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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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Sunday
Mar102019

Why South Africans are prone to falling prey to charlatans in the Church

An article that my colleague, Pastor Simbarashe Pondani and I wrote for The Conversation Africa has been published.

It is entitled: ‘Why South Africans are prone to falling for charlatans in the church’.

You can read it here: http://theconversation.com/why-south-africans-are-prone-to-…

Pastor Simba recently graduated from the Master of Theology, Gender and Health Program at Stellenbosch University. His thesis focused on these opportunistic ‘Pastors of Doom’. When the editors approached me to write an article on this topic I asked if I could write it with Simba. I am so pleased to have been able to draw on his expertise and research in writing the article.

Why South Africans are prone to falling for charlatans in the church

File 20190306 48444 15x2ykw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Pastor Alph Lukau - his “resurrection” of a man made world news. Alph Lukau/Facebook
Dion Forster, Stellenbosch University

South Africans – like millions of people across the world – are seriously susceptible to religious abuse.

The local media has once again been abuzz with a litany of shocking stories about manipulation, abuse and fraud by pastors. The latest one, a fake “resurrection” made headlines around the world. A video of Pastor Alph Lukau “raising” a man from the dead went viral and even sparked the #ResurrectionChallenge.

Why do South Africans fall for these religious snakeskin oil salesmen (and women)?

One possible reason is that faith continues to play a very significant role in South Africa. In the last household survey over 84% of South Africans indicated that they are Christians. And a 2010 Pew Report found that 74% of South Africans said that religion played an important role in their daily decisions, values and shaping of their morals.

In addition, churches and religious leaders enjoy higher levels of public trust in South African society than either the government or private sector. This is unlike many other modern democracies in the 21st century.

Some suggest that this susceptibility to religious belief is due to the moral and political failures of the state and politicians. Religious leaders and institutions gain trust in situations where the population faces high levels of economic and social vulnerability, as is the daily reality for many South Africans. Religious groups are often the only sources of basic care and hope in many communities.

We believe that South Africans allow charlatan pastors to win their trust, take their money and get them to engage in frightening, and even comical, quasi-religious acts because of a combination of two factors. Many South Africans have high levels of trust in religious leaders. At the same time there’s a great deal of economic need. In situations like this people look to “supernatural” means to solve basic problems. Research on these phenomena in countries such as Brazil and Nigeria shows similar tendencies.

Some answers

People are drawn to what are known as prosperity gospel pastors because they are offered the opportunity of getting out of poverty and becoming rich by means of God’s blessings. South Africans who are losing hope of gaining adequate employment, or dealing with rising debt, see the lavish lifestyles of prosperity gospel pastors is appealing.

The message is that: obedience and sacrificial giving (to the pastor and their church) is the road to wealth.

Second, in a situation in which there is inadequate health care, it isn’t surprising that people turn to “miraculous” healers to find relief from suffering. This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa - it happens in other countries around the world where religion is important and social systems are weak.

How are these unethical leaders and their sectarian communities spotted?

Tell-tale signs

One of the most telling characteristics is an overt and gaudy display of personal wealth. The intention is to extravagantly display the super-abundance of supposed “divine blessing”.

Sadly, the wealth on display is derived by manipulation, even criminality, or excessive and unsustainable debt.

Next, is the tendency towards the supernatural and the spectacular – miracle healings, raising people from the dead, prophesying and sharing visions.

These “miracles” are frequently staged, using actors, psychological tools or technologies. They serve to attract members, and also to establish a hierarchical religious power structure with the pastor at the top.

The veneration and deification of the pastor is another common characteristic. They are presented as a “spiritual elite”, having direct access to God, a special measure of God’s blessing, and particularly powerful spiritual gifts. As God’s “chosen one” these aspects serve both to give the pastors power over their members, but also to shroud them in mystery.

In contemporary religious sociology this is referred to as “religious exceptionalism”. The laws of nature, culture, the religious tradition, the state and morality do not apply to them since they are an “exception”, supposedly by God’s divine choice.

