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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 Stellenbosch University (24)

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
Oct012018

Inviting applications for a PhD Bursary and Post Doctoral Fellowship in Scriptures, Religions, and Hermeneutics

Stellenbosch University is inviting applicants for a PhD Bursary and a Post Doctoral Fellowship in Scriptures, Religions, and Hermeneutics for 2019.

Area of PhD research project: 

Any topic related to the hermeneutical dynamics operative in the interpretation of the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The study must be situated in either Old Testament, New Testament, or Missiology/Religion Studies in the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.

Background and Context:

A project is presently based at Stellenbosch University to investigate the viability and theoretical basis for establishing a Centre for the Interpretation of Authoritative Scriptures (in ancient and contemporary contexts) [shortly, CIAS] at the said university. The project is jointly funded for the period 2018-2020 by the National Research Foundation (NRF) as well as the office of the Vice-Rector (Research & Innovation) of Stellenbosch University. During 2018 some consultations were held to develop the theoretical basis for the proposed centre, and to establish contact with local South African and international scholars having an interest in the hermeneutics of the three scriptural traditions. During 2019 some pilot research projects (through a Master’s study, this PhD project, and a postdoctoral project) will be started, while the project team will continue developing the research and physical infrastructure for the proposed centre. The focus in the centre will eventually be on the academic analysis of the hermeneutical processes that brought about the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, that facilitated their transmission processes and (in some cases) canonization, that regulated the history of interpretation in each tradition, and that determine contemporary interpretations of these scriptures in the South African society. This research wants to contribute to developing a hermeneutical basis for dialogue between the three traditions on the intepretation of their scriptures. As a further spin-off, the project could also contribute to social cohesion in South Africa, in contrast to social conflict. 

Please don’t contact me for details. I am just sharing the information. Please download and follow the instructions in the two documents linked below.

PhD Bursary: https://www.dropbox.com/s/j7jc18a7vv8tq1z/PhD%20Advert%202019%20Final.pdf?dl=0

 

Post Doctoral Fellowship: https://www.dropbox.com/s/i17d64l15b7j2b9/Postdoc%20Advert%202019%20Final.pdf?dl=0


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.

Wednesday
Mar082017

Is the Church failing the nation? On Minister Dlamini and South African social grants

In our 3rd year Public Theology / Ethics class today we discussed the notion of a just society in which all citizens have the right to have rights, and the resources of the nation are shared for the common good.

We considered that a just society is one where power is used to safeguard the rights of the least powerful, and where economic policy is implemented, not for the benefit of the privileged or the elite, but for the benefit and protection of poorest of the poor. 

John Rawls's theory of justice was discussed, as was God's preferential option for the poor. In particular, however, we pointed out that in a country where 83% of our citizens say that they are members of the Christian faith, denials of justice and the abuse of the less powerful are failures in our witness and work as the church! 

Minister Dlamini is a member of a Christian church. Has her denomination held her to account for her poor servanthood, for her failure to be a good steward of the trust of the South African people? Have the members of her family, her community, her Church, reminded her that a nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, not its richest and most powerful?  

Christians in South Africa, we have so much work to do to witness to justice and work for the common good. We are called to do so - it is a responsibility.

I am grateful to be able to wrestle with these issues with colleagues and comrades in Christ. Thank you for your companionship on the journey!

Here is the article that prompted this post:

PAYMENT CRISIS 

Dlamini unwittingly gives grants support 

08 March 2017 - 06:57 AM Steven Friedman 

Poor people across the country owe a debt to Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. Entirely by accident, she may have produced a national consensus in support of social grants.

Dlamini presides over perhaps the most disgraceful incident in the past two decades, an exercise in breathtaking contempt for 17-million people who receive grants. There are two possible explanations for the crisis her ministry has created for the grants programme.

Either it did not care, over several years, about making sure grants would be paid after the Constitutional Court overturned its agreement with Cash Paymaster Services — or someone sought to benefit financially from ignoring the order. Both explanations mean her department sees the people who are entitled to grants not as citizens with rights, but as a means to some other end. Which, of course, makes it all the more ironic that it has given grants an unexpected boost.

Before the grants story became national news, the programme’s only friends were a handful of academics, activist nongovernmental organisations and the poor themselves.

