welcome to the warehouse!
The Warehouse was established in 2003 through the parish of St John's, and exists to serve the South African church network in its response to poverty, injustice and division. We work with local churches in all communities, helping them to implement sound, effective and practical acts and renewed attitudes, to see transformation in our communities.
- a devotional challenge to lament and repent as part of bringing shalom
In the last newsletter we looked at how we are to be bringers of Shalom as God’s people. In this edition, let’s focus on the lament and repentance that we have to go through as God’s people in order to be bringers of true shalom. Before we proceed, take time to read Leviticus 26 and 28 as a reminder of what God expected of God’s people. These scriptures relate a lot to the year of the Lord’s favour or Jubilee as found in Leviticus 25 and Isaiah 61, the passage we are going to engage with in part two of Seeking Shalom in the City.
1. The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2. to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3. to grant to those who mourn in Zion - to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. 4. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Isaiah 61:1-4
The above passage is mostly used to justify our service to the poor. Perhaps we run too quickly to serve the poor without having taken time to reflect on what this passage was saying to the original people of God. Verse 4 makes it clear that it is about Jubilee (year of the Lord’s favor) Lev 25. It is a message of comfort to those who are imprisoned, who are captive and who are broken hearted. Who needs to be freed here? Is it the people of God? May I suggest that the ones who need to be freed first are the people of God?
Why am I saying that?
· They had have rebelled against God - Isaiah 1:2
· They had forsaken the LORD - Isaiah 1:4
This was the message God has been saying to God’s people over and over again through the message proclaimed by the prophets. What response was expected of those who heard it?
Let’s look at Isaiah 1:16-17. Verse 16 says, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil.” Repentance was what God was seeking. Verse 17 says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Be all who God created and intended you to be.
God’s people in the age of the prophets consistently failed to be what God intended them to be. The good news therefore was to the afflicted people of God who were mourning their deplorable state. Notice that the comfort, favour and freedom is given only to those who mourn (v 2). What is mourning? What does it have to do with repentance? The Old Testament speaks a lot about ashes and sack cloth when people are aware and want to be repentant about their sin. It also speaks of oil after a person has repented. Remember the Story of David and Bathsheba when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan?
Notice the reference that is made to ashes and oil (v 3). In the Old Testament mourning is about repentance. When David was aware of his sin, he mourned by putting on sack cloth. God’s favour/Jubilee was for those who were going to turn away from their wickedness and embrace the identity and the character that God had always intended for them. Notice also that it is only then that the oil of gladness will come (v 3). It is only then that they will become oaks of righteousness/justice, the planting of the Lord. (v 3) What God wanted was for God’s people to recognise where they had failed Him. They needed to mourn, lament their failures before He could bring the oil of gladness. What was the fruit of repentance? To cease to do evil, to learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. It took them being taken to Babylon before the message could sank in. Look Daniel’s reflection in chapter 9 recognising the reason they were in exile in Babylon.
May I conclude by saying that unless we, as the people of God, are willing to squarely look at ourselves and recognise where we have failed God in our ways of doing and being the Church, we will continue to be largely ignored by the world. Unless we are willing to face up with what we have failed to be, we will not play the role God has called us to play in the healing of our communities.
This is what we at The Warehouse call our focus on working with young people. We seek, in close partnership with like-minded organisations, to inspire, equip, connect and nurture young Christian leaders, whether they are taking up recognised leadership positions at churches or organisations or whether they are emerging thought leaders and community mobilisers.
Changemakers was innovated under the Micah Challenge (now known as Micah Global) banner at the start of 2014 with the aim to equip and inspire young Christian leaders to advocate and campaign effectively around the issues that their respective communities face.
Through our partnerships, networks and experience we come alongside young leaders to:
* help to shape their perspectives, build their capacity for effective advocacy, campaigning and development responses
* help them reflect theologically on the link between social justice, local and global sites of struggle and oppression and the biblical text
* help them understand the role of repentance and forgiveness in the work towards justice, reflecting on their own place in the historical and present story of injustice
* help them reflect on world views, historical context and the interpretive lenses they use when reading the bible
* equip them with the skills and theories they need to lead interventions and dialogues that will ultimately transform the country
* grow in their ability to discern the time in which the country finds itself, and to craft an appropriate, strategic response
* further develop their critical thinking skills
* create the space with them where they can test and shape their ideas and spark generative dialogues
* grow in their capacity to facilitate discussions, events and training workshops
* grow in their understanding of power, and how to influence those in power as well as use their own power
Some exciting activities so far this year have been:
- Changemakers workshops commenced in May with the youth leaders of St John’s parish churches and other youth leaders from Anglican churches that they are in relationship with (next session: 6 August- all welcome!)