In some instances, these leaders and their communities display cult like tendencies, seeking to isolate their members from regular life and their friends and families, who are portrayed as sinful and evil. It is under such conditions of deep trust, sincere faith, great need, facing spiritual manipulation and isolation, that many of the abuses take place.

Rights and freedom

What should be done to curtail such abuses?

The South African government has sought to regulate religious leaders and communities through the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights, Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. The commission is attempting to set up standards for conduct, registration and qualification of religious groupings and leaders.

There is some concern that the state-appointed commission will use laws and policies to infringe on the legitimate rights to freedom of religion, and possibly even silence critique of the state.

Also, many of the abuses are not primarily religious or theological in nature. They are covered by civil law that should simply be enacted to protect citizens.

South Africa remains a deeply religious nation. The state and religious leaders and their communities bear a shared responsibility to identify and expose corrupt religious leaders, as well as safeguard citizens against abuse, while maintaining their rights to religious freedom.

Simbarashe Pondani has contributed to this article.The Conversation

Dion Forster, Head of Department, Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Professor in Ethics and Public Theology, Director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology, Stellenbosch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Monday
May252015

A chapter published in 'Restorative Readings The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity'

A new book for which I wrote a section has been published! The book is called ‘Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity’. It was edited by two wonderful friends, Professors Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch. This is a magnificent collection of chapters on issues related to reading the Old Testament text within the context of issues related to Christian Ethics and the Human Dignity discourse.  

You can order your copy of the book here (Wipf and Stock), or from Amazon.com here.

Congratulations Juile and Bruce! This is such an important book!  I have read the chapters a number of times and am so excited about the voices that will be added to the discourse.

The foreword was written by Walter Brueggemann.

Here is some additional information about the book:

The Bible has the unfortunate legacy of being associated with gross human rights violations as evident in the scriptural justification of apartheid in South Africa as well as slavery in the American South. What is more, the Hebrew Bible also contains numerous instances in which the worth or dignity of the female characters are threatened, violated or potentially violated, creating a situation of dehumanization in which women are viewed as less than fully human. 

And yet the Bible continues to serve as a source of inspiration for readers committed to justice and liberation for all. But in order for the Bible to speak a liberative word, what is necessary is to cultivate liberating Bible reading practices rooted in justice and compassion. Restorative Readings seeks to do exactly this when the authors in their respective readings seek to cultivate Bible reading practices that are committed to restoring the dignity of those whose dignity has been violated by means of racial, gender, and sexual discrimination, by the atrocities of apartheid, by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and by the dehumanizing reality of unemployment and poverty.

Sunday
Sep092012

Our new book on Church and State relationships has just been published - Between Capital and Cathedral

I am so pleased to share the news that my friend Dr Wessel Bentley and I have just had a new book published.  It is entitled 'Between Capital and Cathedral: Essays on Church State relationships'.  

What is clear is that God desires that the Church should be an agent of God's will on all spheres of society, including the State.  We are called to pray, to advocate, to act, to support, and to be prophetically critical of the work of the state.  

This book contains some exceptional theological and social insights from persons such as Joerg Rieger (Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University), Prof Peter Storey (South African Methodist anti-apartheid Activist, Professor at Duke Divinity school), Prof Klaus Nurnberger (a Lutheran missionary, anti apartheid Activist and professor of Systematic Theology at both the University of South Africa and the University of KwaZulu Natal), Professor Liouse Kretzschmar (Professor of Systematic theology and ethics at the University of South Africa), Dr Clint le Bruyns (senior lecturer in public theology at the University of KwaZulu Natal), Revd Sifiso Khuswayo (Duke University Graduate, minister of the Methodist Church and lecturer at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary), Dr Wessel Bentley (senior reasearcher at the Institute for the Study of Religion at the University of South Africa), and myself (lecturer at Stellenbosch University, Ekklesia, Faculty of Theology).