Elites here are divided on most issues, but not on prejudices against social grants, which are often derided as hand-outs that create dependency. The right complains that they place a burden on middle class and affluent people, who are expected to sustain others who lack their abilities. Many on the left, and within the governing party, see them as an embarrassing admission of defeat by a state that should be running employment programmes rather than giving money to the excluded.

Commentators across the racial and political spectrum join in this assault on grants, sometimes by spreading legends. A former ANC Cabinet minister claimed, without any evidence, that rural people avoided working the fields because they receive grants. A bank economist claimed that tens of thousands of women fell pregnant simply to receive grants: when asked for his information source, he said a friend told him.

Dlamini’s disaster may have changed all that. None of the commentators or politicians who have criticised her, which means everyone outside the ANC’s patronage faction, have questioned the need to pay grants. It could be a long time before it will again be fashionable to denigrate them. If the assault on grants ends, Dlamini’s scandal will be a disguised blessing for the economy as well as the poor. Grants are, with the programme to provide treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, the country’s most important success story in the post-1994 era.

Research shows that, contrary to the urban legends, grants are not only a lifeline for poor people: they also help to kick-start local economies. Few people fritter grants away — they are more likely to use them to meet social needs. In some towns, before the grants programme was rolled out, men stood in line for a handful of mining jobs. After grants arrived, people were more likely to be standing in line at stores or, more importantly, buying and selling on the streets. No wonder that studies have found that grants are the most effective antipoverty tool introduced since democracy arrived.

One reason grants are effective is that the decisions on how to spend them are made by the recipients rather than policy makers.

One of the greatest blocks to development here is the gap between what many policy makers think poor people need and what the poor know they need. The more people are able to decide for themselves what their priorities are, the more likely is it that the money will not be wasted.

An end to the campaign against grants might also help the debate to focus on the real world. As this column has pointed out, millions of South Africans will remain outside the formal job market for a very long time, whatever we do and so they will require support to enable them to live productive lives.

Finally, the political costs of harming the grants programme may be severe. Research shows, predictably, that people who receive grants value them and would be angered if they did not receive them, so protecting grants is essential to maintaining a semblance of social calm. The fact that no one in the debate has denied that failure to pay grants would be a catastrophe suggests that this reality too is now accepted.

For all these reasons, if Dlamini’s indifference to those who receive grants has made them a source of national pride and their protection a priority across the spectrum, she will have made, despite her best efforts, a real contribution to the campaign against poverty.

• Friedman is research professor in the University of Johannesburg’s humanities faculty

Thursday
Aug182016

John Mbiti and the de-colonization of African / Western knowledge systems - Stellenbosch University

Dr Henry Mbaya opening the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University (@theologystudents_maties on Instagram and @theologystel on Twitter) conference on De-colonising African/Western Knowledge systems conference by reflecting upon, and celebrating, the person and work of Prof John Mbiti.

Prof Mbiti spoke later in the day. Here is a video of him speaking about Africa, Christianity and the Bible.

Other contributors are Prof Rothney Tshaka (UNISA), Dr Ntozake Cezula (Stellenbosch), Dr Humphrey Waweru (Kenyatta), Prof Fidelis Nkomazana (Botswana), Dr Paddy Musana (Makerere), and student panels from North West University, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, and Stellenbosch University.

These are important discussions in the current South African and broader African context. If you are interesting in reading a helpful perspective in the importance and complexity of this discourse please see this paper from Achile Mbembe:

 

Mbembe, A. 2015. Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive. Transcription of talk series.

 

 

Tuesday
Oct272015

Reading group in theology and philosophy - Slavoj Žižek, the death drive and zombies

On Thursday at lunch time our theology and philosophy reading at Stellenbosch University group has the honour of hosting Prof Ola Sigurdson from Gothenburg University. He is a well known Systematic Theology who is known for addressing important theological issues in a creative and rigorous manner.  

We will be reading his article: SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, THE DEATH DRIVE, AND ZOMBIES: A THEOLOGICAL ACCOUNT

If you have a chance to read the article and have some comments or questions that you would like me to feed into the discussion please drop me a line @digitaldion - You can download the article here.

Wednesday
Oct212015

#StelliesFeesMustFall - economic justice and the importance of the voice of our students

These are important times in our nation as students across the country express their voice on issues of economic justice - here the #StelliesFeesMustFall students are visiting the Faculty of Theology.

Our colleague and comrade Thando Joka made a challenging and strong statement as a student of the faculty concerning the steep increase in university fees for 2016 and access to education for all.

