between then and May 2017 when I completed the manuscript / dissertation. You can read all of my posts from Radboud and about this research (in reverse order!) via this link.

The research project is entitled:

The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading Matthew 18:15-39.(Click the title to read an excerpt from the book and see the table of contents).

In Holland it is required that the dissertation is published as a book. It has been published by African SUN Media in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology series on public theology.

Here is the full reference:

Forster, D.A. 2017. The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18:15-35. 1st ed. Vol. XI. (Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology). Stellenbosch, South Africa: SUN Press.

 

You can read the abstract below, and see copies of the cover of the book and the commendations in the attached images. If you would like to purchase a copy you can do so via African SUN Media.

I have some sections of the book under review for publication, and have already published the following article which is a shortened section of the Biblical exegetical component of the study:

 

Forster, D.A. 2017. A public theological approach to the (im) possibility of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35: Reading the text through the lens of integral theory. In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi. 51(3):1–10.
In this article I also discuss (in summary) the other theoretical component of my study - namely integral All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) theory.

 

 

I made one or two short videos of some of the central concepts (see the bottom of this post for a discussion of the empirical qualitative aspects of the study, and a discussion of one of the primary theoretical components).

I am truly grateful to my promoters, Prof dr dr Jan van der Watt and Prof dr Chris Hermans. They were encouraging, supportive, and wonderful guides along the journey. I learned so much and I am so grateful for the findings of the research and the fruit that it will bear for the participating communities.

Here is a video I recorded at my home University (Stellenbosch University) where I discuss how I worked with the participants to gather and analyse the theological (qualitative empirical) data on forgiveness.

In this video (recorded in Nijmegen at Radboud University) I discuss one of the primary theories that I used in the study, namely inter-group contact theory.

Here is the abstract from the dissertation:

This project engages the complexity of understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 within the context of an intercultural Bible reading process. The study shows that concepts of forgiveness among South African Bible readers are diverse, containing nuanced, and even conflicting, expressions and expectations - a politics of forgiveness. Some have suggested since such entrenched differences in understandings of forgiveness exist in South Africa, that forgiveness may be impossible. However, in spite of this complexity it is suggested that South Africans, and South Africa, could benefit from a rigorous academic engagement with the theologically and culturally diverse understandings of forgiveness that emerge from reading Matthew 18.15-35 in an intercultural Bible reading setting. The knowledge gained from this study may help persons from diverse histories, cultural identities, racial identities, and economic classes, to gain more integral, shared, understandings of forgiveness. In this sense, at least, the possibility of forgiveness may emerge. 

Considering the above, the aim of this study is to produce rigorous, textured, and credible theological insight into the complexity of differing understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 from 'ordinary' Bible readers of different cultures who are members of the same Christian denomination - the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit. This is achieved through structuring the study as a practice oriented research project in empirical intercultural Biblical hermeneutics.

Three theories informed the research design. First, Ken Wilber’s All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) integral theory is used as a philosophical framework that provides language and structure to ‘plot’ the theological understandings of forgiveness in the text, and in the reading of the text. Second, intergroup contact theory is used to identify the mechanisms and processes for positive intergroup contact that inform the intercultural Bible reading sessions. Third, the Biblical text is engaged in a scholarly exegetical process so as to avoid collapsing the thought world of the text into the contemporary context. This is a critical aspect of a credible engagement with the Biblical text. This process allows for the construction of a hermeneutic bridge to link aspects of the text to aspects of the interpretive insights of the contemporary readers engaged in this study.

As anticipated, the findings of the research process agreed with some aspects of the research hypotheses and varied from others. The findings of the post intervention research data and analysis shows that to a large extent (except for minor variations which are discussed in the study) the participants of the intercultural Bible reading intervention developed more integral understandings of forgiveness. This means that participants were far more open to accepting understandings of forgiveness that were not held within their in-group, but were more common among members of the out-group.

