• 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 (21)


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 The will of God superseded all else in his life, his politics, his church, and his own safety and comfort.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.

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!


Rigging the American elections... Neuromarketting and voting

How would you feel if you discovered that you had voted for someone, or something, that you don't agree with?  How is that possible?  

Well, it is not as far fetched as you may imagine.  This week I taught a class on the neurological processes of choice - how the brain makes decisions is quite predictable (and can even be 'gamed').  Please see this earlier post as an example.

The brain follows certain processes in making decions, and once those processes can be understood and engaged it is quite plausible that one could bypass some of the more subtle rational faculties of human decision making in order to get persons to act or react in a certain manner.  Fear is one common trigger to alter sensible behavior.  If you can get a person to become suspicious, or even fearful, of a certain group of persons, or a possible situation, you can get them to act in absolutely irrational ways.  Take for example the atrocities that are committed by entirely sensible people during wartime situations.

Of course not every aspect of engaging the neurological functions of the brain in decision making is unethical or bad.  There are some instances in which one would want to help persons to understand how their brains work in order to help them to make different choices - for example cognitive therapies for addictions help to change destructive behavior in some persons.

Then there is the simple reality that important messages deserve to be shared with effectiveness and clarity so that persons can make informed and reasonable decisions - the gist of the course that I taught earlier this week was to help the students at Media Village to understand how to frame their messages for the best possible outcome.

Well, all of this leads to this incredible story that my friend Aaron Marhsall sent through to me today.  It got me thinking whether it is ethical to employ subtle neuromarketting techniques in a democratic process?

What do you think?  Is this a form of coercion, rigging the elections?

There are a multitude of reasons the Republicans regained control of Congress in Tuesday’s elections--unemployment, voter discontent, tea party-ism. But the one influential factor you aren't likely to hear about is the use of political neuromarketing during the campaign.

During the 2008 presidential election, neuromarketers went public with research showing how political ads can drive emotional triggers in our unconscious brains. By reading the responses taken from people linked to fMRI or EEG machines, neuromarketers and their clients aim to optimize stimuli (political messages) and reaction in consumers’ brains and drive their (voting) decisions.

But with public trust in elected officials at an all-time low, politicians today won't talk about anything that even vaguely associates them with Orwellian "mind manipulation." But are they doing it? While most everyone agrees that neuromarketing was used in the 2010 midterm elections, none of the politicians we spoke to admitted to using the techniques in their own campaigns.

Darryl Howard, a consultant to two Republican winners on November 2, says he crafted neuromarketing-based messages for TV, direct mail and speeches for Senate, Congressional and Gubernatorial clients in 2010. “We measure everything including the storyline, level of the language, images, music. Using critical point analysis, we identify specifics that may drive voters away or attract them," he says. The techniques are non-invasive, and include measuring muscle, skin, and pupil response. "We prefer our methods over some EEG/fMRI methods because our approach is quicker and more importantly can be done in the script phase, saving production time and money and tells us the level of honesty of the ad.”

Fred Davis is a big believer in neuromarketing as well. He is a luminary in the GOP advertising world whose client list includes George W. Bush and John McCain. Davis, who advised Carly Fiorina's senate bid, says, "We've had a pretty decent success rate in campaigns, and it's all based on that principle of neuromarketing."

Oregon Republican State Senator Brian Boquist also admits to having employed political neuromarketing in his campaigns. “I don’t know how it works, all I know is that it works,” says the former Army commander who received a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. Boquist was also careful to say the technology is part of a broader mix of campaign tactics, and has a way to go before it becomes effective.

Republicans appear to be using neuromarketing more than Democrats, if this midterm is any indication. They are appealing to the emotion of voters' “Red Brain” triggers. "No Democratic candidate I know of has used them [neuromarketing tactics], nor has any major Democratic organization appeared to express any interest in them,” says Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain and consultant to major U.S. national Democratic Party candidates.