- Plenary talk and Changemakers workshops run by The Warehouse at the Christian Community Development Conference in partnership with Micah Global, Germany in June (http://www.micahnetwork.org/christian-community-development-conference)
- Development of the Changemakers resource: this manual reflects the past decades worth of workshops, methodologies, tools, dialogues and one on one interactions we have had with young Christian leaders who are champions of justice in their churches, communities, campuses and other spheres of influence. This is in it’s pilot stage - you are welcome to contact us for a copy of the resource in the current form with the request that you provide us with feedback that we can integrate into our final edit. We will let you know when this is available to purchase for your own church or to purchase for a church that cannot afford a copy. We also hope to be translating it into Xhosa and Afrikaans - please let us know if you would like to sponsor this next step!
WHY SOUTH AFRICA
Forty years ago, the youth of South Africa rose up in protest against apartheid in a movement that changed the course of South African history and forged a generation of activists that ultimately caused the law of apartheid to crumble. Followers of Jesus were a key catalyst of this movement, giving it energy, ideas and hope.
Over the past 18 months, we have seen the emergence of a new generation of young South African activists rising up with a determination to finish what their elders started, to see the spirit of apartheid fall. Young Christian leaders have participated and engaged enthusiastically, and inspirationally, in this movement, speaking out boldly into the economic, educational, social and political realms. They have garnered national attention, have walked boldly in the public space, and have spoken truth to power at every turn.
These young leaders will frame the struggle for justice in South Africa over the next two decades. Over and again, we have heard South African’s young and old alike, struggle to find coherence between their faith and their pursuit of a just world. This disconnect between the theology we hear preached in church and the theology we’re walking into on the streets, has left some disillusioned and discouraged. Many students have struggled to find the language of justice they hear spoken by their peers echoed back to them by their churches, by their pastoral leadership, or in their scripture. We, like them, are thirsty for a faith that has something significant to say – in thought, in word, and in deed – to the fight for justice we’re finding ourselves engaged in day to day.
We stand at a critical juncture in our history: teetering between hope and desperation, restoration and destruction, faith and fear. It’s time for us to put Jesus and Justice back together – first in our theology and then in our lives.
Connecting with a global movement like the Justice Conference, with a vigorous commitment to local expression and context, has the potential to make a strong contribution to this journey. The work of following Jesus in the pursuit of justice is not simply a local one, it is global. Our hope is that the Justice Conference will:
* Help young leaders root their struggle for a just world in their faith and following of Jesus
* Build connections globally to people who share the same passion and struggle
* Build strong theological and practical foundations for the ongoing work of justice in South Africa
The Justice Conference South Africa seeks to:
Spark a conversation about the ways our faith influences our being just and our doing of justice
Fan the work of justice personally, locally, nationally and globally
Feed a robust theological and social justice dialogue in South Africa
The Justice Conference South Africa Team
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”
As God’s people we are called to bring shalom to the cities/places we find ourselves living in. We have to face the fact that there is little peace and prosperity in our cities (and the world) today. We are going to take a journey looking at how to bring this peace to our cities over the next couple of newsletters by wrestling with some bible passages.
Let’s start with the one we love to use - Jeremiah 29:4-8. The context of this scripture is that God’s people have been taken into exile in Babylon. The reason for the exile is that they failed to listen to what God expected them to be as his people living under his rules in the land of milk and honey (signifying prosperity). God had made it clear to them what he expected of them (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28).
For a number of years God warned them through the prophets time and again, yet they would not listen to their messages! They wanted prophets who were going to say “peace, peace - when there is no peace.”
As God’s people we are called to be bringers of God’s peace/shalom, but we have to face the fact that there’s so little of God’s peace in some of the spaces in which we find ourselves, especially in the places that claims adherence to the Lordship of Jesus. We have to take a hard look at the history of God’s people and see how we have also not listened to what God is saying to us and expecting of us.
We need to look at the logs in our own eyes before we blame society for its lack of order and maybe see that we are actually partly responsible for the lack of God’s peace and shalom in our cities. Let’s keep our ears open to what God is saying to us through the prophets in South Africa today.
