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

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Entries in social justice (10)

Wednesday
Jul112012

Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis

Our friends in the United Nations Development Program put toget a wonderful report entitled 'Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis' a while ago.

In this report they show that there are varying levels in which the access to water impacts upon the poor.  

First is the issue of access (scarcity).  If one cannot get water, a most basic of needs, you will suffer a great deal.  Not only can you not meet the basic needs of your body, to hydrate yourself.  It also denies your human dignity.  You cannot clean yourself.

Second, this report highlights that it is not only access to water that impacts the poor, it is also the way in which the water is delivered that can compound the suffering of the poor.  In the report they highlight how frequently the delivery mechanisms pollute the scarce water that is so desperately needed. When the water is polluted and consumed it causes disease that quickly leads to people dying, since the poor seldom have access to basic health care.

I would encourage you to watch the video below.  It is well done, very informative and can be a great source of information to direct your prayers and Christian response to the issue of poverty.

As a Christian what could you do, and pray, to see this situation changed where you live?  How about praying, or acting, on behalf of Christians in other parts of the world (such as India, Nigeria, or Rio)?

You can join 100 million other Christians who are adding their voices to show God's love for the poor, and God's desire to transform those who are caught in corruption - sing up for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' at http://www.exposed2013.com

Friday
Mar252011

A visual illustration of transformation

I am often asked if it is possible for an individual to truly make a difference in the face of the massive needs and problems that we face in the world? The answer is, yes!  Of course you can make a difference - you may be surprised how just a few small choices, acts of mercy, and choices for ethics, justice and peace could transform the world!

This wonderful little video shows how something small can make a massive change.  I often use this video in my talks to illustrate that when one does good and it reaches a tipping point it can change the world.

Isn't this an awesome visual illustration of how small actions of courage can have massive effects on the world?

Friday
Oct082010

What does the Gospel 'feel' like?

In our little book 'Transform your work life' (written by Graham Power and myself) I wrote:

God longs for Christians to get practical and creative about making the ‘good news’ real for the people... We should not be asking ‘what does the good news sound like?’, rather we should ask ‘what does the good news feel like, and what does good news look like?’

What does the Gospel feel like!?  That is quite a challenging question!  It has lingered in my mind for some years now as I have tried to bring an experience of the 'good news' of God's Kingdom to the people that I live with, work with and encounter in my life's journey.

Worship on Sunday is critical - as John van de Laar rightly points out it is the orientation that should shape the rest of our week.  The exact quote from his great new book 'The Hour that changes Everything' is this: "How you worship defines how you live"

The question for this post is, however, what kind of worship does God require for the other 166 hours of the week?

Here's an excerpt from chapter 3 of 'Transform your work life' -

Did you know that Jesus had a ‘mission statement’ for his ministry on earth? You can read it in Luke 4:16–21. It is interesting to see that all the things that Jesus came to do were practical, tangible expressions of God’s love for the world. I have heard so many sermons on this passage that I sometimes forget just how practical Jesus intended his ministry to be. When Jesus said He had come to bring ‘good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18) what do you think He meant? Let us approach it from a slightly different perspective: what is good news for a poor person? I have been in need a few times in my life, and I can tell you when you are poor good news is not a sermon! It is good news when you have food and money to pay your bills, it is great news when you get a job that pays you a salary with which you can support your family and yourself.

One of the big failings of the contemporary church, and that means you and me, is that we do not always bless the people around us in tangible and visible ways. When someone is ill we say things like, ‘I’ll pray for you’ – while this is an expression of care, I can assure you that the person would feel so special and loved if you took them a meal! I know that God longs for Christians to get practical and creative about making the ‘good news’ real for the people around them. We should not be asking ‘what does the good news sound like?’ Rather, we should ask ‘what does the good news feel like, and what does good news look like?’ This is Jesus’ way!

As you think about the people among whom you work, what would be truly good news for them? Is there a single mother who is battling to make ends meet? Perhaps you have a co-worker who is struggling to cope with his workload, or maybe someone whose child is ill – what could you do to make the ‘good news’ visible and tangible for these people?