The primary conclusion of this study is that more integral theological understandings of forgiveness are evidenced among the majority participants in this intercultural Bible reading process which was conducted under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. Moreover, this study shows that one can give credible empirical content to, and explicate, the theological perspectives, and the hermeneutic informants, of readers of the Biblical text. This helps the ‘problem owner’, (i.e., the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit), to understand what some of the barriers to shared understandings of forgiveness may be. Moreover, it allows for the design of intercultural Bible reading interventions under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. The data shows that in this case, the participants of this study mostly became more open to a more integral theological understanding of forgiveness with the ‘other’.

This project makes the following novel contributions to scholarly knowledge and the construction of theory: In New Testament studies the research contributes towards a number of new hermeneutic opportunities that arise from reading the Biblical text from a social identity complexity perspective (informed by Ken Wilber’s integral AQAL theory). Moreover, in relation to intercultural Bible reading, the project provides new insights into how persons who hold different socially informed views of forgiveness may encounter one another constructively under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. In terms of empirical cultural Biblical hermeneutics this study is the first of its kind to provide insights into how Black and White South African Christians understand the concepts and processes of forgiveness in relation to Matthew 18.15-35. The findings show that there is a logic behind the socially informed theological understandings of forgiveness that are expressed by the participants. This holds value not only for Biblical Studies, but also for Systematic Theology in general, and South African Public Theology in particular. Then, from a methodological point of view, the interdisciplinarity of the theoretical approach that is employed in this research stimulates new avenues for scholarly theological study in relation to problems in practice.

Thanks for checking in and sharing in my joy! I appreciate it.

Wednesday
Nov092016

A message for my American friends - Trump, the Elections, Consumer Democracy and Morality

So, it seems official - Donald Trump seems to have won the 2016 Untied States elections. With a heavy heart I congratulate my US sisters and brothers at having elected a president. However, I am deeply concerned at the person they have chosen to lead them!

In this video I reflect on that choice - many have said to me that the choice to elect Donald Trump was not a choice for Trump, but a choice against Clinton and many of the policies she stands for (particularly so for the Christian conservatives). I call this 'consumer democracy' - it gives the rights of active citizenship to engage laws and policies over to a morally corrupt leader who they hope will stand for them. This, in my opinion, is a mistake.

Why would they choose to have someone who denies the rights of persons from certain races, that threatens to deport persons that have different faith perspectives, that steals from the common purse by not paying his taxes, that objectifies women as sexual objects, that is self obsessed and egotistical, that lacks the basic understanding of national and international policy, and that cannot remember a single verse from the Biblical text (of which he claims to know 'all the best ones'...) 

I don't understand it! 

The issues that people are voting 'against' are identifiable and can be engaged through existing policies, legal structures and active citizenship. The values that Trump holds, and that people have inadvertently voted for, are not as easily addressed. They have no formal way of engaging him, and his moral compass will shape American society along deeply divided and morally corrupt lines. How will a parent who voted for Trump ever tell their child not to bully others, or steal, or cheat, or belittle another child? How will boys look to this leader for an example of how to treat girls? 

Sadly, when a corrupt leader is in power, the laws many have voted against (and many others), will be disregarded without any sensible way of engaging the one who holds double standards. 

I think it is precisely the kind of narrow moralism, that is votes against abortion or gay marriage, but empowers sexism, racism and greed,, that stops persons from seeing the bigger picture and so undermines greater moral values. It is tragic that so many have become so misinformed and misled.

I’d love you hear your feedback!

Sunday
Jul172016

Losing our (civil) religion


South African pastor and bishop Peter Storey said, “American preachers have a task more difficult, perhaps, than those faced by us under South Africa’s apartheid, or Christians under Communism. We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white and blue myth. You have to expose, and confront, the great disconnection between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American people, and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly and indirectly, by the poor of the earth. You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. This is not easy among people who really believe that their country does nothing but good, but it is necessary, not only for their future, but for us all.”

- from Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (14 July)

This beautiful quote from my mentor, and former Bishop, ties in with what I tried to convey in this video 'Losing my religion in Basel'.

In this blog I travel by bike and train from Nijmegen in Holland to Basel in Switzerland. The purpose of the journey was to speak at the 12th international Bonhoeffer Conference.

My paper was on Bonhoeffer and Mandela: A conversation on Christian humanism and Christian witness.