We asked some of the participants for their feedback on the retreat hosted in January. The Warehouse partnered with Freedom Mantle in designing a process of listening, discerning, resting and wrestling with young students involved in activism on campuses around the country.
Hard: “The imbizo had a profound effect on me that has shaped the way I have entered the year. It was hard to go through 36 hours of listening to others’ pain, hurt and anger and then dealing with my own. At times I was confused, not knowing what I had to offer. I kept wrestling with my thoughts and with God, with my identity and where I had come from. It didn’t feel enough to just listen. Did I even have a place to be a voice? While I am still wrestling, I feel sure that this is where God is wanting me to be – in a place of discomfort, not knowing what to do, but to be prayerful, to engage and to discern and seek God at all times.”
Hope: “By the end of the time I was filled with hope – God is raising up a generation that is wanting to engage, that is not afraid to speak out the truth; that is not afraid to say it as it is. What encouraged me most was that here is a generation that is not staying in that place of anger, but is ready to engage with Scripture, to seek God’s face and listen to each other. I have been in many student spaces where we have not got to that place. I think what was different was that we created a safe space where we could be authentic, where we could look to Jesus and where God was very present. I am praying for more spaces like that.”
Hard: “What I found hard at the beginning was trying to figure out the intention of the retreat, and wondering how we, as strangers to each other, were going to find a common understanding. This difficulty came as a result of the complexity of how Christianity has been taught and received differently in our local churches and communities. Further, on the political side, what concerned me was the fact that both universities and the government were not pleased with the student movements and on various occasions have tried unsuccessfully to stop the movements. Now my fear was whether this retreat was another tool employed by these bodies to silence the students.”
Hope: “When I learnt that some leaders in the imbizo had been in other struggles before, and that they had done so believing that the Lord was calling them to participate in the ways they did, I trusted the God in them. Another aspect of hope was the genuine willingness of most people to learn and unlearn some things as they had previously been preserved. The last and most important hopeful experience was people sharing their personal experiences, and how these have influenced their position, passion and dedication to the struggle. This brought hope to me because to hear about something and to experience it is different, and thus such experiences often sustain the struggle, thus the assurance that Aluta Continua!!! What I am grateful for, is the confidence that the God of Israel is the God of our own struggle and this was confirmed in the Imbizo spiritually.”
Hard: “It was hard to hear students of today saying of the present government the exact things – and with the same animosity – that students of the 70s and 80s were saying of the apartheid government; painful to hear those whom we “oldies” regard as our heroes, being questioned, denigrated and almost dismissed. Harder was having to acknowledge the truth in what these students were saying, conceding that these young people have been born into the South Africa that we see today, and that our past struggle and its heroes are mere history – a history that doesn’t seem to have done anything for them or South Africa as a country. For the poverty, the disparity between black and white, the daily struggle of life in the townships is still the same. Painful too, was hearing their same-same struggles with the church that doesn’t seem to care for the suffering of people, a God who seems distant, a Bible that doesn’t seem to give them answers, and an understanding of prayer that sees no power, but instead a cop-out. Hardest of all, taking all this together, was acknowledging that our generation has failed our children, for we never really taught them what we know.”
Hope: “What brought me hope was the pure, passionate, tangible presence of God – the way he guided, answered, spoke and filled the listening spaces. It brought me joy when we listened to and heard each other, when we listened to and heard God. Themes that emerged through speakers and scripture, in prayers and in worship, were God’s love, his fatherhood and the chosen-ness of these particular students for this time in history. Hope settled deep when at the end participants shared having found this a safe space to freely be Christian and angry; found new faith in the Bible as “a revolutionary book”, in God being present in the struggle, in the possibilities that church presented, and in Jesus being with us all the time. In such things, hope finds wings.”
Thank you so much to all who contributed by investing financially, praying, supporting, giving lifts—we so value every part you played.
René August explains how the story of the “Good Samaritan” is so richly applicable to how we think of restitution and, in far wider and deeper ways, how we think of ourselves as disciples of Jesus, whatever our background in South Africa.
When we read parables, the stories only make sense when we look at whom the story was being told to, and who was with Jesus at the time. All parables are stories about the Kingdom of God. They tell us about God’s dreams for the world.
