Thursday, February 28, 2008

Riverlea Highschool in the news...

A seemingly racist incident between Coloured and black learners at the Riverlea Highschool is alarming us to the reality of racism on schools. Recently a few schools were reported to experience racial tension, with the story of the Freestate University's students being the most criticized. Churches, however pretend as if they are OK. In fact, they have dealt with this small matter 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross.

There is however a case to be made for Christian churches to own up to our complicity in all of this. The myth of the 'new' South Africa, has already been shown for what it is in the corruption, crime and greed, but more-so in the fact the churches remain racially segregated irrespective of the transformations in the country. The NG Kerk is often pointed out as still being embedded in the white supremacist ideologies of the past, with the rural and Freestate NG Kerk leading the pack. The reality is however that the so-called new churches, 'emerging' churches remain nothing more than a virtual, english copy, meeting in obscure venues, around candles. The Randburg based Mosaiek church and the Stellenbosch Gemeente, run by the Geyserbrothers is a case in point. Irrespective of grapsing the key to growth amongst the new generations, they have remained by and large, relics of the apartheid past, white enclaves in an African context. A lot could be said about Rhema in terms of their leadership wrangles, but their own demographic shift and how they dealt with the race question, so central to the context in which we believe and worship, is one of the reasons why they seem to remain a credible voice. When young people are acting out, they, in fact reflect the deeper darker sides of their communities. These acts of violence and racial abuse has along time coming and are bred in faith communities, that does not open up to the hidden voices, when the resources needed to live in culturally diverse and changing culture are not nurtured.

More-so, when churches, because of social and economic expediency, fail to step out in faith and obedience to pursue new communion with those that were excluded, of when we fail to own up to our complicity in entrenching discriminatory structures, practices and lifestyles, by starting to dismantle it and transform from within, then we have failed our calling. Our children and young people will act out those hidden practices and they, no we will hit the headlines...Let us own up to our calling in the wake of apartheid and colonialism, for God sake !

Monday, February 25, 2008

Evangelical conversion to missional ecclesiology

George Hunsberger, leading voice in the Gospel in our Culture movement reflects on the contribution that evangelicalism can make to the recovery of a missional identity. In the book, Evangelical Ecclesiology, edited by John G Stackhouse (Jnr) he reflects in particular on the relevance of the Reformed creeds, with the emphasis on the signs (marks) of the true church, but also on the other hand his reflections on key themes in the Evangelical movement, like personal conversion, cross-cultural missions, biblical authority, etc.

This article/chapter is relevant for evangelicals and Reformed Christians alike, as we hold dearly to the dictum of sola scriptura (only the scriptures !) hence we seldom re-read scripture to revisit our (self-evident) notions of what it means to be church. Ecclesiology, he argues is simply, 'at the heart of it, the self-understanding of the Christian community, which then orders its life in a particular way because of that self-understanding' (p 107). ...'its what such a company of people thinks it simply is and why it is'. He argues that the Reformed understanding of church, to a large degree were shaped by context of corpus Christianum, hence we might find an inward ecclesiology. Hunsberger is of the view that the establishment of the US, with the emphasis on free individuals choosing rationally to enter into a social contract for a progressive (liberal) society (Missional Church, p84) influenced also the self-understanding of the various institutions in society, including the church. The church becomes one institution amongst many, contending for the membership of the population. Add to this mix the influence of managerialism and economic transformations the last century from an agrarian economy towards industrial and later global capitalism, the self-understanding of the church in the wake of churchgrowth missiology, is one of a vendor of sorts, selling religious goods and services. The member became a consumer and the pastors, sales agents, CEO's or celebrities with a price tag. The celebrity pastors would compete with Hollywood stars for fame and fortune and sell their time, like Celine Dion, for the highest bidder.