The point of my paper is to make the argument that a political anthropology with very little faith conviction (like Mandela held) could not solve some of the complex challenges that the world (and South Africa in particular) faces. What is needed is a deeper, more significant change of persons to become truly human, and to relate to others as truly human - a condition that can only be brought about by ontological participation in the true humanity and divinity of Christ, as Bonhoeffer suggested. Bonhoeffer was deeply influenced by Patristic Eucharistic Christology - the concept of theosis suggests that God becomes human (in Christ) so that we can become more like God (or take on the character of God's nature) by participation in Christ. Thus, true humanity is to become like the true human - Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer, characterised this true human as 'a man for others'.

However, in relation to the quote above and this video, I also reflected on the role of civil religion in South Africa. Civil religion is a form of 'belief' in which our hopes, aspirations, and even faith, are placed in the nation state. North Korea has a very particular and overt form of civil religion. The United States also has a form of civil religion that can be witnessed in things such as the phrase 'God bless America', and the symbol of the nations flag which is displayed in religious buildings like Churches, or the phrase 'In God we trust' on the coinage. Robert Belah has suggested that Americans often are not sure of the distinctive elements of their faith (i.e., if they are Christian that their salvation comes through Christ, that their belief is in a tri-une God etc.) rather they have a vague notion of belief in something that transcends them, and often it is a civic belief - a belief in the 'saving power' of their collective national identity. Patriotism replaces religious conviction, even to the point of the ultimate human sacrifice, namely, the willingness to offer up their lives for the sake of the nation.

In this video I suggest that South Africa was not immune to this civil religion. At the start of the new South African democracy there was such hope and optimism in the new South Africa. Nelson Mandela was naively regarded as a ‘Messiah’ that would lead the people to salvation. Desmond Tutu, was regarded as the high priest of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ who gave religious credence to the new hopes and beliefs of the people. The South African constitution was held in awe by many as a type of sacred ‘text' for transformation that gave the guidelines and inspiration for our new humanity. Whereas the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) served as a ‘liturgical moment’ for this civil religion - many hoped that this moment would usher in, or inaugurate, true and lasting change.

Sadly, such misguided belief gives over our responsibility and the possibility for true and significant change to historical persons, events and processes that cannot realise it. I suggest that this idolatry is a form of civil religion that we would be wise to leave behind. The political dispensation of the Nation and civil society cannot truly transform and renew citizens and society. Indeed, neither can 'religion' as a social construction. What I contend is that we need active citizens who are renewed in heart and mind, and who work sacrificially, tirelessly and in the character of the true human - Jesus Christ - for the renewal of humanity and society.

It is not that the state and the political dispenstation are unimportant, they are. However, they are not be 'believed' in. These structures are there to protect our rights and freedoms. Our true humanity, our dignity, our life - these all stem from the source of all life and life, Jesus Christ. Our character is formed by being part of the new community that is made possible by the true person. Thus, the Church as the body of Christ (not the institution) is the people among whom we live out, and learn, what it means to be truly human for the sake of humanity and creation.

I'd love to hear your take on this!

Tuesday
May242016

An ethics of care? Gender, politics, justice and care


Is care tied to gender? What is an ethics of care? What are the political implications of care?

Today's VLOG is Part 1 of an interview with Prof Frits de Lange from the Protestant Theological University, Groningen on the Ethics of Care.

He introduces the topic for us, suggests some wonderful reading and we also get to see a bit of Groningen in the video.

My thanks to Prof de Lange for hosting us for a wonderful conference on Compassion, and for his willingness to be interviewed on his research specialisation.

In Part 2 of the video that will be released later this week Prof de Lange speaks to us about 'Loving later life: An ethics of ageing' which is his recent book. So keep an eye out for that. 

Enjoy the video - Frits is wonderful to listen to! I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and feedback on this important topic!

Friday
Mar182016

The eschatology of politics, (losing) our civil religion and Žižek's analogy of canned laughter

The media cycle in South Africa, for the second week of March 2016, has been dominated by the supposed influence that a very wealthy foreign family (the Gupta's) have exercised on the South African state through Jacob Zuma. There have been rumours that the President Zuma, his family and cronies, have been on the Gupta 'payroll' in exchange for political favours. This week some senior political figures (deputy ministers among them) came clean, admitting that members of the Gupta family had offered them senior ministerial and state positions (such as minister of finance), while Jacob Zuma was supposedly in the same building.