Our Dean, Hendrik Bosman, responded by expressing a word welcome to the students and colleagues.

I am convinced that transformation and equality are essential to secure a better future for us all. If we cannot change the current inequality in South Africa, it is unlikely that there will be any place for me or my children in the country's future - white power and white privilege cannot continue. It will not be tolerated. We have to find ways of to make this nation a better place for us all.

I am not sure exactly what the answer is to these complex issues - but I can identify some of the problems. That is not a bad place to start. There are probably many answers, and many solutions. But there are some things that I can do, and must do.

How is it possible that some of us can live with 'too much' when others do not even have enough to survive? If you are interested in reading something that I wrote on the Christian faith and economics you can download and read this chapter that I wrote in a book some years ago.  Here is the reference:  

Forster, D.A. 2007. Upon our Lord’s sermon the mount: Discourse 8: Economic justice., in Reisman, K.D. & Shier-Jones, A. (eds.). 44 Sermons to serve the present age. London: Epworth Press. 141–150.

 

Megan, Courtney, Liam and I have been a steady journey of 'downward mobility' in the last year or so. We have sold things like cars, computers, gadgets. We have cut off unnecessary things like DSTV (cable TV) and subscription services. We have limited our household budget and tried to support more worthy and important causes.

We are attempting the 'live more simply, so that others may simply live'.

Interestingly I was teaching a class on human dignity and economics which was disrupted and ended today as the protesting students arrived.

What is certain is that we have work to do in South Africa. I am grateful for the energy and hope that I see among students and colleagues.

Friday
Jun052015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 3

Today was the third and final day of the World Economic Forum that was held in Cape Town from 3-5 June 2015.

Once again I rode my trusty steed (a 2001 model BMW 650GS motorcycle) into the city for the meetings. It was surprisingly cold, although with clear blue skies as I drove into the beautiful Cape Town city bowl. I never grow tired of the beautiful view as one crests De Waal drive into the city.

Having parked just across the road from the CTICC (Cape Town Internation Convention Center) I made my way through security, now quite experienced at what beeps and what doesn't, and made my way upstairs for the first of my sessions.

I started the day with a session on agriculture, development and food security.  There were a few startling revelations in that session, notably that by 2050 the population of Africa will double, but our capacity to produce food will not.  In large measure this is because of too few commercial farmers, poor policy in agriculture and political instability and war threatens food security.  Water, of course, remains an additional challenge.  It was shocking to learn that there are 85 million malnourished persons in Africa, and that a large number of those are subsistence farmers and their families.  Again, the issue of gender inequality featured in this talk.  Women produce +- 80% of the food in Africa but only own 2% of the land.  Men tend to keep the best pockets of land for themselves and often don't utilize it fully.  What was also interesting to be reminded of is that Africa is the world's most resource laden continent - in other words, we are the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources, but because of extractive injustice (where our minieral resources are extracted and sold elsewhere in the world) we are so poor that we have to import food to support our populations. Lastly, we discovered that rural women tend to be better managers of farms, food and finance (better than urban women, and better than all men).  So, what's the lesson?  Well, I think that if we had targeted projects to support and uplift rural women we could achieve a great deal for the common good in Africa.  Naturally we need to develop commercial farmers and technologies to drive efficient and healthy food production that is not destructive of the earth's resources and that can feed growing numbers of people.

Next, I attended a workshop that sought to find solutions to drive development and growth in Africa in the next 10 years.  I was fortunate to be seated at the table of Minister Naledi Pandor - what a remarkable woman!  I was bowled over by her gentleness, her amazing grasp of policy, investment, technology and the complex set of social, political and economic aspects that are necessary for development and growth.  How I wish she could be our President in South Africa!  The process of this workshop was superb using new technology where we wrote on the tables and it showed up on screens in the front of the room.  There were about 6 such tables participating around issues such as education, investment, technology, policy and governance etc.