In Luke’s account of this story (Luke 10:25-37), he gives us a clue about the “why” of this story. Verses 25 and 29 are very telling. A lawyer, who is an expert in The Law, wanted to trick Jesus by asking a question about laws. The geography in which Jesus locates this story is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is the road for Priests, Levis and others who would frequent the temple for worship. (The story of John 4, the Samaritan woman, hints at the soci-political and religious dynamics within these relationships.)
The issue is that this man who is asking is an expert in the law, which means he understands the law. And the Levitical law says if you strike someone and cause them harm, it is your responsibility to make sure that they are cared for and to pay for any loss of income ... and to take care of the person and pay their medical bills until they are completely restored to be able to to live again. That’s the Law. Nothing about restitution. Nothing about injustice. If you beat someone up to the point that they can’t work, you must look after their family. That law is in Leviticus (or Deuteronomy), so this expert in the law knows this. Then Jesus says, “... you’ve answered correctly” ...and the man says: “BUT…I wonder who my neighbour is?” Remember: he’s the lawyer, he knows the law ... he is wanting to trick Jesus. And so he asks Jesus, “So, who’s my neighbour?” and Jesus says, “There was once a man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho…”
Where’s Jericho? Remember the walls of Jericho? The Promised land. From Jerusalem: that’s where the temple is. The people of God travel on that road, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho all the time. So to find a priest on that road: no surprise. To find a Levite on that road: no surprise. These are also people who know the law. And there’s a man who has been badly beaten up, lying bleeding in the gutter. They’re not touching the person…“I might become unclean…because I’m on my way to the temple and then I must still wash and I can’t speak to people for seven days!” And the Levite: same story. There are demands on their lives and on their responsibility which makes it “impossible” for them to care at all about this guy.
Then, the Samaritan! You would spit that name if you were Jewish… use the word when you’re telling a bad story. They have no business on THIS road. (John 4) “They are half-breeds, they’ve got no religion, they’ve got no culture… no temple… who the hell cares what happens to them?”...he comes along and sees, “Oh no! A man!” and Jesus says about this Samaritan “This Samaritan is filled with compassion.” That’s what happens… God is filled with compassion. So Jesus attributes a God character to a ... Samaritan, a “kwerekwere” [A derogatory word for African Foreign Nationals in South Africa, with undertones of violence]. And this unclean, unreligious “filth”, stoops down and cares for the man who was beaten up.
Then Jesus asks this lawyer: “So who is the neighbour?”
He says, “The one who had compassion.”
And klaar [finished]…
That’s the answer! Who’s your neighbour? The one who is least like you, the one who is in need of your compassion ... whether you were responsible or not is not an issue.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to love your neighbour as you love yourself… and you can’t walk by someone in the gutter. You can’t! It doesn’t matter why they are there; that’s not the issue. It’s the wrong question. The question that we must answer is, “How can I love my neighbour as I love myself? How can I love my neighbour in South Africa today?” There are many of my brothers and sisters lying in the gutter. And I can’t walk past them, not if I claim to love my neighbour as I love myself. That would be heretical.
And the Samaritan begs the question: Are you willing to pay the price to restore the human dignity of your brother or sister, at your expense, even if it’s not your fault? Are you willing to do that? Because that is what it’s going to take for you to demonstrate that you love your neighbour as you love yourself.
What then does this story tell us about God’s dreams for the world?
Even outside of the realities of our Apartheid history, this question is critical. In light of the increasing inequalities and growing poverties that are caused by historical injustices of greed and hatred and white privileges - because the privileges were man(It’s not just white privilege; it’s white privileges. Past and present continuous tenses need to be used) - what is our response?
God’s dream, is that we will all act like this Samaritan, but this will require that some give more and some less. To some, much has been given, and much will be required.
The act and practice of remembrance is an important one in the human story. In March we remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus over the Easter weekend, and the Jewish people remembered their escape from Egypt in the celebration of the festival of Passover. In South Africa we remembered the defiance campaign against the pass laws and the subsequent Sharpville Massacre on 21st March 1960, although many tend to ignore that story and celebrate it as Human Rights Day.
Remembering is part of celebration and it is also a part of healing. For cultures that are focused on comfort and removing all pain from life, like most western cultures, the act of moving towards pain in remembrance can seem almost offensive and often uncomfortable. However, trauma and grief research is increasingly pointing to this as a critical part of healing. To truly heal we need to build the capacity to be present in our own pain and in someone else’s pain.