Then again, 17 of 19 neuromarketing and political consultants contacted for this story stated they did not engage in the practice--including Neurofocus, which bills itself as the world leader in the emerging field and whose Chief Innovation Officer, Steven Genco, did political neuromarketing work previously at Lucid Systems.

"The real risk is that politicians will not want us to know that they are using influencing tools," says Patrick Renvoise, a neuromarketing consultant. "The one with the most knowledge wins and this probably explains why a lot of people are reluctant to talk about neuromarketing, especially with the word politician in the same sentence.”

Read the rest of this article here...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ethics of neuromarketting in general, and its use in political (and even religious) messaging in particular?


The greatest hope of all!

Luk 24:6 οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε, ἀλλὰ ἠγέρθη. μνήσθητε ὡς ἐλάλησεν ὑμῖν ἔτι ὢν ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ

May the risen Christ bless you with new life today! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

On Easter Sunday South Africa heard that a right wing white supremicist, Eugene Tereblanche, leader of the AWB was murdered on his farm. It would seem that he had a dispute with two of his workers who are accused of the murder. What makes this situation to sensational is the the infamous leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Maleme has been popularizing a song with the lyrics 'kill the boer' (shoot the farmer). Of course the media is connecting these two things. Many in the ANC have supported Mr Malema, defending his use of this song.

As a Zimbabwean who saw how white citizens where systematically abused in that nation I grow a little concerned when I hear such things.

But, I know there is hope for our nation! We need to learn the grace of forgiveness, the power of restraint, and the hope that comes from being one in Christ.

May this Easter bring peace to all across the world who live with conflict and fear.


Please pray for Mvume Dandala - vote of no confidence in Jacob Zuma

This evening I received a text message from my friend and former Bishop, Mvume Dandala, as I'm sure many others did.  In the text message he indicated that he would be proposing a vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in parliament tomorrow.

I would request your prayers for Mvume and for our nation.  What is certain is that South Africa is at a particularly low moral ebb at the moment.  I couldn't believe it when I read in News 24 this week that Mr Zuma had spoken out in defence of the ANC Youth League President, Julius Malema.

Mr Zuma has been under the spotlight numerous times for various moral and ethical issues relating to sex scandals (which include rape, as well as fathering children outside of marriage, not to mention the fact that he has multiple wives), corruption, and helping known criminals.  I worry that where there is smoke there may be fire.  How is it possible that such a person could be elected as the President of South Africa?

Mr Zuma, the ANC and our nation are a cause of frequent prayer.

So, I would ask you, regardless of your political affiliation, please pray that South Africa will have the moral courage to seek a higher calibre of leadership, not only for the sake of our current dispensation, but also for the sake of future dispensations.

Here are some words that may guide you as you pray:

God, we praise You for Your goodness to our nation, South Africa, giving us blessings far beyond what we deserve.

We know that amidst the blessings there are challenges.

We ask that a profound moral and spiritual renewal will come upon our nation so that our children may grow up in safety, so that our mothers may live without fear, so that our fathers may be men of integrity and that our leaders may be true servants of those whom they are leading.

In times like these, help us to turn to You in repentance and faith.

Set our feet on the path of Your righteousness and peace.

We pray today that our nation's leaders may rise up in greatness of spirit to set the example to our children, that our nation's leaders, and all who gather in the dignified Houses of Parliament and our courts of Justice may become the moral bastion of all that we wish to see happen on our streets, in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, and in our nation.

Give Parliament and our courts the wisdom to know what is right, and the courage to do it.

Lord, may our great House of Parliament conduct its affairs with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are doing; to bind up this nation's wounds and to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among all who live in this land.

Clothe our leaders with righteousness; Let Your people sing with joy.
Give peace, O Lord, as a precious gift to the far corners of our land; May safety and security spread across our country like a warm blanket May poverty be forever banished from our shores May our children live till a ripe old age

O God we implore you to show us Your mercy, and to grant us your salvation.

Thank you!



[Picture] A hilarious image that shows the POO that policiticians speak...

I thought this image from was hilarious!!!