Sometimes it is the simplest things, like a phone call, or a visit, that make people feel loved and cared for. At other times you will need to be a little more creative and sacrificial in what you do.

So, here's my question - what does the Gospel 'feel like' in your context?  What can you do to help the people you love and meet experience the Gospel before you speak to them about it?

Tuesday
Aug242010

Re-Appropriating the term Evangelical - is it worth it?

My friend Jenny posted a great reflection on her blog about an 'evangelical' gathering that she attended.  I am reposting it below because it raises some very interesting points for consideration, however I would encourage you to visit her blog to see the discussion related to her post.

I've just spent the weekend at the Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement consultation - or countrywide gathering. It was such an encouraging experience. I must admit that I went along with some hesitancy as I have struggled to fully understand what this fairly new movement is all about. I hoped to catch a sense of their vision - and I did. I am still trying to process and absorb everything and I hope that I will blog about it all eventually.
What I think at the moment- it's ok to believe the Bible is the word of God. It doesn't mean I am a fundamentalist (I don't read it word for word literally).
It's ok to believe in a 'whole salvation'. We speak of both personal salvation and social salvation. Personal holiness and social holiness.
The Bible informs us of these salvations and 'holinesses'. I go to the Bible to discover how to live in order to bring about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people understand the word 'evangelical' differently and even negatively - that doesn't mean I am like their understanding!
The Methodist Church has always had a missional ecclesiology and we should reclaim that.
There is too much more and I really need to process it properly.
I came away believing that there is real hope for the Methodist Church and the God truly is a God of love and action.

My response to Jenny's post is below.  In particularly I am keen to re-appropriate the term / descriptor 'evangelical'.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that it has been missunderstood in popular society and theology, and hijacked by a conservative element in the Christian tradition. As a result it has a fairly negative connotation in popular theology and even in social and theological discourse.

Here are my thoughts (reposted as a comment on Jenny's blog):

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for this reflection. I am so pleased to hear of your experience - I too have been on a journey to 're-appropriate' the term 'evangelical'. In my understanding the common usage has been far too narrowly applied to the act of 'evangelical preaching'. However, in the Bible we see that Jesus' 'good news' (Luke 4:19 ff) was very social. He not only wished to describe the state of 'good news', his intention was to establish God's good news as a life changing reality for those whom he encountered.

I am passionate about journeying with people towards a personal encounter with Christ. But that is only the starting point, not the end. Once the encounter has taken place the results of Christ's transforming love must flow out into society. You cannot love Jesus without loving His ways - and his was are just, merciful, inclusive, empowering and renewing. The ways of Jesus set people free from sin and the structures that enslave (some clear examples are Jesus' encounter with unethical business people in the temple, and false religious leaders with the woman and man caught in adultery. Jesus cares about the rights of children and the fate of the oppressed).

For me, the whole Gospel for the whole world means precisely that! Not just a narrow personal salvation from individual sin.

In this sense I am evangelical!

With regards to Wesley's theology of personal holiness and social holiness it is always worth remembering the context in which he served. Not unlike us, he faced some massive social challenges around his ministry. Slavery, the abuse of labour, unjust governing authorities, a Church that was disconnected from the needs of society etc., it was into this situation that he came to understand that personal piety (my prayers, my acts of worship etc.) is meaningless unless it is expressed socially.

As South Africans I think we can understand this relationship very well. For many years Christians would worship on Sunday's declaring the Glory of God in Church, reading our Bibles and praying. Yet, we lived in a society that was fundamentally unjust. 

Such a disconnect between faith and belief invalidates belief (as the Epistle of James clearly says).

You may be interested in the paper that I presented at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford in 2007. It deals with a history of social holiness (Wesley's 26th sermon, plus his theology around that), and in particular relates it to the South African Christian Church. You can find that article here: Dion Forster Oxford Institute - Social Holiness.

The chapter was later reworked and published in the book Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Some of the stuff that was cut out of the chapter for the book was also published in 2008 in Journal of Church History Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae.