My second to last session of the day was another remarkable one - I participated in a workshop on security in Africa.  The point of this grouping was to work out what some of the threats and opportunities were that Africa faced in terms of security in the next 10 years.  I was in a group with Minister Mohamed Beni Yonis of Somaliland - a great peace keeper on the continent and a truly remarkable and wise man! His insights into social, economic and technology opportunities and challenges were astounding.  He also appreciates the central role that religion plays in shaping societies in Africa (both negatively and positively).  The meeting agreed that we shall need to spend a great deal more time and energy working with faith based organisations and the religious groupings in our various countries to address social cohesion, service delivery, poverty alleviation and also to work against violence and extremism.  Then, the man whose name is signed on most of my South African money, Mr Tito Mboweni, was also in our group! He is such a kind (even fun!) person.  He spoke about the dangers of ambition (he reached the pinnacle of his career as governor of the Reserve Bank before he was 50 years old).  However, the group agreed that African society will need to acknowledge the place and importance of young leaders - one participant jokingly said that in Africa, presidency is something one 'retires into' at 65 after a working career!  I am attaching an image of the drawing that contains all of our discussions and thoughts on security in Africa.

The final session was about economics, investment and trade on the continent.  South Africa's finance Minister, Mr Nene, commented that "unless we deal with corruption all of our development plans will fail".  The rest of the panelists discussed the challenges of competition and distrust between neighbouring and regionally close countries in Africa, the expensive cost of travel, and the need to see much greater trade cooperation and support among African countries.

The highlight of the day, for me, was when Archbishop Tutu was invited onto the stage to close the WEF Africa meeting in prayer.  He was overwhelmingly warmly received.  He began his prayer, as I have heard him praying before, by saying that God is weeping at the way in which we treat one another and the earth.  Yet, he went on in his jovial and loving way to say how happy God was to see the participants of the WEF and all those they represented who were people of good-will whose desire it was to make this world a better place for all by working for the common good.  You can listen to his prayer (which I recorded on my phone) here.

Attending this form was a remarkable privilige.  I have learnt so many things at the WEF this week.  In particular I understand that we face a number of wicked problems that require partnership, cooperation, and even sacrifice to solve.  Water and the environment, poverty and inequality, gender imbalances, massive growth in our population and dwindling resources are huge challenges.  Yet, I am hopeful.  It was amazing to meet creative, intelligent, passionate and committed people from all sectors of society who were working for good! The investment of time, energy, resources and self into these problems is sure to make a difference, and in many cases solve the problems we discussed.

I realise that South Africa is fast falling behind.  Our political landscape and our own social context of poverty and inequality is vexing growth and cooperation.  We shall need to do a great deal more to foster trust and a willingness to give up some things (like white power and wealth) and take up some things (like hard work, good education, and uncompromising moral standards).  As I drove home I kept thinking that as Christians we must always ensure that our speech is peppered with hope, our hands are strengthened by justice and our hearts are filled with love as we work for a better future.  We do need a much higher calibre of leadership from both government and the private sector.  But what we need more than that is active citizens who are willing to be deeply involved in shaping a better world.

Wednesday
Jun032015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 1

I have just registered for the 2015 World Economic Forum meeting that is taking place in Cape Town.

I am honoured and excited to have been selected to be one of the 150 or so persons from civil society to participate.

I am looking forward to 3 days of learning and participating in the various sessions.

I have joined sessions on ethics and governance, economic stability and poverty, and the role of civil society as my primary points of participation. It is very exciting!

Security is super tight! I had to park about 2km from the CTICC and walk down. Registration was very efficient and simple.

I will tweet on @digitaldion and post some comments and reflections here throughout the next three days. So please do check back from time to time if you are interested.

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
May202015

Hybrid identity, historical complexity, social identity and transformation - South Africa needs transforming individuals - Nico Koopman

This morning I attended the opening of the 'Talking Back' think tank on LGTBIQ identities and queer perspectives at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.

Prof Lious Jonker opened the event by telling some of the contested and liminal history of Stellenbosch, the Stellenbosch University and the location and identity of the Faculty of Theology.  He reminded us that just like places, geographical spaces, ideas and movements, we all have hybrid identities that are constantly developing, facing ongoing change and construction, yet they are located in a particular space and need to operate from there.

He shared some sections of Prof Nico Koopman's colum in today's 'Die Burger' newspaper.

Here is Prof Koopman's column.  It is a deep challenge to live for human dignity, take personal responsibility for the common good, and exercise tolerance and cooperation for the transformation of society for the better.

South Africa needs transforming individuals

Our societies need not only transforming institutions, we also need transforming individuals. We need people who impact positively on society, and who help society to reflect human dignity, with its three building blocks of justice, freedom and the healing of wounds of people who suffer under our socio-economic and political systems. We also need individuals who are focused on their own transformation and renewal.