Read the caption on the back of the truck (oh, and what do you think of that personalised numberplate!?) poo pmpr...

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Cross post - Does religion improve society? Here's what I think.

Richard, who has the blog memoirs of an ex-Christian (which is a sensitive, well reasoned, and challenging read!) posed this question:

Does religion improve a nation’s well-being?

Here's my response to his question... A little scattered, I confess, but it should give some idea of where I stand:

Hi Kevin,

I have often considered this same point myself... I am of the mind that whilst all religion does have some moral effect [on society] it does not, in and of itself, bring about positive change.

Hitler, after all, used the church in Germany, as did the South African apartheid government here in SA (as you point out). Then of course there are more strongly moral orientations in faiths such as Islam with Islamic law. I would certainly not consider some of the human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of Sharia law, or Christian fundamentalism, as [being] for the good of society, of even within the will of God.

To my mind, though, whilst I don't think that religion should get mixed up with 'party politics', any religious ideal is fundamentally political in that it seeks to address the manner in which people relate to one another, structure their lives, and interact to form community.

I had the good fortune of being a white Christian minister who lived and ministered in a black South African township before 1994. So much of what I did could be considered 'political' in nature - in fact many of the people in the small (wealthy) white Church that I also served in the area left because they thought I was confusing politics with religion. However, if you read my blog you will find that I still attempt to be as critical and prophetic of the new regime as I was of the old... It is not the party that I am wishing to address, but rather, that I have fundamental religious conviction that the world should be structured in such a manner that no one has too much, while no one has too little. That all persons, regardless of race, gender, age, economic, or health status, sexual orientation, or faith conviction, should have the joy of living life in peace, harmony and blessing.

Personally, I believe that these are the values of the Gospel of Christ's Kingdom - these are radical values that scare many who only live for individual gain, and hedonistic fulfillment. Heck, the even scare me!

So, would I vote for a Christian political party - no, I would not. Then again, I also wouldn't vote for a Muslim, Hindu, or any other overtly religious party.

Sadly though, I have double standards. I have voted, many times now, for the ANC who consider themselves to be engaged in 'secular spirituality' (i.e., finding and creating transcendent meaning by secular means...) Do a search for Cedric Mason, himself a Methodist Minister, who heads up the ANC's religious desk.

Thanks for another incredibly thought provoking post!



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God's politics - The silence of the Church's prophetic voice

Why has the South African Church become so silent on matters that blatantly negate and deny the love, mercy, justice, and grace of the Kingdom of God?

As a minister of a denomination that was very prophetic (both in word and deed) during South Africa's apartheid era I have found it alarming to gauge the general lack of prophetic witness in Southern African Methodist Churches at the moment. (For a more detailed, although admittedly somewhat hagiographic, account of some of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's prophetic stances please read the following paper that I presented at the Oxford Institute).

My friend, Wessel Bentley attempted to have a resolution passed at our recent Methodist Annual Conference that noted concern and alarm about a couple of things:

1. Concerns about the minister of health's (Manto Tshabalala Msimang) general conduct and the questions surrounding her management of public resources.

2. Grave concerns about how the South African health services are dealing with the pandemic of HIV / AIDS - it needs to be remembered that we have the highest HIV infection rate in the world!

Instead, we ended up with a vague, indirect, empty resolution that will not change or impact significantly on health care for people who are dying of a disease that we can stem! Sadly, it was members of our own Church, some who used to be pastors in Churhces, some who were leaders of the apartheid struggle, who now drive Mercedes, BMW's and occupy high positions in the new ANC government, some who win lucrative tenders for Government contracts, who were the main proponents of protecting the government, and seeking to cover over and silence the Church's call for radical action.