Thanks for sharing this reflection! I am grateful to be an evangelical!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of the term evangelical.  Is my approach to this term appropriate, or should I seek some other descriptor?  Or, is the term so strongly 'branded' with negative religious and social connotations that we should move beyond it?

Sunday
Aug152010

Social holiness and personal holiness... and the color purple

Today I had the joy of meeting with about 20 students and faculty from Methodist Theological School in Ohio. I had the privelage of meeting their group leader, Professor Lisa Withrow in Chicago in 2005, and then again in Oxford at the Oxford Institute in 2007.

Lisa and another mutual friend (Professor Joer Rieger, who I also first met at Oxford, and then got to know quite well when he and his family visited with us in Pretoria in 2008) very kindly asked me to contribute a chapter to their new book Alienation and Connection: Suffering in a global age. (Lexington books, 2010).  I wrote a chapter in which I discussed how 'empire, economics and apathy' compound the suffering of persons with HIV AIDS in Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Lisa and her group are doing an immersion visit in South Africa to consider some of the complexity of the relationship between the social situation in our context and our Christian faith.  As part of that visit they set up an opportunity for us to be together to discuss our perspectives on being Christian in an HIV+ world.  If you would like to read some of my thoughts on this subject please follow this link.

I was struck by two things.  First, through our conversation I was reminded that one can never separate devotion to Christ from a desire to be part of God's plan to transform the world. Personal holiness, no matter how sincere, if it is not expressed in tangible acts of transforming Christian love, is simply not authentic.  If you love God you have to express that love by loving the people that God loves and loving engaging the world that God loves.

Second, the venue for our meeting was a wonderful reminder of the richness of our South African history.  Here's what I posted on my tumbrl blog.  The Purple shall govern.

No, it is not a typographical error - ‘the purple shall govern’

This memorial is placed on the corner of Burg and Church streets in Cape Town. In 1989 a group of protesters were on their way to Parliament when they were stopped by police. So they staged a sit down in the street. The police unleashed a new weapon - a water canon that contained a permanent purple dye. It stained the skin of the protesters so that they could be marked - visible to the Apartheid police. One of the protesters managed to get onto the canon, spraying the police and buildings (even the National Party headquarters!)

That week a graffiti slogan was sprayed throughout the city saying ‘The purple shall govern!’

11 days later a crowd of 30 000 persons marched unretrained through the city. In 1994 Apartheid ended in South Africa.

Let us remember and give thanks for their courage that won our freedom!

Indeed, I was reminded of the relationship between work and worship, between spirituality and everday life, between personal holiness and social holiness!

 

Monday
Mar292010

The purpose of my life in one single sentence...

This trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong has been fantastic!  It has been incredible to see what Christians i these countries are doing in order to see God's Kingdom of grace, mercy, justice and love established!  

I have not been sleeping all that well - this too has been a great blessing.  I have had a lot more time to pray, read the scriptures, and just be silent on my own.  

Today I visited the investment firm of a friend - they are one of the more prominent investment firms in Hong Kong with a massive portfolio!  I have heard of their commitment to the redistribution of wealth and the effective transformation of society through recapturing economic systems so that they can more adequately reflect God's desire that no person should have to much while any person has too little.

They employ a host of very bright and hard working people for their firm (not all of them are Christians, but they do have to understand the principles on which the firm operates).  It was a joy to spend some time with them discussing how Christians can use their ability, influence, and resources under God's guidance to bring about transformation.  In one particular project that I heard of this week a Christian person raised funding to build a 10km retaining wall in one of the Asian nations that would save numerous villages from mud slides caused by poor management of forestry resources (so deforestation that leads to soil erosion).  Not only did they create jobs for the community, but they exercised stewardship of the earth.

This is an encouraging way of honouring God through your worklife!  This is Kingdom Living, it is a Gospel lifestyle!

As I walked into their office building on Kowloon Island in Hong Kong this picture was the first sight a saw - the verse is:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8).