Transforming individuals have the ability to deal with complexity constructively. Complexity has different faces.

Transformation people are people who can live with plurality. They embrace the multiplicity of identities and cultures, views and perspectives of reality. Religious and secular comprehensive meaning-giving frameworks help us with the development of an ethos of tolerance and embrace.

Renewing people understand that our lives are riddled with ambiguity, with multiplicity. They therefore know that the same notion can have divergent meanings for different people. For some people words like transformation and justice are a cause for rejoicing. For others they imply a threat, a reason for anxiety. The word reconciliation comforts some, while others feel the word frustrates their struggle for a life of human dignity.

Renewing people realise that to live as a human being, is to live with ambivalence, with duality. A situation, system, person or group is not singularly good or singularly bad. Both positive and negative aspects are present.

Agents of transformation reject oversimplification and see the nuances and shadings of issues. They realise that oversimplification leads to inadequate solutions.

People who value their own renewal and the renewal of society, also guard against anti-intellectualism and irrationalism. They embrace intellectualism. They want as many facts on the table as possible. They want to be informed before they make choices or act. Intellectual exertion helps to protect them from the almost irrational absolutisation of the own opinion, and the resulting stereotyping and stigmatisation, demonising and destruction of those who differ from one. The Christian tradition teaches that where people love God with all of their minds, anti-intellectualism and its negative outcomes can be overcome.

Transformation people live with paradoxicality, with apparent, but not real, contradictions. For example they understand that it is possible to create greater inclusivity without creating new exclusions.

People who serve transformation, are also people who recognise the tragic and dead-end (aporetic) character of reality. They identity with disadvantaged and wronged people. And where there is this love and concern for frail and vulnerable people, we develop the creativity, imagination and will to find renewing ways out of blind alleys.

Nico Koopman is dean of the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

I would love to hear any thoughts you have. We are indeed living at an intersection in South Africa between different classes, cultures etc.  We need people who are willing to live as transforming and transformative individuals for the common good of our shared future in South Africa. I am deeply challenged by this.

Monday
Feb232015

A question of meaning in Law and Religion: Problematizing “the objective normative value system” imposed by judges on the South African Constitution.

Tomorrow the summer school on religion and law will begin at the University of the Western Cape.  I have the privilige of co-presenting the opening paper with Advocate Keith Matthee (a fellow Methodist, Senior Council at the Cape Bar and acting Judge in the High Court).

The Summer School is a collaboration between the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, the University of the Western Cape, the University of KwaZulu Natal and Stellenbosch University.  This year we will focus on the topic of law and religion.

The title of our paper will be:  A question of meaning in Law and Religion:  Problematizing “the objective normative value system” imposed by judges on the South African Constitution.

Here is the abstract:

In a 2001 Constitutional Court case Ackerman J and Goldstone J stated:

Our constitution is not merely a formal document regulating public power.  It also embodies, like the German Constitution, an objective normative value system.” [1]

Our paper seeks to highlight and discuss a key problem in this accepted approach to the South African Constitution. Namely that this approach incorrectly presupposes only one meaning for concepts such as dignity, equality and freedom and that such meaning is ascertainable by reference to an objective value system contained in the constitution itself.

The result of such an approach is that the constitution becomes imbued with theological meaning and power and so oversteps its bounds from being a protector of religious freedom and an arbitrator of religious rights, to holding a normative theological position alongside, or even in conflict, with religious groupings in South African society. 

The problem can be illustrated by means of a comparison of the different conclusions reached by the South African and German legal systems about whether an unborn child is “life” as envisaged in the equivalent provisions in the two constitutions.

Our paper will argue that the following could serve as a contribution towards addressing this legal theological problem:

  1. See the bill of rights for what it should be, a legal document regulating public and private power and not a document for imposing a specific worldview (“objective … value system”) on society.
  2. In every legal decision judges must recognize the role of their own worldview, inclusive of those who hold a worldview that they would describe as agnostic or atheist,  as an authoritative point of reference, (or value system) when they seek to give content to concepts such as dignity, freedom and equality.  This is of particular importance if the judge concerned in her own daily life draws upon a normative religious source, such as the Bible, Quran or some other commonly accepted religious/philosophical document or code.
  3. The various religious communities, inclusive of the atheistic and agnostic communities, must be allowed and encouraged to exercise their unique role when it comes to developing, critiquing, or explicating the “normative value system” referred to in the quote above. In this process the role of the state/courts/law should be to regulate these religious communities inter alia with a view to curbing any abuse in the exercise of this unique role.

