Who Are Our Neighbours?

The Warehouse is a community, and like all communities we battle with issues of difference. Believe it or not, we don’t all agree. Theology is often our place of difference. We are a sum of our parts; some Charismatic, some mainline denominations, some Pentecostal. This means that we are often invited into spaces of grappling, and such spaces rarely fail to birth new things. 

The past week has however brought many things into sharp focus. There is a need for conversation, and a need to listen to one another — both internally but also within our greater community. Resulting from current events, violence against women, children and foreign nationals is on the forefront of the national consciousness. It feels as if we have reached a tipping point. We are seeing this expressed broadly on social media, but also through many in-person conversations with people deeply troubled and afraid by what is transpiring in South Africa right now. 

As a community, The Warehouse finds itself in a time of deep lament — lament that is borne out of our collective acknowledgement that things need to change. 

I write this acknowledging that as a white male it may seem inappropriate to some. Please know that this decision was taken in community, and on my part with great trepidation, knowing that many of my colleagues are too frustrated, too traumatised and too tired — physically, mentally and spiritually — to approach this matter. But acknowledging that the timing is vital, I wrote this and I hope that doing so honours my community, both near and far.

“Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both, but interpret newspapers from your Bible”, the theologian Karl Barth reminds us. As we remain present in these times, the Bible as our point of departure guides us to think about them theologically. The South African dynamic is complex, often feeling like a minefield where it is easy to get drawn into issues that move us away from what makes us more Christ-like and draws us more deeply into the story of God.

We find early in the biblical text the stories of lament and exile, stories that thematically run side by side. We find the people of God crying out for liberation; this lament leading to freedom that leads to idolatry that leads us back to exile. It becomes cyclical. South Africa in some ways currently mirrors this. Many people of colour in this country still feel like they are living in exile (or under occupation), alongside our siblings from other African countries who are literally in exile, the result of dispute and numerous economic issues that have created instability. Into this complexity, we must include the plight of women, for whom the space of South Africa is horrifically unsafe. And while recent events have highlighted this reality, we possibly should also ask ourselves if it has ever been safe? Or has the recent spate of violent crimes simply amplified what should have already been recognised as a national emergency?

What then would scripture require of us? What does it look like to hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other? 

I have a friend who was sexually assaulted by a church leader at a young age. Still feeling that she had been gifted to be a priest she went on to study theology. I remember her telling us one day that she struggled to relate to God as male due to her past experiences. A friend of ours, in recognition of this, found an artwork of a female Christ figure on the cross. This image liberated my friend; she found solace in a Christ who identified with her. 

She had found herself lamenting, in existence on the very fringes of society; an exile in a space and place that was supposed to be home — a place where she still felt her gifting was going to be best utilised. She has gone on to be a priest — a marvellous, compassionate priest that is making the church look a little bit more like Jesus. And I find myself asking, do we really want to limit our expression of the body of Christ in the world by using genitalia as the marker for inclusion? Does it really serve us to use borders as a marker to determine who belongs and who does not? 

We are in a crisis — one we cannot ignore, and one that many people believe is further reinforced and enabled by our theologies. How we respond to this says a lot about who we are and how we see the world around us. This is not political, this is about the beloved community. Our dear friend Alexia Salvatierra reminds us: Jesus is not a socialist, Marxist, capitalist or any other label; Jesus believes in the beloved community. 

We are reminded in Ephesians about the enormity of the love of Christ. Paul, in his prayer, acknowledges that it will take supernatural power for us to grasp how much wider and longer and higher and deeper God’s love is than we can know or imagine. Now is our moment to ascertain if our love is capable of becoming like that of Jesus.

Over our years of existence as The Warehouse, we have been working on sharpening and challenging different theologies, both those that we are comfortable with and those that invite us into spaces of wrestling. Below are a series of resources, articles, podcasts and videos that we have developed over time that speak into some of the issues that we are facing today. We hope that they will challenge and shape you, cause you to pause and consider, and to engage with the world around us towards making it a better place for all who live in it.

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