Some are calling this a capture of the state - only the President can appoint persons to such posts. If a private citizen (a member of the Gupta family) can offer to get someone appointed, then it logically follows that they have power over the President to either coerce or instruct him to make the appointment they have promised.

It does seem that there has been some clear family benefit for the Zuma's since Mr Zuma's son suddenly received a 'gift' of shares in a mine that is owned by the Gupta family - see the Bloomberg report here. Of course the 'personal favor' that the President granted the Gupta family by allowing them and their foreign guests to land without permission or papers at an air force base in order to attend a Gupta wedding was also widely publicised. Many suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of corrupt activity, special favors, and the erosion of state autonomy.

So that is the background - I would like to reflect, however, on how I have read and understood the misguided media reports and public sentiment around this political issue.

Of course there have been calls from some South African citizens and opposition political parties for the resignation (or recalling) of President Zuma. In South Africa a politcal party is elected to office, the party deploys a president - as with Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, if the person does not perform as expected the party has the right to recall them and replace them with another person.

Here is my first observation - I found it interesting that the largest majority of persons calling for the resignation or recall of Jacob Zuma are from the South Africa middle and upper middle classes. Now there are probably many reasons for this - they are the ones whose wealth is under threat as a result of corruption, economic downgrades etc. But another interesting intersection is that these persons are predominantly white. I don't hear the same urgent calls from my middle class black friends. So, I wonder if we (the white middle class) are not in some ways just as bad as the Gupta's? While they hold the President to ransom, white wealth, power (prominence) and privilege holds the nation to ransom in other ways. We see that privilege and power waning and so we, and media we control, are making our voices heard. Of course I could be wrong.

Second, I was struck by the naivite of the expectation that the resignation or removal of Jacob Zuma will solve South Africa's problems. Yes, what he is doing is problematic and harmful to our political system, to public confidence and it has economic consequences. However, I think we are falling into the trap of what Scot McKnight called the 'eschatology of politics' in his book 'The Kingdom Conspiracy':

Many fall for what I call the “eschatology of politics,” the belief that the next candidate or vote can bring in kingdom conditions.

I am of the mind that it is a naive mistake to think that the change of one corrupt politician will resolve the complex intersectional issues that we face in South Africa today. The intersection of our condition is ongoing racism, massive economic inequality, simplistic identity politics and a lack of political imagination for a possible future in which all South Africans enjoy the fruit of our beautiful land. Why is it, as Slavoj Žižek has said, that we have the imaginative capacity as human persons to creatively and vividly imagine our destruction and demise (through killer viri, natural disasters and world wars - to mention but a few narratives in popular film and television), yet we do not have the political imagination to imagine a world in which we can all flourish - a world in which each has according to what they need, and each one gives according to their ability, a world where no one person has too much while another doesn't have enough to survive?

Barack Obama used a very powerful line in his political rhetoric of his first and second campaings 'We are the ones we've been waiting for'.

It is a beautiful sentiment. What few people know is that it comes from a Poem written by June Jordan called 'Poem for South African Women' (presented at the United Nations on August 9, 1978) which commemorated the courage and commitment of the South African women and children who marched on mass to confront the Apartheid government on the 9th of August 1956 - you can read the poem here, and about the use of it in later political rhetoric here.

I think it is important that we heed these words - we are the ones that we have been waiting for! Yes, change corrupt leaders, yes, expect your elected officials, and civil servants, to work for the common good of your nation. However, in South Africa at least, the revolution of change will come when you and I start living the alternative. It will come when I find creative, tangible, and significant ways to share my privilige, to develop wealth for all, and the deal with my prejudice and ignorance. I need to live the alternative and not expect others to change society in spite of me.