In this context, Hunsberger argues for a reclaiming of the missional identity of the church, as being sent. He suggest that the notion of personal conversion provides space for transformation, not only of individuals, but also the community itself ( the Ongoing conversion of the church), the church also need to see herself as being countercultural, being authentically christian, not succumbing to the cultural dictates of the day and also, there is a need to re-read scripture in the light of the new cultural context, but also against its own cultural context, to recover images of community and life-giving spirituality.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prosperity preachers , Copeland, Joyce Meyers, Creflo Dollar, under the spotlight

Prosperity preachers are facing possible subpoenas to disclose their financial books. These leading voices in the 'prosperity movement' like Crefflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long and Paula White, are influential in many homebrewed clones in Africa. They remain prize preachers at financial success seminars and their ministries, the template upon which many a ministry is build.

The Senate of the US, however seems to smell something sour, hence this investigation into the question whether these multi-million dollar industries, still comply with their tax exempt status. These preachers having been 'blessed' with the gift of opulence and seemingly feel that the government cannot touch 'God's money'. Yet, it remains a mystery how they justify the fact that they may spend God's money on their own luxury and fool every-one else. How are we to view the 'prosperity gospel', which seemingly is winning ground in poor communities in Africa. There is an attractiveness to the possibility of a rags to riches dream, but also tax-free business, under the guise of sincere spirituality.

This investigation has to be welcomed, whilst a similar process has to be encouraged here on our own shores.

Sexual harassment and distorted morality amongst taxi-drivers

The disturbing reports of taxidrivers, seemingly on a moral crusade, yet sexually harassing and abusing women, their customers at the Noord street taxi rank, also raise questions about the moral codes that persist in faith communities. Some would argue that these not only perpetuate patriarchy, but also contribute the ongoing sexual violence against women.

What happened here? It seems is if some taxi-drivers this weekend victimised and physically assaulted women in mini-skirts, aiming to ‘teach then a lesson to never wear miniskirts again’. Wearing mini-skirts is presented as a form of sexual provocation, inviting sex. Indeed these men were presenting themselves as the custodians of morality. Redi Direko, host at Talk Radio 702, however confirmed that this was not only about mini-skirts, and certainly nothing new. She shared her own experiences of humiliation, being harassed since being a 14 year old school girl, simply because she was female, dependant upon taxis for her transport needs. It seems then, that the true face of these predators, lurking behind the wheel of their ‘krok-taxis’, need to be unmasked- as they are, paradoxically, such a crucial cog in the daily existence of township communities. Here, they purport to fend the cause morality, yet there true intent is much more sinister, if not downright evil. This situation is compounded by the fact that people from the townships, mostly women, going to work, but also girls going to school, are dependant on these mini-bus taxis to be able to eke out a decent living. As such, they form such a central feature of the fabric as well as the local economy in our communities. Township people also know for a fact that taxi drivers usually have string of schoolgirls around them and ‘father-less’ babies in their wake. Its not good news when your daughter is ‘with a taxidriver’. Hence, these events at the taxirank, should not fool people reading this.

What we however need to question, as churches, is the prevailing moral codes that dictate that women, girls who wear miniskirts in fact, solicit sex and provoke men to such violent acts. This type of morality is endemic in churches and religious circles. It suggests the sexual violence, viz rape and torture is, at least to some degree, justifiable. This argument suggests that women are still, to be dominated by men, for their sexual pleasure, but at a deeper level it strengthen the structural oppression that women are enduring. In this sense, our morality as Christians indeed becomes another cloak under which predators can continue to perpetuate their horrendous crimes (not only on taxi ranks, also in the bedroom!). Indeed, this is another wakeup call to open up the conversations about our distorted ideas of morality, about sexuality, but also about the unequal relations of power amongst the genders. If anything, Jesus Christ came to set the captive free, to restore the dignity of us all as created in the image of God. In this quest, he breaks the joke of oppression and evil, even if it lurks behind the morality of the church.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Soweto Gospel pockets another Grammy

All praises due to the Soweto Gospel Choir for another Grammy for the album, African Spirit. This choir has won the category, Best traditional world Music and indeed are making South Africa proud. More-so, they share the gospel and their witness, even thought there are questions many time within the faith community about gospel artists who make the transition to also 'win' secular audiences. SGC might receive this accolade, but in many circles there is concern over world(ly) music or even their participation in the 46664 concerts, organized under the guiding eye of the Nelson Mandela chidren's Fund. Maybe, its too worldly.