I will post feedback on the paper, and the paper itself (once it is published). So please do check back here for more information.

Here is a list of the papers that will be presented:

Tuesday 24 February

8h45-9h15

 

Arrival and registration

9h15-9h30

Bernard Martin (Dean of Law, UWC)

Opening and welcome

9h30-11h00

Dion Forster (SU, Systematic Theology) and Keith Matthee (SU)

A question of meaning in Law and Religion:  Problematizing the objective normative value system contained in the South African constitution.

11h00-11h30

Tea

 

11h30-13h00

Wilhelm Gräb (HU, Theology):

 

Religious Implications of a Constitutional Democratic State: Why the Secular Differentiation is not True and What the Religions can Contribute to Law and Justice in a Constitutional Democratic State

 

Jacques de Ville (UWC, Law)

The khōric Constitution

13h00-14h00

Lunch

 

14h00-15h30

Rosa Schinagl (HU)

Love – a law or an inner drive?

 

Asharaf Booley (UWC, Law)

Women and Islam: An Overview of the Marital Contract and Practices found in Muslim Countries

15h45-16h30

Phillip Öhlmann (HU)

“Faithful men don’t beat their wives?” Measuring religiosity as a determinant of individual actions and social capital

17h00-18h45

Agustín Fuentes (Notre Dame)

Dean’s Distinguished  Lecture (UWC Library Auditorium):

Deep roots for justice, law and religion? The significance of cooperation, compassion and imagination in human evolution

 

Wednesday 25 February

9h00-10h30

Simanga Kumalo (UKZN, Practical Theology):

Religious Organizations and African Immigrants in post-apartheid South Africa: The Case Study of Central Methodist Mission and Bishop Paul Verreyn

 

Miranda Pillay (Religion and Theology, UWC)

Abortion, Law and Religion

10h30-11h00

Tea

 

11h00-1230

Ian A Nell (SU, Practical Theology)

 

Towards a deeper understanding of “Just Leadership”: Engaging Beyers Naudé

 

Johan Cilliers (SU, Practical Theology)

Poverty and Privilege: Re-hearing sermons of Beyers Naudé on religion and justice

12h30-14h00

Lunch

 

14h00-15h30

Mbhekeni Nkosi (UWC, Ethics)

Conceptual clarification of the German restitution model:  South Africa as a case study

 

Grischa Schwiegk (HU) 

Secular distinctions and the problems of ground and motivation in “secular” law – theoretical considerations

15h30-16h00

Tea

 

16h00-16h45

Manitza Kotzé (UWC, Religion and Theology)

Biotechnology, bills and belief: Justification, self-realisation or domination?

19h00

William Storrar (CTI)

Cilliers Breytenbach (Faculty of Theology, HU)

Michael Weeder (St Georges)

Panel discussion (St George’s Cathedral): International perspectives on Religion, Law and Justice

 

 

Thursday 26 February

 

9h00-10h30

Demaine Solomons (UWC, Religion and Theology)

Justice and Reconciliation: Antagonists or soulmates? The Kairos Document Revisited

 

 

Muneer Abduroaf (UWC, Law)

The impact of South African case law on the status of Muslim women: An analysis of court decisions versus the current (2010) Muslim Marriages Bill provisions

10h30-11h00

Tea

 

11h00-12h30

Lana Sirri (HU)

The tensions between ancient and modern interpretations of Islamic law, based on the work of Kecia Ali Sexual ethics and Islam-

feminist reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and jurisprudence

 

Hendrik Bosman (SU, Theology)

“The dialectic of religion and law according to the memories of Moses in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament”

12h30-14h00

Lunch

 

14h00-15h30

Andreas Feldtkeller (HU)

“Justice in Islam between Tradition and Modernity. Some Thought in Dialogue with the “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi”

15h30-16h00

Tea

 

16h00-17h30

 

Open discussion of conference theme

18h30-

Conference Dinner

Life sciences building

 

It looks like an exciting program with a lot to think and talk about!

References:

[1] Please see the quote in, Ackermann, L. 2012. Human Dignity: Lodestar for Equality in South Africa. Juta and Company Ltd. p.28.