Here is some information on the book:

Cost: R120
Order here or Kindle


South Africa has a rich and complex history of Church-State relations. It is diverse, telling a story of how the Church was used as an instrument of colonisation, how sections of the Church endorsed policies of segregation, but also how other parts of the Church fought a long and brave battle to see the Apartheid regime toppled. It has been almost two decades since the end of Apartheid and as change is ringing in the social, political and ecclesiastical spheres of South Africa, it is necessary to revisit the notion of Church-State relations in this country. Coming from a past where the Church held a dominant position in society - both in the promotion of, and in the resistance to, the Apartheid system - the Church now finds itself in a new context; namely a Constitutional Democracy. In this setting its voice has to compete with other voices, its power is limited since it is merely one role-player in a society which is trying to find its feet. What does this mean for the identity, place and role of the Christian Church? What is the responsibility of the State to the society which it serves? This collection of essays seeks to address these questions. It does so by listening to prominent voices which have spoken, and still speak boldly on this topic, voices reflecting how Church- State relationships have influenced the social structures and systems across the globe. It offers some suggestions for a prudent Church-State relationship in South Africa, which will enable the formation of a society which can enjoy its freedoms in the context of justice, selflessness and hope. In these pages the reader will discover that the State has a greater responsibility than simply overseeing the implementation of government policies. Moreover, the Church has a greater role to play than merely being concerned with spiritual matters. It is argued that the Church and State cannot be the same entity, nor should the lines between Church and State be blurred, for this will lead to the distortion of both the Church and State thereby diminishing their primary functions. At the same time, social justice, the dignity of all
people and the moral formation of a nation depend on a Church-State relationship that is critical, honest, transparent and which will not shy away from collaborating when such work is clearly for the benefit of society as a whole. This book is not the final word on Church- State relationships, but aims to encourage new discoveries and continued conversations on what it means for the Church and the State to be effective and relevant in the South African context. The essays offer a diverse range of perspectives, and although these are not the only voices to be heard, they will stimulate conversation, benefiting society at large.

Here are the titles of the chapters in the book.

Essay 1
Banning the flag from our churches: Learning from the Church-State struggle in South Africa
Peter Storey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-20

Essay 2
Being a Christian in a “Christian country”: theological reflections
Joerg Rieger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21-39

Essay 3
The reluctant insight: Protestantism and democracy
Klaus Nürnberger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41-57

Essay 4
The Church, democracy and responsible citizenship
Clint Le Bruyns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59-71

Essay 5
God’s Kingdom and the transformation of society
Dion A Forster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73-88

Essay 6
The place of the Church in the new South Africa
Wessel Bentley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89-103

Essay 7
Un-mining the undermined history: the historical role of education
in transforming a nation
Sifiso Khuzwayo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105-129

Essay 8
The Christian formation of South African believers for engagement
with State and society
Louise Kretzschmar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131-163

Cost: R120
Order here or purchase it on Kindle (or download the first chapter for free).

Sunday
Apr102011

Another chapter published!

On Friday I received an email from Paul Chilcote to let me know that 'Making disciples in a world parish: Global perspectives on Mission and Evangelism' was published.

I was privileged to contribute one of the chapters that make up this book.  I wrote about the theology and ministry of Christians in Southern Africa in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In my chapter I discussed issues such as the contextualisation of theological methodology, an insight into what it means to live with HIV/AIDS and what it could mean for Christians and the Church to respond appropriately in that context.  It is entitled 'Evangelism, mission and discipleship in Southern Africa: How hope is overcoming tragedy'.

I'd encourage you to check out the book at the following URL - you can purchase the book from Amazon here.

Wednesday
Sep012010

Another article published (Lausanne World Pulse) - Business as Ministry

It is always humbling to have an article published! I am particularly grateful that my article on Business as Mission was published in the September Lausanne World Pulse!

It deals with a subject that I am passionate about!

I'd be grateful if you'd read it here and encourage others to do the same.

Thanks!

Dion