Many other Christian artists, like Kirk Franklin, Stacie Orrico, Yolanda Adams face this dilemma, but also risk of facing the brunt by the 'churchcrowd'. There is however also a case to be made for Christians 'reaching out' to worldly audiences, for talented and evidently hard working musicians to be the salt and the yeast. He we think of other renowned jazz artists like Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum. We therefor wish our new generation missionaries Gods blessings and keep on spreading the Gospel.

A different ethical reading of the Bible

Can we still read the Bible in the same ways as back in the apartheid days ? For some the answer is obvious: of course not. UNISA prof, Gerrie Snyman suggest that we still do it in the same way. In a highly readable book, Om die Bybel anders te lees, Snyman deals with, what he considers, one of the remaining legacies of colonialism: the way we read the Bible. Many still, he argues, go to the Bible as a encyclopedia of sorts. There we look for answers on biology, astronomy, history, our political programs, etc. The Bible in itself becomes an idol to be worshiped, hence we remain trapped, in the text itself, which espouse and encourage some horrendous values and practices. This led to a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, which in turn became the justification of the discrimination against people.

The transformation agenda, inaugurated by the 1994 democratic elections in South Africa, not only caused a fundamental identity crisis amongst Afrikaners, but also a crisis of their Bible interpretation and as such, a crisis of faith also amongst the many other forms of Christianity shaped by this hermeneutical framework. The current malaise amongst, not only members of these churches, but also Christian leadership in general, in dealing with pressing public matters is in a very painful way, indicative of the extend of this crisis. It is in this context of disorientation and struggle, that this recent publication of Gerrie Snyman is highly relevant, yet not comforting.

Snyman’s recent publications focus on grappling with questions of white and male identity construction within this postcolonial context. He aims not only to problematize the identity crisis amongst white males, but also the way in which current public policy and more specifically researchers within the biblical sciences have failed to adequately deal with it. In this book, his aim is his own church, but also the rest of the so-called Afrikaans sister churches. This is a strategic choice, as these churches were foremost in justifying Apartheid theologically, but also in building separate, colonial type, ‘apartheid’-churches, which still exists, cosily in the new South Africa. The question is how Snyman proposes we transcend this legacy, but also respond to the current debates on the ongoing hegemony of patriarchy and homophobia.

Snyman aims at addressing these critical questions by dealing with the manner in which the Bible was (is!) read. He argues that the way in which these churches have read and interpreted the Bible, their hermeneutical framework influenced Greijdanums, was fundamentally flawed. Despite the fact that this flaw has been exposed in the history of South Africa, paradoxically, this type of reading still prevails and the faithful are not guided towards an alternative reading of the Bible. In response to this and backed up by his extensive insight in the critique coming from feminist and postcolonial hermeneutics, he introduces a different reading, what he calls ‘n Etiek van Bybellees, (an Ethic of Biblical reading). This he juxtaposes against an emic reading of the Bible. An emic reading or what he calls ‘n Koloniserende Bybelgebruik (a Colonising Bible usage) means an ideological reading, where we find a literal understanding of the biblical text and where the faithful are not confronted with the historical aspects of the text. In a sense, the Biblical text is given a holy status and worshipped (idolised) and the human dimensions of the development, but also interpretation of scripture nullified. An ethical reading, however, see the biblical text as transcript of a community’s socio-political values and ascribe to the biblical readers a responsibility in terms of the choices they make. This implies a distinction between the historical context of the text, and the reality of their own time, hence an ethic of historical reading and an ethic of accountability (p,187). This distinction he draws from Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza’s idea of a ‘double ethic’ on the one hand, but also Emmanuel Levina’s idea of the ‘ethical moment’.