Žižek once again helped me to understand how flawed it is to expect a political system to solve all of my problems - he likens it to contemporary religious participation. Let me explain. In his typical 'off the wall' style he says that America's greatest cultural contribution to the world is 'canned laughter', i.e., the kind of laughter that one hears on sitcoms on TV. He says you come home, you are exhausted, you flop onto the couch and turn the TV to your favorite sitcom. At certain moments in the comedy narrative the producers have inserted laughter as a cue - but you are so exhausted that you don't laugh. The television laughs on your behalf. And when the show is finished you say to yourself, 'That was so funny' - but you never even laughed. You have given over your responsibility to choose when, where and how to laugh. He says that religion acts in this way - we give over our beliefs. We expect our pastor or priest to do the right thing. And when we have been to Church, yet not done anything, we believe that we are faithful.

I think the same applies in our politics. In South Africa we have fallen for a false and subtle 'civil religion' - after the 1994 democratic elections we began to believe that God has miraculously brought us into a new social dispensation - the new South Africa. We had faith in it. Our Messiah was the forgiving figure of Nelson Mandela, our high priest was Desmond Tutu (and the content of his sermon was the talk of a 'Rainbow nation'), our text was the constitution, and our liturgy was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These are wonderful ideals, but they take work, real people, sacrifices, and commitment to achieve. We cannot just give over the achievement of transformation, healing and renewal in South Africa to politicians - this is the work of citizens.

Sadly, 22 years after the end of political apartheid we still do not live in a post apartheid South Africa. We remain as divided, if not more divided, than ever. When I meet with younger colleauges, students and friends on our University campus, I can see that they have lost their civil religion (perhaps not a bad thing! If your religion is killing you with slow violence, perhaps it is time to seek a truer faith?) These young people are impatient for change. It has been 22 years and very little is different for them. They no longer trust the 'big leaders', or the 'super narratives' - they are not sitting back and letting the television laugh for them. They are taking matters into their own hands, and sometimes the intention and outcomes are positive, and sometimes they are not.

So, yes, please do agitate for political change. Please do speak out against corrupt leaders in politics and business. Make your hard won vote count.

However, please don't fall for a false civil religion - live for something bigger, something more transformative, something more powerful. Please don't give over your right to transform South Africa for the common good of all to the state only - politics can become like canned laughter, it can become a naive form of eschatological politics. As we have seen all over the world, the next political leader, and the next political party, are unlikely to be much better than the one we have.

Please can I invite you to be the person you have been waiting for? Don't wait for a change in political leadership to live with love and grace in the presence of fellow citizens. Give of what you have, cross the boundaries that divide, seek creative and lasting ways to build friendships of trust, and relationships that are deep and honest. Be willing to discover 'the other', and in doing so you may just find yourself becoming a little more human, a little more like who you are, who you are meant to be.

I'd love your feedback, insights and ideas! What am I missing? What don't I understand?

Sunday
Dec132015

The Cross of Christ and the Politics of Jesus

As a Christian disciple, how have you understood the Biblical injunction to 'take up your cross' and follow Jesus?

I think that contemporary Christians have misunderstood the intention of Jesus' command to His disciples.

Somehow we have forgotten that the social and historical context in which Matthew and his community where when he chose to include the saying of Jesus in his Gospel. Listen to Jesus words again: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt 16.24). What did Jesus mean, and why did Matthew include this saying?

Well, Matthew is addressing a minority group, Jews who believed that Jesus is the promised Messiah. This had social, economic and political consequences for them. They were excluded from the political protection given to the Jews by their Roman occupiers. It meant that they were excluded from the social acceptance and protection of the Jewish community. It also meant that they were excluded from the economic community that sustained the Jewish community.

Somehow we have forgotten that context and collapsed the meaning of this text into a contemporary form of psychological suffering (illness, stress, relationship challenges etc.) This kind of understanding of 'taking up your cross' tends to privatize and individualize the Christian faith. It makes Christianity very small. Jesus' understanding of His power and the consequences of his gracious, transforming and loving reign is much more powerful. It has radical public consequences. It changes the way in which we live, the way in which we treat people and creation. It has a very different historical intention.

This kind of faith is not merely a form of 'moralistic therapeutic Deism' (as the American sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist termed Christian belief among contemporary teenagers in America). A friend of mine, Peter Storey, once described the contemporary view of Jesus as a mix between a personal therapist and a stock broker - in other words, we believe that God only wants to make us happy and wealthy.  This is not the Jesus that we encounter in the Bible. 