I remember some years ago (1992) as a young minister being 'hauled over the coals' by my Bishop at the time, Rev Peter Storey, for participating in a student march against the Apartheid government. The protest action was quite controversial, our in service training convener (Rev Paul Verryn) took us to the march in Potchefstroom on the University campus. Peter was concerned that many of us were being co-opted, uncritically, into movements that did not necessarily have the good of the people at heart. Paul of course was trying to help uncritical young white fundamentalists like me to realise that preaching the Gospel had radical consequences for the way in which society is structured! You cannot preach love, equity, justice and acceptance, without doing something to try and bring it about! However, there were some real issues among the organizers of the protest, and so Bishop Peter admonished us with these words (or something close to them) - "When the struggle is won, and the majority take power, and the injustice continues, then we shall see who the true prophets are - those who fall silent, or are co-opted, will be shown for who they truly are. True prophets will speak, not because of where they are, but because of who God is - a true prophet always speaks, and lives, the truth of God regardless of who is in power".

Let us never forget, this struggle is about someone who is lying in a bed, in a shack, in a rural area of our country, not receiving primary health care because of inadequate high level, and local, management! As the media, leading up to the Conference, reported - the health department has huge unspent budgets for equipment, staff and medicines, yet our clinics and hospitals are empty, our doctors and nurses are fleeing South Africa in search of better pay and better working conditions, and antiretrovirals are not reaching the poorest of the poor! Thankfully, the minister of health can get herself bumped to the top of the donor list, and disregard the fact that he liver damage was caused by Alcohol abuse (or so it is alleged, I cannot be certain).

Wessel, and Comrade Manto Matsepe, also sent a resolution to Conference through DEWCOM noting with concern how many ordained Methodist ministers are now serving in senior positions, and in the official structures, of the ruling party in South Africa... It was toned down... In the past we did not allow Methodist clergy to hold political office, now we "request them to consider their motives for doing so, and consider whether they are compromising the Church's prophetic witness". Again, this is my paraphrasing of the resolution. Of course we need Christians to be active in politics, in fact we need Christians to hold political office, but I am not convinced that we need Christian ministers to do so - who must remain objective, free to speak and challenge, yet also open to affirm and assist. The office of a pastor, the power of the pulpit, and the station of a servant in society, need to remain very carefully located in a 'God space' - political, but not aligned to party politics.

Yet, sadly, the Church is silent. And, let me say, it is not our leaders who are silent, it is the Church! I am amused by how we tend to sit on both sides of the fence when we speak of 'the church'. When it suits us we emphasize the role, importance, and power of the term that Rick Warren and Bill Hybels (Willowcreek) have made so popular - the local Church! Yet, when it comes to actually doing something about it we turn our eyes to the leaders of the Church, expecting them to be the one's who set the pace for mission, witness, and community transformation. I remember doing a SYNOD Bible study a few years back in which I challenged the SYNOD to realize that 'structures' don't do mission! People, filled with the Spirit of God, convicted by the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, living in areas of need and concern do mission!

Something I have had to repent of is my tendency to want to blame others - I find it easy, as many others do, to lament how others don't do the things that I should be doing.

On this blog, more than once, I have made critical comments about the silence of the United Methodist Church about one of its members gross misconduct and un-Christian behavior, George W Bush (yes, he is a Methodist)! However, I need to repent that I have been slow to criticise my own silence of our State President (who has indicated that he is a Christian) when he removes people who ask tough questions, sidesteps issues of national concern (like the accusations of criminal misconduct against the National Police commissioner Mr Selebi).

I am silent. Forgive me Lord! I am sure you are much more vocal, much more prophetic. I am sure that even now you are setting the captives free, healing the sick, proclaiming good news and jubilee for the impoverished, and not allowing injustice to go unnoticed. Give me the courage to be part of your work in the world, your mission, your uncompromising love.

A fantastic new book is out - I have read some reviews, and already ordered my copy. As with all Mclaren's works I am sure that it will ruffle some feathers: Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.

For a little taste of Mclaren's prophetic perspective (a separate commentary from that in the book) you can read the article below from the soujourners website 'God and politics'.

I remember about eight years ago when then presidential candidate George W. Bush repeatedly claimed that he would restore honor to the presidency, soiled as it had been by our previous president's infamous affair. I remember hoping he would succeed. But a new kind of shame has come to the office and to our nation as reports surface about our government's secret authorization of torture. We all share in this shame.