The book consists of 11 chapters, which is framed by an Introduction and an epilogue. In the first chapter he deals with the question why such a different reading is necessary. He illustrates this by way of outlining the complexity of the conversations on homosexuality within a heterosexual context. Then in chapter 3 this double ethic of Bible reading is presented, with the following chapter illustrating how the different historical contexts leads to different interpretations, with reference to the question on power. In chapter 5 he exposes the myth of a literal reading and in chapter 6 the consequences of a Scripture culture on our understandings of the inspiration and revelation. This relates intimately to power and the place of written confessions and ecclesial meetings in maintaining oppressive power relations. The members of churches, after all, are supposed to be and remain children, receiving the kingdom. The following chapters highlights the philosophical ethics of Levinas, in particular his notion of the ethical moment, laying the foundation for receiving and reading the Bible for and as the Other. The final 2 chapters then deal with this disposition in reading of the Bible, namely in sensitivity, but also respect for the its otherness, which Snyman suggest is a proper reading for good reasons.

As indicated, this work deals powerfully with acute and complex matters. Snyman does this not by suggesting new developments from the fields of Biblical sciences and Hermeneutics. In fact, he states that these insights in Hermeneutics have been around for some time now. What is however refreshing is the way in which he brings these home, in terms of the pressing questions of a progressively maturing faithful, but also constitutional democracy. The questions on inclusively and reconciliation, but more so justice in a context where new fundamentalisms and hegemonies become attractive, calls for brave intellectual efforts in honestly and vulnerably facing up to and averting the kind of excesses and atrocities that have been sanctioned in the name of the Holy Scriptures or God. This is the place where new creative impulses becomes possible, but also change. It is here, at this point, where we can appreciate and the value of this highly commendable contribution from an Afrikaans male called, Gerrie Snyman.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Spirit-led ministry in the missional church

Just finished the latest book by Craig Van Gelder called, The Ministry of the Missional Church: a community led by the Spirit. This very readable book, follows on his previous work where he looked at the nature/core of this missional church as well as his contribution to the now seminal work, Missional Church: A Vision for sending the church in North America by Darryl Guder and others.

Van Gelder is part of a cohort of scholars, who aim at developing, what they call a missiology for North America, but their work has been influential in other parts of the world as well. In this respect it is interesting that they primarily draw their inspiration from 2 missionaries, one who worked for many decades in India, Lesslie Newbigin and Dawid Bosch, the South African, who authored, Transforming Mission. In this work he aims at integrating biblical foundations, historical and contemporary church history as well as developments on organizational theory, in order to concretely help churches to discern their ministry. He understands the shift towards missional church as being a distinct move of the Spirit of God.

This work helps church leaders in making the shift from a dependence on mere organizational development techniques towards a disposition of dependence on scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that there is an acknowledgment also of the work of Gods spirit in culture. Indeed, Spirit-led ministry also means discerning God at work in the world, many times outside the formal church, but, as this Van Gelder indicates, the local church remain central to Gods work

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ban the sale of liquor on Sundays-ANC youth league

The ANC Youth League firebrand, Fikile Mbalula is at it again. This time he aims is at 'clubs and taverns' who are selling booze on Sundays. Some would say, but you should educate the young people to consume alcohol responsibly, whilst others would support Mbalula, even to the point of suggesting that the sale of liquor should be banned all together.

From the article in the Sowetan, it seems as if their intention, indeed, seems to be responsible alcohol consumption amongst the youth. This should be applauded. Not only the faithful, but anyone interested in promoting healthy lifestyles of young people, must agree up to point with Mbalula. A recent survey found a disturbing trend amongst South African young people:
Although there is a fair amount of variation in the age at which drinking first occurs, many studies show that 90% of adolescent drinkers have had their first drink by the age of 14 years. It also appears that some adolescents have been exposed to alcohol at even younger ages, with reports of drinking before the age of 10 being in evidence.
[South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU, 2005].