This is my 'life verse'.  In short, if you were to ask me to sum up the intention of my life in one sentence I would have to say that God has created me to act justly, to love mercy and to walk in humility under God's loving grace.

I am quite encouraged!

Well, tomorrow is our last day of meetings in Hong Kong before we depart back to South Africa.  I am looking forwards to a fruitful day of interaction.  However, I am ready to get home to my wonderful wife and children.  I am truly blessed and thankful!

Tuesday
Mar022010

Is it possible to be a Christian and not do anything about HIV / AIDS?

Did you know that a child is orphaned every 14 seconds because of HIV / AIDS?  Did you know that 33 million people across the world at HIV+.  23 million of those people live in Southern Africa.  

Sadly, the Christian Church has not risen to the challenge to be an agent of comfort, hope and life in this very sad situation.  Partly I think it is because we lack a positive theology of for an HIV+ world.  In a recent chapter that I wrote for a book entitled 'Alienation and Connection' (edited by Lisa Withrow and Joerg Rieger, Lexington books, 2010.  My chapter is entitled 'Empire, apathy and economics:  Reflections on being Christian in an HIV+ world') I argued that there are 4 different approaches to HIV AIDS in Christendom.

 

  • Some say that AIDS is not an issue.  This view is common in Western countries, and regions of the world where HIV infection is not very high.
  • Some say that AIDS is a punishment from God.  This view is fundamentally wrong!
  • Some say that the Church should 'care for' HIV+ persons (as if the Church is free from AIDS while others outside of the Church have AIDS and require care).  This is a paternalistic approach to HIV positive persons.
  • Finally, there are those who have come to realise that the Church has AIDS!  We are all in this together and we have a responsibility to care for one another, as we should care for ourselves.

 

What is your view on AIDS?  What do you think God's perspective is on a world where children are infected through their parents?  Or what is God's view of the HIV positive person who contracted the disease through a poor sexual choice?  Your theological perspective will shape your ministry!  It is important to work out what you believe, and what you should believe, about this disease.

Please take a few minutes to watch this incredible video from TED.  Thanks to my friend Jon Hirst for pointing me to this great video resource.  Please could I also encourage you to visit the Lausanne World Pulse for some great articles on Christianity and HIV/AIDS?

Here is the blurb about the incredible statistics:

In this talk at the TED conference in Feb. 2009, Hans Rosling explains the HIV epidemic. 

He converts the best available data from UNAIDS and WHO into understandable Gapminder bubbles.

The two key messages are that the global HIV epidemic has reached a “steady state” with 1% of the adult world population infected and that there are huge differences in HIV occurrence between and within African countries. Many African countries have the same, relatively low, HIV levels as can be found in most of the world, whereas 50% of the world’s HIV infected persons live in a few countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (with 4% of the world population).

Hans Rosling closes his speech by summarizing probable reasons for the high HIV burden in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and he also claims that the focus must be on preventing further HIV transmission in these highly affected populations.

So, let me ask this question - is it possible to be truly Christian and do nothing about HIV AIDS?

Wednesday
Feb102010

A brief history of the Lausanne movement.

This is a very special year to be in Cape Town!  Not only is South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup, but we are also hosting the 3rd Lausanne Congress on World Evangeliziation.

If you've never heard of Lausanne, or only have a vague understanding of what Lausanne does then please watch the short history video below.  It is a remarkable movement with a great deal of practical and theological diversity, centered around one aim - to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world.

I have been so encouraged by the young, passionate, creative people that I have been engaging with around Lausanne.  Yesterday I had the joy of spending some time on a conference call with Charles Lee (see his website here), the founder of the ideacamp and ideation Conference- This guy is revolutionising TED style gatherings in the US, and he is giving some of his time and expertise to drive the social media strategy for Lausanne.

In in his 'personal' capacity he formed the 'Just One' campaign - which is a faith based social justice movement in the US.  There are so many like him who have understood the core of the Gospel, and they're engaging in making it real in creative and engaging ways!  I can't wait to have them all here in October this year!