If the church in South Africa is going to significantly change the narrative of our country we will need to learn how to articulate a Gospel-centred hope that isn’t naive about the reality of this pain - that can recognise and name it, lament it, and listen to it, without being captured by it. We need to all take responsibility for nurturing a prophetic, critically tempered hope that is not naive about the challenges we face, but is determined to proclaim with Jesus a Gospel that is good news to the poor.
The fight for justice in South Africa will not be complete when “Rhodes has fallen”, or the state is freed from its capture or President Zuma has left or when restitution has been made. The fight for justice will be a multi-generational one that will need commitment and perseverance - something for which we all need to take responsibility.
That is the work of the South African church—in all our diversity and blind spots, our human frailty and communal strength. The Church being who we are meant to be in this season could, and hopefully will, make all the difference.
I write this letter largely to the Christian community, since it is from within the Church that my own worldview was first formed. Yet much of what I have said here is relevant within all faiths, though not equally true.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN CHURCH IS BLIND IN BOTH EYES
The notion of “blindness” was used in ancient times by theologians and teachers to describe a spiritual condition which plagues people of faith when they lose their capacity for accurate perception and stumble along in darkness. In scripture those possessed by this evil are treated either by washing the clay from their eyes, recovering their sight by seeing the light itself or being admonished to remedy their spiritual ineptitude as a patient who administers a balm. In the end, the ability to see things as they truly are, in the light of day, is the cure.
The South African church suffers from two forms of blindness that threatens our peace and worse, our freedom.
According to Pew research, the vast majority of South Africans, somewhat 85% of the population, believe in God and most of them practice their faith regularly. Place alongside this fact the reality that, were it not for social grants received from government monthly, 17 million citizens, that’s 31% of the nation, would be living in abject poverty. Faith is widespread in South Africa, alongside extreme social exclusion - these are incompatible and we have to face this ethical crisis as a moral issue now. But the Church, the majority, is walking blind in both eyes.
To provide context; the media reported in 2015 that ten of the most expensive private homes in South Africa were priced at between R70 million and R200 million each. ABSA estimated in 2015 that the average nominal value in the “middle-segment” of homes is between R830 000 and R1,8 million depending on the size of the home. So, while one-in-three South Africans would starve were it not for government support and often do go hungry, some are earning between R27 000 and R6 000 000 per month! - the disposable income required to finance homes in the range mentioned. It is therefore unsurprising that South Africa’s average wage sits at around R17 500 per month, cold comfort when 25% of job seekers are unemployed.
The point is, South Africa is a country deeply scarred by fundamentally unjust and unsustainable socio-economic arrangements. This is not a matter of governance and economics alone; it is a matter of conscience. If you are a person of faith and your income falls in the broad range mentioned above, this letter is addressed to you.
YOUR FAITH HAS BEARING ON THE WELLBEING OF THE NATION
If your pastor or priest is teaching you about prayer and devotion, good, these are the lifeblood of faith. However, if you have not heard a sermon about the state of our nation, you may have been undernourished without knowing better. Importantly though, this is not about church leaders, this is about church members. We sing in our Churches about love and truth and righteousness and peace, often without realising that the measure of these is not that which is shared between friends but by that which is exchanged between strangers in the street, even enemies, such as the good Samaritan and his patient revealed.
INJUSTICE IS THE ENEMY OF PEACE
We have enjoyed tremendous freedom of religion in South Africa over the last two decades. Democracy has not only brought about voting rights, it has also provided broad freedom of speech, of assembly and thereby provided space for our beliefs to thrive. So what have the faith communities done with this grand liberty? What wounds have we bound up?
A great many South Africans spent their Thursday evening this week glued to their television screens for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President. The business elites no doubt listened for signals in the President’s speech on how he intends to stave off further ratings agency downgrades which would dry up foreign direct investment and prevent us from borrowing the money we need for long-term development projects. I’m sure they hoped to hear of a plan of how to push GDP growth above 1% and create jobs. Many millions who watched SONA were merely attracted to the anticipated drama of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) provoking the President, calling for “Zupta” to fall, a reference to President Zuma and his controversial friends, the Gupta family.