This is however not the whole story and it's here that the president of the Youth League must take note: There is also a disturbing increase in the level of alcohol abuse amongst public (political)leaders ( and let's not forget the reports of the binges of our cricket teams, on their recent campaign to win the World cup). Although the curbing of trading hours and regulation of the industry will certainly help, especially in our townships where there is absolutely no control, a key ingredient in promoting healthy lifestyles is the examples of leaders. Their lifestyles are being emulated by budding politicians, sportstars and business leaders. Now, its on this level where we need real people, who are able to discipline themselves and inspire our children and youth. In this respect: let's salute Polly for, not only his impressive feats on the field, but also his lifestyle, one of dignity and integrity. These are the kind of real people, Christians out there in the public eye, who embody the best of what we hope for.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Allan Boesak challenge us on the poor in the Bible

The Bible is full of poor people. And God is portrayed time and time again as the One who love them, care for them and works towards their liberation. In a context, where it seems as of the poor and vulnerable are falling off the bus, this message is so relevant for our time. Prof Boesak, who remains an icon for the struggle against apartheid, marching side-by side with Beyers Naude and Desmond Tutu, to face the might of the apartheid government responds in an article, in the Beeld on the many letters that responds to the Confession of Belhar, as if it is not Biblical and even against Biblical truth. In this article he simply responds by referring to the many passages in Scripture, where reference is made to the poor and Gods special care for the vulnerable. He quotes some reputable theological sources such as Calvyn, Abraham Kuyper, Karl Barth in making the point that:
The God that we serve, doesn't only see the poor. He chose and take their side in injustice and need. Hence, those that want to deny this comfort towards the poor and needy need to then maybe opt for a more comforting/appeasing ('inskikliker')book.

This call challenge churches again to be sources of real hope for real people, in communities.

McCauley's church divided over marital woes

The Rhema Bible Church is seemingly not yet over the sad news of their pastor's possible split with Zelda, his second wife. In a report from the Rapport it seems as if confusion and a deeply divided leadership is left in the wake of charismatic, Pastor Ray's marital woes. On the one hand there is a call for him to seek reconciliation with his first wife, popular and 'co-pastor' Lindie. This is a position favored amongst others, by the well-known speaker on marriages and so forth, Pastor Dr Aggrippa Khathide. On the other hand there are those who believe, and this was the line of another declaration yesterday, that he and the current wife, Zelda, is on a path of healing and reconciliation. But the article also recounts the way in which she stormed into the church facilities, last Friday, with threats to whoever would put her in a 'bad light'.

We have always maintained and argued that this family should be given space( time off from public service) to deal with their painful situation privately and in this way the church should protect its leaders as well as its credibility. This type of situation is not unique to the Rhema Bible church, as another story broke last week over the same painful situation in the congregation where well-known anti-apartheid cleric, Prof Allan Boesak is co-pastor. This time its his co-pastor Rev Walter Philander and the impact this has on this once quaint, warm-friendly community of faith. Indeed, the public leaders of churches, but now also other prominent South Africans like, Jake White and Steve Hofmeyer, have serious challenges to face and the question remains: how are the families involved, but more pertinently the innocent victims (if any) to be supported ?

In conversations on this blog it seems prudent, to open up a safe space to reflect and talk openly about it without starting with blame or moralise. These things happen amongst the best of us and we are called as a caring community to show compassion. However, to stifle and gag public discourse would drive it underground to fester and eventually poison the Body. There is also the need to support the victims appropriately. The children need to be protected. But, more importantly, there is also a need for discernment within the Body on what is God's Spirit saying, beyond the usual condemnation and powergames, (ab-)using scripture etc. We need to find a word ('rhema') from God on this, for healing and restoration amongst (also)pastoral families, but also within in his church, at large We cannot pretend that we are above the rest of the world in dealing with these.

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