Friday, February 27, 2009

God's Mighty (white!) Men

God's Mighty Men are all white. This is if what is we believe what is happening under the banner of Shalom Ministries, lead by farmer turned movie star, turned Messiah of South Africa's men. Maybe its not the intention of Shalom Ministries, but we know where the road paved with good intentions leads to, right ?

If we follow the website of Shalom Ministries, the ministry behind the "Mighty Men" then, simply based on the photos and the people running this industry, it would seem that this is the case and that black men in South Africa are not part of this new 'move of God' in South Africa. Of course Buchan would deny this. He would say that God loves us all and that his message is for all. In fact he would most probably also argue that, at least in South Africa, he don't see black and white anymore and amongst his fans, he don't see black and white; he only see hungry men, hungry for God. With my sinful eyes, however, I only see white men- can't anybody else see this?

I can imagine that many a black brother, would now turn up and they would point me to blacks somewhere in the crowds, or even involve in the production ( maybe even the ground staff, bus drivers, cleaners would be dragged in front of the camera as deeply and highly respected mighty men. Predominantly black churches, would also be cited to supposedly support this move. The truth of the matter is however glaring: this phenomenon is predominantly another manifestation of the mega-events theology of the 90s, where Christians would be duped into believing that when we can stage a major 'christian' happening, then we have made a difference. It's however not that simple. We had Love Southern Africa, Joshua, Jubilee, Transformation Prayer Days, and now lately the Mighty Men. But this is not my biggest critique of these 'moves of God'. My biggest critique, whilst still affirming all the good intentions and I suppose, wonder-full impact, is that it does not address the reality that the inequality in power and resources within Christians remain. This inequality is rooted in a colonial version of Christianity, of which legacy remain with us and which we have to re-form. White South African Christians still remain in charge of God's move- believe me- I have been in the heart of these industries. In a weird way, it mirrors the economic realities, where a new entrepreneurial individual would rise up and build his empire, possibly linking up (partnering its called) to broader multinational ministries and local BEE partners in the township and create a whopping profit (not prophets!) in the space of a few years. They would have their own Social Corporate Investment (social ministries-welfare, HIV efforts with the leader posing for a photo with an unfortunate victim) as well as hiring some big name black preacher or a retired archbishop to say a few nice words of endorsement.

Has it changed reality?

Does it cause poor black men to ( also) find hope and rise up from despair?

Is there strong black voices, prominent in this 'move' that challenge this Christian empire?

How is patriarchy addressed in a society where domestic violence spills over in the streets?

I wonder

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent, a new start for all

Lent is the season for Christians to reflect on their calling, and a time of giving up something to be quiet, to search for God's word. It is a pilgrimage of 40 days, towards the ultimate sacrifice, the Cross.

Looking around us, it seems as if we so desperately need a journey of hope, of pilgrimage, back to the basics. In a period where the abuse of power and greed has overwhelmed communities, leaders and also faith communities, we need a time out. Lent is an opportunity to find ourselves, in the basics of our convictions, in the simplicity of the way of the cross, in servitude that is hope for the world.

May the this pilgrimage be a new start for us all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pastors (or bishops) and politics

Pastors and politics, has always been a thorny issue. We cannot run away from the truth that pastors have always been a political leader, of sorts. The announcement of Dr ( it is real, I think !) Mvume Dandala, as the presidential candidate for COPE has again revived the debate on whether it is prudent.

I would argue that it is unwise of Dandala to avail himself for COPE. This is not (yet!) a debate on the policy of the particular party. Whilst pastors have political power and do speak out on public issues, and whils the church should engage political leaders and policies with the ultimate values and principles, it remains critical to guard the tension and distinctness of the different spheres of church and state. As a true Calvinist, I affirm that God reigns over every inch of our existence. Yes, many times it is argued that religion and politics should not be mixed. Many of the wars and fundamentalisms that we find which give rise to the carnage in Nigeria, Gaza, Bosnia, some would argue, is precisely because of this mix. What need to be made clear though is that here the key issues here is fundamentalism, whether it be ideological, ethnic or yes, religious. To affirm and be informed by a particular ideology or to affirm the salience of ethnic identities, does not mean that our public engagement would be exclusivist or discriminatory or worse, violent. The values that sustain our public engagement and discourses, in one way or the other are always informed by deep seated spiritual and religious imaginations, stories and roots. The articulation of these in an open pluralist society is critical for building inclusive national identities.