In some ways the National Assembly in session, or Parliament, is a microcosm of South Africa and plays out like a predictable scene in a play. The African National Congress (ANC) are the new powerful elites, in that position due to their liberation legacy but increasingly disconnected from the people they claim to serve. The official opposition, a patchwork of mostly white affluence that largely makes up the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) parliamentarians, seems lost on how to translate efficient governance in the Western Cape into an attractive brand for the millions of largely black voters who express loyalty along the lines of identity and not policy. The EFF is the noisy and undisciplined youth in the South African family, who comes across angry and irrational. Be warned, out of the mouth of babes… the longstanding issues of injustice in this nation will be brought to the centre of the national agenda.
This year their voices were thrown out of parliament. Yet, the cause they represent will not be thrown out of South Africa’s public discourse for decades unless addressed at the root, a truth that threatens our social stability and could tear apart the social fabric of this nation.
YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR NEIGHBOUR’S CARE
The basic notion of spiritual sight is that one is somehow enlightened to the reality of the divine. To some this speaks of a capacity for spiritual connectedness and consciousness, a harmonious coexistence with the powers of the ancestors or of gods. To the Christian faith, this points to a simple familiarity with God through the human face of Jesus Christ. In all these cases, especially in the latter with which I am familiar, spiritual sight is the capacity to perceive the dual reality of the infinite Divine and one’s finite neighbour in union, and to live from this premise. At the core of this message of enlightenment then, there is necessarily a bond between one’s relationship “vertically” with God and “horizontally” with people. Your faith is seen, by your works - toward others, one teacher explained.
This is the crux of the matter. If we say we perceive God but we do not see the 17 000 million citizens who do not have homes and jobs and hope, we are either denying the witness of our first love or blindly convinced of sight we do not possess. I do not say this judgementally, since I would not be able to write this was it not for the many privileges I enjoy. I say this with great care and concern - the South African Church is blind in both eyes. May God help us regain our sight and serve the cause of justice in this nation. Our own peace depends on it.
Marius Oosthuizen is a theologian, strategist and entrepreneur. As a faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), he teaches leadership, strategy and ethics and heads up the Future of Business in SA project.
Bitter Sweet History
One fact we can never run away from when reflecting on the advent of the gospel in Africa is that of the brutal and invasive packaging in which it came. The history of the church in this continent holds the classic reference of the term bitter-sweet. It was bitter because of the imperialistic approach used by early missionaries that destroyed the host culture, institutions and worldviews all in the name of enlightening the Dark Continent whilst at the same time lifting the flag of the queen, king and all that lot. Yet, it was sweet because in the shallowness of the imperial worldview emerged the liberating seeds of the kingdom message driven by Africans, which took all sorts of forms in an incarnational manner.
Breaking the colonial worldview and monopoly of theology in Africa
One of the most effective strategies of western colonisation was to charitably ‘educate’ Africans in western methods so that they were forced to function within a predetermined western paradigm and format. This enabled the colonialists to take undisputed control and monopolise the rules of the game. This same effect, whether intentionally or unintentionally, applied to the church and its theology. Though black Africans were educated to understand the substance of Scripture, the monopoly of who holds the true understanding of its interpretation and application was still reserved for the white male scholarly elite.
More indigenous attempts to theologise were and still are treated with suspicion and are measured according to western standards. Africa is overrun with western theological material with many of its advocates thinking that copy and paste will work within the continent. Very little attempt is made to inquire and learn from already existing local leaders and trying to adapt their learnings into meaningful studies.
Voice for the Voiceless?
Sometimes I become confused when people in the academia lament the lack of authentically African theological input. A friend once said in commenting on the well-known term in development circles which allude to the “poor being voiceless.” His comment was that there is no such thing as the voiceless, but that the poor are either ignored or unheard. I believe this analysis also applies in theology in Africa. We have to be honest in acknowledging that both the demand and supply chain in theological information are controlled largely by the western orientated individuals or organisations, from theological institutions that shape knowledge to publishers who compile and dispense information. They hold the sifting funnel and get to pick and choose whose voice is heard above the others.
A question once emerged at a forum hosted by The Warehouse on inter-dependency that struck to the core of the preference towards western rather than local theological influences. A pastor asked why it is that black leaders are the ones who always have to attend workshops and the likes run by white churches or organisations, but the white church never bothers to attend anything run by black initiatives in townships. A follow up question then became, “Why would the majority of white leaders prefer to buy a book written by Bill Hybels instead of engaging a local leader in Khayelitsha who has been in ministry for the past 40 years?”