The eschatological intention of the Christian faith is not just happy individuals - it is a world that is radically transformed. It aims for political systems that manage power for the common good. It has economic systems that bring blessing for all persons. It works for the good of all humanity and all creation.

The following quote from John Howard Yoder is a very clear expression of the Cross of Christ and the Politics of Jesus:

The believer's cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer's cross must be, like his Lord's, the price of his social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of the path freely chosen after counting the cost. It is not, like Luther's or Thomas Muntzer's or Zinzendorf's or Kierkegaard's cross, an inward wrestling of the sensitive soul with self and sin; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come.
― John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster.

Living in this way has radical public consequences. It changes how we spend our money, who we vote for, what work we do, what we own, what we eat, how we relate to one another - of course it also changes how we are Church. I think the love of Jesus reaches all of the places, and so many more. And if I am to bear the name of the loving Lord, I should seek to find ways to be an expression of His transforming and gracious love wherever I am, and in whatever ways I can.

I would love to hear your thoughts!
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!

Wednesday
Mar192014

Rev Vukile Mehana - Pastor, Politician or financial Profiteer? You decide.

I have been watching the rise in power of Rev Dr Vukile Mehana - the Chaplain General of the African National Congress (ANC) with some interest in recent years.  

It would seem that he holds powerful positions in three of the most significant sectors of South Africa society - party politics, religion and big business (see the reference to his interests in a media company considered to threaten media freedom in this article, and some broader information on some of his business interests in this Business Week article.)

Is he a Pastor, Politician or financial Profiteer?  What do you think?

Consider this in the light of a recent World Council of Churches document on the the 'Politicization of religion'.

Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA comments on this phenomenon, “The politicization of religion and use of religion in politics has often added to polarization, social divides and conflicts in traditionally tolerant communities around the globe".

I'd love to hear your perspective! Please post a comment below.

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!

Wednesday
Jun062012

Dr Frank Chikane speaking at the Ekklesia Stellenbosch University Winter school - a reminder to live justly

Today Dr Frank Chikane spoke at the Stellenbosch University winter school today - it was inspiring, challenging and a wonderful reminder of the task of the Christian leader in the world. Dr Chikane is a former cadre who fought for justice and faced great personal threat in undoing the evil of apartheid in South Africa through his ministry and life. He was frequently detained by the security police, jailed, banned, threatened, and even poisoned (almost dying as a result). He was expelled from his denomination, yet he remained a faithful Christ follower seeking justice for all because of his faith. He was not a politician, rather he entered the political arena for the sake of seeing the will and ways of Jesus established in society. The will of God superseded all else in his life, his politics, his church, and his own safety and comfort. Today as Dr Bruce Theron introduced him he reminded us that while Dr Chikane was in solitary confinement, and was frequently jailed over more than a decade, he read the Bible more than 900 times and always remained prayerful to know what God wanted him to do with his energy, influence, relationships and ability in the world. It was discernment and deep faith that informed his courageous Christian witness and action. I was deeply encouraged and moved by his story.
Sunday
Nov062011

Freedom and responsibility

In recent months a great deal has been said about freedom - particularly in light of the emerging freedom of persons in Northern African countries such as Egypt, and most recently Libya.

However, this freedom is in danger of succumbing to a new form of tyranny. Tyrants are smart. They prey upon the desperate and the idealistic. Without the 'free' even knowing it they find their 'freedom' replaced with new forms of oppression and abuse.

Southern Africa has gone through this cycle more than once. Perhaps the most vivid example is to be found in the once 'freedom fighter' Robert Mugabe and the abuses that he has inflicted upon the people of Zimbabwe. I was born in the beautiful country. However, I have been a citizen of South Africa for some time now. Sadly, the liberators of this new home, many of whom received my vote, and my energy before and after the end of apartheid are turning out to be self obsessed tyrants in the making.

Perhaps we, you and I, need reminding that freedom is not the end. Rather it is just the beginning of what we desire (and need). Freedom is the moment where we pass from one kind of labour into another, from working for liberation to working for reconstruction and restoration.

The following quote from Victor Frankl was particularly inspiring in this regard:

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. Victor Frankl

I'd love to hear your thoughts on South Africa (and North Africa) and freedom and responsibility!