I however do not think that the church should 'take over' state, education, culture and impose ecclesial law on society. The moment when a particular faith or church imposes her practices and beliefs upon society, then it have started to blur the lines, which is there to ensure critical checks and balances within society. This is when church leaders, by the mere fact of their religious affiliation and credence, are accepted as credible, irrespective of a critical intellectual engagement of what they stand for. We need to affirm that the state, as based upon, but also as limited by the constitution of the country, carries within its mandate the key notion of having to legislate, in terms of the consensus or majority of a broad spectrum of people and interest groups. This means that politics is not necessarily the space for debates about ultimate realities; it is simply a space where negotiations and power determine the compromised choices. Indeed, politics is the art of the possible. For this, pastors will walk the uneasy tight rope of their ultimate (spiritual) loyalties and the compromised choices that is at hand. This is the reason why a party like ACDP remains ineffectual in engaging government on those issues that they hold dear- their leader remain somewhat of an embarrassment to Christian public engagement.

To come back to the decision of Dandala, I would argue that his unquestioned strength and authority lies in his role as a church leader, not as the leader of a political party, with a mandate that they purport to get from 'the people'. Whilst his teaching has evidently been informed by a contextual theology, which correlates theology and context, I think he would still insist that his ultimate loyalty is to Scripture (here, it is a Calvinist speaking on behalf of a Methodist, I concur!). This will mean that in due course, he might be accused of compromising his ultimate values and that which have made him to be who he is today. He cannot go into power politics of today, innocent or, as some would have it, 'baggage-free'. The notion that COPE is a party, of Mbeki-ites, who remained quiet in the face of the Tshabalala-Msimang's disaster or the Jackie Selebi-mafia protection, or worse, the way in which inequality has increased under these former MP's, ministers and cronies, will haunt them and, like the emeritus-Archbishop Tutu, questions will surface on who they are listening to. It is ironic that the other pastor, who COPE also donned on their stage, Dr Allan Boesak, at some point when he 'came home to his church', confessed that 'he had listened more to Mandela then to the voice of the Holy Spirit. I wonder: Mvume Dandala, who are you listening to ?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Does Carl Niehaus lay bare the heart of South African politics ?

Carl Niehaus' woes is simply the tip of the hippo's ears. It has to be granted to him that he is willing to fall into his sword. South African politics need men who are willing to own up. This saga however does point to something deeper, something we all suspect, yet didn't wanted to admit to: the insidiousness of greed that fuels our comrades.

We may have sympathy for the liberation movement's spin doctor, this could happen to us all. It even happen to high profile struggle icons, to charismatic megachurch celebrities. The point is that South African success stories, closely follow the trail of big spending, lavish lifestyles, wife-swopping, etc. Our 'New South African' lifestyle need to be reflected in all aspects of our lives. Somewhere there is also a Christian tint, they may have been theologians, preachers, men of God, at some point. In the mean time, greed entered and wreaked havoc on all the wonderful commitments they had. Its painful to see this, but again: let's not be fooled to think that we are not at risk.

These stories are timely reminders of the values of the gospel, that Jesus so eloquently espoused and embodied. It's a timely reminder that we should not put our trust in princes.. they are mere humans.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Missionary Church in the Acts of the Apostles

Call for papers for Conference on “The Missionary Church in the Acts of the Apostles”
Paper proposals are invited for a conference planned for 18-20 May 2009 at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch, on the theme “The Missionary Church in the Acts of the Apostles”. The conference aims to bring together a variety of different emphases on the theme, and wants to stimulate open, frank and informed academic and theological discussion, in particular also between academic scholars and ministers of religion, between the academy and the church, between biblical and theological studies and communities of faith. The conference will consist of plenary sessions, parallel slots and will also allow ample time for discussion. Two keynote speakers, Prof Beverley Gaventa (Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton NJ) and Prof Scot McKnight (North Park University, Chicago IL), have already confirmed their participation in the conference.