Preference and value of all things western
These questions highlight the matter of “preference” and “value”. We then come face to face with the fact that in a less romanticised Christian perspective, even believers always follow their preference guided by what or who they value the most. Perhaps this is why we are not seeing authentically African thinking on the horizon - because both the compilation and distribution of theological knowledge is still very much colonial driven. Therefore, which information is more important is decided in a matter of preference and value. Written is seen as superior to oral, and if it is written by a white male, then its worth engaging, but if its a black author, it is often treated with caution for ‘heresy’.
Not many of Africa’s leading theological influencers are inclined to write for various reasons - chief amongst those being the oral culture in Africa, rather than written culture. Even those who have sought to write find it very expensive with the local publishers and distributors preferring more well-known western authors.
African Theology’s contextual reflection
Someone once said that perhaps black African pastors are so busy on the frontlines of ministry that they don’t get the chance to get to writing. Perhaps this too is a factor given the demands and economy of ministry. However, we can never be correct to insist theology that is authentically African and reflects the African experience is in deficit. We should rather reflect on how to decolonise the atmosphere surrounding hearing those voices that are seemingly unheard or ignored.
I recognise that people define themselves in many ways but for this article the term “People of Colour” includes Black, Coloured, Indian as all these people experience racial oppression by the systems in our country. However I affirm the individual, uniqueness of each human being and recognize we are not defined by our skin colour.
Let’s get vocal…
If you are like me, then your heart has been crushed by all the racist attitudes, thoughts and opinions that have been expressed in our country recently. I’m grateful for voices of those who have boldly declared their commitment to changing the atmosphere and social vibe in our country by speaking out whenever any act of racism is witnessed. Calling out racist speech and actions is so vital, but we don’t have to wait for someone to show us their racism before we start taking action. This post is to share some ideas of how we can proactively use our voice to question the outcomes of racist thinking. We can challenge things that seem so normal to us in our South African context, but are actually racist in nature and are often also maintaining the inequalities in our land. How we use our wealth and resources is a crucial question, and being proactive in the land discussion is also important, but I will not be focusing on these in this post. Not all of these are my original thoughts, but I’ve gathered ideas from various conversations online and off. I’m not proposing that everyone should be doing all of these things. But I hope that as you read through these ideas and questions, something will strike a chord with you. One last note, this post is aimed at white people who understand and embrace the notion of “white privilege” and are thinking through how to be an ally to people of colour in the fight against racism, and are looking for ways to participate in the dismantling of white power and privilege.
Let’s Influence our Workplaces
What is the culture of my workplace? Is “whiteness” the standard and are “white ways” of doing things the norm? Have we embraced different cultural practices to ensure that our workplace is inclusive and all people of colour feel as comfortable, and as “at home” as I do as a white person? If I don’t know, maybe I can have a chat with a colleague of colour and ask about his or her experience. Am I actively being vocal about the need for transformation in my work place or is it left up to the staff of colour to voice this? Am I silent on this issue, thus unintentionally reinforcing the message that all white people are against transformation? Am I speaking out about potential exploitation that might be happening in my workplace? Do I know if all staff are paid a living wage and are their working conditions good? Will I raise my voice to shine a light on these issues, rather than wait until the low-paid staff strike?
Let’s Influence our Children’s Schools
Am I asking questions about educators and how we can have more educators of colour on staff body? Are there any admission criteria that end up excluding or, at least, making access more difficult for children of colour? Am I speaking out about these practices and policies that result in artificially reducing the number of children of colour who have access to the school? How is the school providing support to children from disadvantaged backgrounds to mitigate the many challenges of poverty that they may face so that they can participate as equals within the school? Am I encouraging the school to explore fun ways to celebrate the diversity of our country through art, music and language? What is the language policy in the school and are African languages offered and encouraged? Am I challenging the school to best prepare the learners to engage with a diverse nation, rather than a small minority of the same language and culture? What kind of books are the children required to read or are read to them? What kind of books are in the library? Do these books have main characters that reflect the diverse people and cultures of our country? Am I aware of what is and is not included in the history syllabus and does it accurately portray the struggle against slavery, colonisation and apartheid so our children will grow up not making the mistakes of the past?
Let’s Influence our Alma Mater
How am I supporting the students from my alma mater? Can I be vocal about transformation in the institution and support call for more professors of colour, and curriculums that honour the diversity of our nation and continent? Can I be contributing financially to support students who are restricted by financial difficulties?