Conservative columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan expresses what many of us feel. He reminds his readers:

... my first response to reports of abuse and torture at Gitmo was to accuse the accusers of exaggeration or deliberate deception ... It struck me as a no-brainer that this stuff was being invented by the far left or was part of al Qaeda propaganda. After all, they train captives to lie about this stuff. Bottom line: I trusted this president in a time of war to obey the rule of law that we were and are defending.

Sadly, he laments, that trust was betrayed:

And then I was forced to confront the evidence. He betrayed all of us. He lied. He authorized torture in secret, and then, when busted after Abu Ghraib, blamed it on low-level grunts. This was not a mistake. It was a betrayal.

The word "betrayal," of course, recalls's Sept. 26 ad. Many considered the pun childish at best, politically unsavvy at least, or worse. There was a rush to condemn anyone who failed to condemn the ad. But Sullivan's use of the word strikes me as anything but childish.

Our nation's reputation, not to mention that of the presidency, has been dishonored by this betrayal of trust. Honorable people - conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat - need to follow Andrew Sullivan's example, coming together to express our grief and outrage about the political hypocrisy and betrayal to which we have been subjected by people we elected.

This is challenging stuff! I am also currently reading the book of my friend Joerg Rieger "Christ and empire". This is a much more scholarly, carefully researched, and hard hitting prophetic theology! Joerg, who is from Southern Methodist University, will be visiting us early next year. He is coming to do some sabbatical work at the University of Kwazulu Natal (that has the exceptional Theology and Development program), and he will take some time to visit John Wesley College whilst here.

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Bantu Steve Biko - African Martyr, let us never forget those who paid for our freedom with their lives!

Today commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the death of Steve Biko (18 December 1946 - 12 September 1977) an African martyr (in the true sense of the word!) He witnessed, with his very life, to the kind of freedom that could be possible in South Africa. It is a costly freedom.

For those from America, the UK, and Asia who have not heard of Steve Biko, please read the wiki here. Moreover, if you buy just one book this month, please buy his book "I write what I like". It is wild, and courageous, it is inspiring, and challenging. It is still one of the favourite books on my shelf!

Here is one of my favourite quotes from that book, he wrote these words before his untimely death:

... [Western society] seems to be very concerned with perfecting their technological know-how while losing out on their spiritual dimension. We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationship. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa - giving the world a more human face (Biko 1978:46).

Steve Biko is credited with being the 'parent' of Black Consciousness in Southern Africa. Many regard him as the first person to articulately, and accurately, laud the value of blackness, not the kind of blackness that strives to be 'white', but the kind of blackness that celebrates being black, and is proud of it. He was a courageous pioneer.

Today I thank God for the brave prophets who had enough courage to say what needed to be said, and could match their words with their very lives. I am not sure that I have enough courage to do that! When it was not popular, or even encouraged among black South Africans, Steve Biko took a stand, a stand for dignity, for humanity for ubuntu. His struggle was for 'humaneness'.

I have recently begun to feel, in a minuscule, incomparable way, the cost of speaking for justice. As people write, and say, unfounded and cruel things about me because of what I say and stand for. But I say these things because I believe they represent the true humaneness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What am I talking about? Well, there are those in our society who are still discriminated against because of something they did not choose. That is, there are those who where born with a sexual orientation that is not under their control, yet they are oppressed, abused, and some are even murdered. How they are was not their choice. How we respond to them says something about our humaneness.

So, 30 years on, and the struggle still continues. But thank God, that we are so much further ahead! Lord, thank you for martyrs like Steve Biko, they are a witness. I am encouraged by their sacrifice. Today, I remember and give thanks.

Thank you Lord for my colleagues, who remind me of the importance of keeping a balance between the genders, and races, within our Church and society. I also thank God for God's great gift to me, the John Wesley College students. I learn so much more from them about community, humaneness, courage and grace, than I could ever teach! Thank you for all you teach me!

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