Being a deliberately broad conference theme, it is part of a project intended to run over a number of years. Working groups engaging with specific themes will provide continuity over the longer term. As an additional invitation to the call for papers, anyone interested in these particular themes is therefore encouraged to join and participate in the appropriate group’s activities at any time. The themes, with an initial few indications of possible topics related to each theme, are as follows:
•“Congregation” in Acts (with topics like “pictures” of the communities; redactional remarks found in Acts; speeches; events; turning points; guidance of the Holy Spirit; organising and organisation; healthy congregations; etc)
•Church unity and –diversity in Acts (inclusivity and multiculturality; diversity; etc)
•Missionary plan and strategy in Acts (with emphasis on the notion of “sending”; Paul’s strategy, plan and intention; Acts as “founding document” for the “mission”; “challenge and change”; etc)
•Leadership in Acts (with forms such as e.g. apostolate; discipleship)
•Salvation and conversion, and identity in Acts (focusing on identity; conversion; transformation; baptism; ethics; etc)
•Empire and economic justice in Acts (including issues such as contextualisation; empire and ideology; socio-cultural conventions; relationship to culture broadly; faith in post-/contra-cultural setup; etc)
•Acts of the Living God in Acts (with reference to topics such as Missio Dei; gospel, etc in Acts)

Paper proposals for the conference that interact with any of the above seven themes are particularly encouraged – especially since some of the discussion time at the conference will be set aside for these groups to work on their specific themes. If you are interested to cooperate within a group as well, please indicate your preference in this regard.

The organising committee anticipates that the presentations of this and future conferences will be submitted as publications, serving two goals: disseminating the results of the project in the academic sphere, as well as in a more modular format for use in communities of faith or churches.

The conference is part of a larger project initiated as a joint venture between Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Theology, BUVTON (Bureau for Continuing Theological Education), and Communitas (a ministerial network of the DRC and the URC) – but none of the events are denominationally determined and are therefore open to all interested parties.

If you are interested in presenting a paper at the conference, kindly submit a title and abstract to the Jeremy Punt (jpunt@sun.ac.za) by 27 February 2009 – applicants will be informed by eMail by 13 March 2009 whether their proposals were accepted.
Enquiries can be directed to, and further information is available Jeremy Punt.

Organising committee:
Coenie W Burger
Johann du Plessis
Eddie Orsmond
Jeremy Punt

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

a growing African missional church

How do we as African churches respond to the crisis of the world? We simply go on with business as usual? We save souls. We pour money into beautiful buildings (some talk these days of campuses) and come together, on a Sunday (or any other day of the week, for the new ones) and go through various ‘Christian’ rituals to get money to fix the building or franchise it out (we baptise it church planting) This sounds too cynical, maybe.
During the week John Robbie, at Talkradio 702 interviewed Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist. They discussed the situation at this church’s mainbuilding , where refugees mostly from Zimbabwe, flock to find refuge. Most of the people, this secular radio spoke to, had to stand, wait, sleep outside, on the ‘stoep’ of this building, waiting in line, just in case some-one else leave, to get in. But then, Robbie, impressed by this church, asked an interesting question: Bishop but what about the church services and members, is it not disruptive? (this is my paraphrase-rwn). The bishop responded that it’s not a problem, they are going on ‘as normal’ (again my paraphrasing-rwn).
I wondered though: is this not the service of the church? Further, is this not what the church is for? Robbie did make the point that this is the actual work of the church, but why then asking the question about the ‘normal program’ of the church.
This kind of dichotomy is indicative of our thinking on the ‘normal business’ of the church. It’s as if we have a spiritual, preaching soul saving corebusiness (and in many churches it is business, Wallstreet-style !) and then these unexpectant, uncomfortable or worse ‘unwelcome’ situation of black Zimbabwean refugees on our doorstep, literally on our ‘stoep’. Maybe we should be asking the question: what is the Spirit saying to the church? Is this not the African situation where the needy come in hope, desperately to find a place to stay, to be safe or better, to be saved!. Here we see what I’m sure a lot of Christian prayer warriors are praying for, a church-building overflowing, day and night, because of hope, real hope. This church exist for those literally, on their doorsteps, pressing, pushing day and night, to come in. For most of us middle-class missional churches, this is too much to ask: let’s rather get back to our normal business- saving souls is more profitable then saving lives.