You can participate in the Global Conversation!  Your voice and input counts and it will shape the strategy and the theology of the Lausanne movement going ahead. 

 

 

Steve, do you have any thoughts on Lausanne? Wes, what are your thoughts? You two are the most astute Missiologist I know (personally)!

If anyone has any ideas about Lausanne please leave a comment below!  Could I also please ask you to encourage your friends, family and Christian Networks to follow the twitter feed, facebook page and engage in the conversation?

 

Tuesday
Feb092010

Are social justice and evangelism mutually exclusive in the Christian faith?

Among evangelical Christians there seem to be some basic differences, perhaps one could even call them divides.  One of the more common differences relates to what the intention of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus is about.  

Some would suggest that the intention of the Gospel is to 'preach truth' to people so that they are convicted of their personal sin and so make a commitment to Christ that saves them from eternal damnation.  The outcome of that process in this life may be a transformation of behaviour.

Others, such as myself, believe that the thrust of the Gospel has to do with connecting people with the saving power of Christ that not only deals with their personal sin, but also empowers them to engage with structural sins in the world around them.  Why do persons steal?  Frequently it is because they have need, or they have been poorly socialized.

So, are these two approaches mutually exclusive of one another?  Here's a great video from Skye Jethani, the editor of the Leadership Journal and a founder of the 'Out of Ur' blog on this topic.  I'd love to hear your feedback!

Wednesday
Jun112008

Globalization - tariffs and subsidies, are they merely 'sophisticated' bribes?

One of the functions that I have in my new post is responding to questions and queries from persons across the globe who are trying to understand our particular approach to establishing the Gospel of Jesus Christ (with all that entails - including justice, mercy and equity).

Today I received an email from a person who read one of the books that we suggest on healthy and responsible principles for being a Christian business person.  The person who enquired was referring to Chapter 16 of Ed Silvoso's book called 'Transformation'.  In this Chapter (among other things) Ed discusses how Christians should work against corruption and the abuse of economics to enslave people - a reality that is contrary to the principles of God's Kingdom.  Among other things he has a brilliant discussion on bribes (something that is common in Africa), and the use of 'tariffs' and 'subsidies' (something that is more common in the Western world, and among 'superpowers').  
The person who sent the email wanted to know how one could equate tariffs and subsidies with bribes.
Here's the response that I sent.  What do you think?  Anything I've missed, or misunderstood?
The core of the matter is simply that bribes, abusive subsidies, and enslaving tariffs all have a similar foundation – unjust and undeserved financial gain (often at the expensive of the good of others).  Tariffs and subsidies are however, much subtler and less easily identifiable as destructive economic practices.  And, the matter is complicated and compounded when such tariffs and subsidies have national (or multinational) legal backing.

 

Subsidies and tariffs are somewhat complex in the global economy since what they seem to do is either hedge and protect a certain group, or create space for a group to operate where they would otherwise not have the capacity to operate.  So, for example, South Africa is very fortunate to be strong in agriculture.  If there complete free trade it is likely that we could supply maize and wheat to Europe and the US that is both cheaper and possible of a higher quality (simply because we have an abundance of natural resources, arable land, and labour is much cheaper).   However, because of subsidies in the European Union farmers in those regions have their products subsidised so that they can offer them at a much cheaper rate.  The long and the short of such subsidies (in very broad generalizations) is that they keep the poor impoverished and do not take into account the necessity to spread wealth throughout the global economy (rather for political reasons it is kept within the wealthier regions).

The question that one would ask is whether God favours any one nation more than another?  In God's economy would it be pleasing to God that some suffer while others prosper – even when they are both equally productive, faithful, and fruitful in their labours?  So, the challenge is for those who make 'global deals' to keep God's picture of the world, and the world's economy in mind.  It is quite possible that a well intended deal could have an extremely negative impact upon others elsewhere in the world.  Of course my view is awash with generalizations and assumptions.  The point is simply that one must consider the impact of one's choices, not just by economic measures, but by the measure of the standards of God's Kingdom and God's desired economy for ALL the persons on earth.