Let’s Influence our Local Communities
Do I know the local councillor’s name and contact details? Am I challenging the municipality for any bylaws or procedures that further divide our city according to race and that end up discriminating against people of colour? Am I petitioning the municipal government regarding unequal access to services in my city, rather than just letting those who receive poor/no service delivery do the protesting on their own? Am I speaking out at Community Policing Forums and Neighbourhood Watch meetings/facebook page/whatsapp groups when racist comments are made and when racial profiling is used to spread fear and distrust of people of colour?
Let’s Influence our Churches
Is our church mainly filled with people who have the same skin colour as us, and is this starting to make us feel uncomfortable? Are we seeing people of colour represented in the leadership in our churches? Does the vibe and church culture reflect the wonderful diversity of our country? Are the teachings of the church addressing the crisis of racism? In particular, are the white people of the congregation encouraged to engage in discussions about race and listen to experiences of people of colour; and then strengthened and supported to work through their residual racist thinking and actions?
Let’s Influence our Family and Friends
Can I start sharing with my friends and family about my struggles with racist attitudes, my hopes for equality, and my thoughts about the dismantling of white privilege? Can I start these conversations, and not just wait for someone to say something racist first before I engage? Perhaps I can write a letter or email to share with my friends what my thinking is. Or invite them around to a meal or out for a cup of coffee in order to intentional talk about this. We need to take our facebook activism off the screen and do some face-to-face connection around this topic. This list is hardly exhaustive; it’s just a start. I would love to hear from you what your ideas are regarding using our voice to proactively challenge racism.
Some last thoughts…
I end by reminding myself that as we determine to raise our voices, let’s do so from a place of first having listened well to the people of colour in the situation where we choose to engage. Let’s be vocal in partnership with people of colour, and if possible be led by people of colour. Let us not, in our enthusiasm to make things right, rush in as saviours, using our loud voices, and in so doing further silence the very people we wish to help. Let us be willing to work out solutions together, not impose what we think needs to be done. And let us not give up as soon as the going gets tough.
These calls to be vocal and to question the way we do life are actions we can all do. It does not require wealth or resources. However it will require choosing to engage rather than waiting for someone else to do so first. It will require courage and sacrifice. It’s easier to keep quiet and just go with the flow. I know, my heart pounds at the thought of speaking out. But what is the cost if we don’t? What will history say of us, what will our children say of us one day, if we choose the easy road of silence today?
By Jacqui Tooke
The Warehouse coordinates the RESPOND churches collaboration that manages the church response to large scale disaster incidents across the City of Cape Town. On the morning of 29 November a fire destroyed between 800 and 1000 homes in Masiphumelele affecting around 4,000 people. As a result the RESPOND network of churches has been activated and have been liaising with the primary responders since early this morning. The response is being coordinated by MercyNet operating alongside Living Hope in the Fish Hoek valley.
Since significant support is being received from local partners it has been agreed that the best use of our resources will be to target a specific set of items that will help over the next few days. We are seeking to get 1000 family crisis packs delivered to the site within the next few days. These packs can be directly collated by individuals, families and churches or a donation of R250 per pack can be made and The Warehouse (http://www.warehouse.org.za) will take responsibility for purchasing and collating the kits. Kits can be delivered to your church or to The Warehouse.
Donations towards the Masi fire response can be made here https://www.givengain.com/cause/1976/campaigns/17003
If you want to make up a kit yourself the contents are as follows:
• 4 plates and 4 bowls
• 4 plastic bowls/plates
• 4 knives, 4 forks, 4 spoons
• 4 Plastic cups
• 2 Dishtowel
• 4 toothbrushes and 1 toothpaste
• Towel - large
• 4 face-cloths
• 2 Toilet rolls
• Sanitary pads
• 1 Basin/bucket
The kit should be packed into the bucket as shown in the photo. Volunteers will be needed at The Warehouse over the next few days to get kits ready for distribution. Please feel free to come along - 12 Plantation Road, Wetton.
There was a fire in Masiphumelele last night that burnt down between 800 to 1000 homes affecting a few thousand people. The Cape Town RESPOND churches network will responding and we’ll be helping coordinate that.
We’ll post more information on helpful ways in which you can assist. Right now you can be praying for the community leadership, for disaster management and for other role players as they work to establish what is needed. Our assistance is best provided once they have established what is going on.
Please let us know if you’re willing to co-ordinate your church community responding.
*The picture is not from this fire incident