Tuesday, March 31, 2009

institutional decline, or new birth ?

Sarah Britten gives insight in the secularization that engulfs church life in Australia. Whilst she is grappling with a key question, why people leave the mainline church, its seems as if she is maybe missing the point that many people actually leave a particular form of Christiandom behind.

Newer expressions of living out Christian spirituality, might not come in the same guise as before, and are the etchings of a new epoch- free from the trappings of power and mammon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Standing up against the new empire

Who thought that South Africa, the land with the 'most progressive constitution', would morph into a country which bans religious leaders ? What are we to say of the realisation, that the current South African government would rather follow the dictates of a cruel repressive tyranny, which persecutes Christians and churches.

For Rhema and others it might be convenient to parade 'pastor' Zuma on their stage or for the NG Kerk, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, who acts as 'president'. The truth of the matter is however this: the South African government has chosen a path, where the blood money of dictators weigh heavier then Biblical values of justice and peace. But there is more. Given the current ban on religious leaders, who expose the oppression meted out under the dictatorship of Hu Jintao, let's not be naive, there is a danger that they would not flinch to also ban and silence others.

It time for Christians and for the church to open they eyes and realise that in the post-Christian South Africa, where anything (even pulpits, pastors or prayers !) is for sale, we are possibly facing a new kairos, a moment of truth where a new kind christian formation need to emerge, which will speak the truth. Why ? Because, amogst other things,
we believe that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of
suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must
witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may
roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
we also
believe, that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord
namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following
Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who
selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.


We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is
called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and
human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the
Jesus is Lord.
To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, be the honor and the glory
for ever and ever.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whitney Houston with Cece and Bebe Winans holding up the light

Back in the days Whitney Houston was calling America to hold up the light, at an NAACP awards evening with the Rev Jesse Jackson very prominent. I wonder if they imagined at that stage that 20 years later, some-one, birthed from the African-American church, would become president of the US.

You could see Whitney, on fire, but Cece was certainly the best here. The hairstyle of Cece is a classic.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Zuma's mistaken claim that God is on their side

Churches and faith leaders need to come out stronger to distance themselves from the claim of the ANC president, Jacob Zuma that God is on their side. Apparantly he appeared again at a church service, of sorts, asking for prayer and then, with 'church leaders' on his side, he made this bold claim.

We have said it at another post, that we should applaud and welcome polititians, who, in prayer and their membership to a church, seek their wisdom from God and who keep a deep commitment within a church. This is critical for accountability, but also for faith and moral formation. Churches need to do even more to form public leaders. Our faith and theology, as our public leadership, falls under the governance, the reign of God. On the question how we need to understand it in a real way, opinions will allways differ and within the sphere of party politics, it will also be a matter of contest and compromise. The outcome of these cabnnot be simplistically deducted to be God's endorsement of us as a party or me as a poltical leader.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The church is (not) a place of refuge

Our leadership last week decided to support Central Methodist congregation in a small way. This congregation has become a beacon of hope for refugees, predominantly from neighbouring Zimbabwe. This is where missional church in the Southern African context happens. It is unplanned; there's no coffeshop conversations, no Apple Macbooks, no kudus. Here it is smelly, dirty and yes, it's for real. Of late, however, they have also become the target of the wrath of businesses and government because of this. Apparently the MEC of Gauteng for Local Government government, Qedani Dorothy Mahlangu and the premier also chided Verryn for making the church's problem theirs and that they should refrain from attracting people from Musina, to Johannesburg. In any case, they argue, the church is not supposed to be literally, a place of refuge. The refugees from Zimbabwe should not simply become our problem, and after-all *wink-wink* we have a Confederations Cup and a FIFA World Cup on our hands.

The reality of migration, also to Johannesburg, needs to be faced square on. The premier of arguably the wealthiest province in South Africa (if not Southern Africa) cannot pretend that this is not a public and moral matter. Yes, we as faith communities must own up to our calling that the "the Church as the possession of God, must stand where God stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged".
And maybe we are not doing enough. It is therefore critical for the church to look deeper, behind the 'innocence' of government. Indeed, it has often been pointed out that the quack mire in Zimbabwe was caused by the lack of political will to do something, of Mr Mashatile's party and government and a conscious lack of planning. To come now and blame this church for the mess is, to say the least, hypocritical. Of course, it should be granted that church and government, but also all other sectors of good will, must now join hands to respond to this crisis, because indeed, this is a matter of life and death. As for the argument that government don't have the resources to deal with the refugee crisis, we simply need to remind them of the R1 million, a month expenditure on security for one politician, the billions available for sport stadiums and of course, those stashed away in wine estates, etc. Maybe our effort fade in comparison to the kind of projects on our plate, giving hope to the nation. Or maybe precisely these feeble efforts, becomes a irritating reminder, from Gods Spirit of who really matters, today in Johannesburg.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The ANC connection at Rhema is dangerous

Some would argue that our president in waiting needs all the prayers he can get. His most recent prayer session was at Rhema. From news releases it seems however that church members was not to keen to host ANC president. The question was when and where do we cross the line between party politics and using the pulpit of the church as a soapbox, and an honest public ministry to the leaders of the country. Evidently Rhema's leadership goes for a cosy relationship with the one which is destined to become South Africa's next president.

Of course even presidents need the Lord. Jacob Zuma. With all the court cases against him and the negative publicity around his views on sex and women, he needs maybe more then the ordinary you and me. Apparently he also came out for prayer and was prayed for by pastor Ray and maybe this could bode well for Rhema's fortunes. Hallelujah! The difficulty is when the pulpit is being used for the sanctioning of one political party, in the midst of a robust election campaign. It's not right for a church to be too closely associated with government, but more-so, it is dangerous when a church endorse one political party. This also brings me to another point: pastors should willingly lay down their status as a pastor when they enter party politics. So, the ANC connection at Rhema is dangerous.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Oom Tjol, Joost and the ‘rugby-church’

Being an ardent rugby supporter, I've often wondered about the role of rugby and in particular the Springbok symbol. When Luke Watson honestly raised his personal struggle over the symbol, he was demonised by the Afrikaans media and apparently he was recently threatened with his life at the Loftus (Versfeld) rugby stadium. Compare this to how the same media responded to the so-called 'Joost van der Westhuizen sex clip', where it seems as if this rugby hero is implicated in a complex situation, as an attempt by the producers of this highly contested clip, to expose Joost's alleged dark side. Joost has consistently denied these allegations, but the interesting thing, is how the Afrikaans media has worked hard at providing evidence that this is in fact a hoax, a serious attempt by nameless individuals to destroy the character of this upstanding Christian family man. Joost then, remains a respected member of rugby's halls of fame, in particular at Loftus.


On the other hand Watson, also a born-again Christian, who spoke at a private function on his personal background in a home where, based on their values, they then opted for non-collaboration with this system, is ostracised. His father Cheeky Watson, opted to play in the black league, called Kwaru, as part of their struggle against injustice. This was in a time when blacks could never become Springboks and they therefore loathed this evil symbol of white supremacy. Luke, told his story of how he, when recently chosen for the Springbok team, had to transform himself from abhorring this symbol, because of its racist background, to accepting it, for the sake of the bigger picture- for the sake of those who died for a new dispensation. He was at pains to emphasise that this was an attempt at transforming himself. Yet he was vilified, charged and last week, threatened with his life, for stating, 'Your attitude needs to be one of hope, .... an era that had no hope, we have been given hope and we need to recreate and ?? the culture of hope for generations to come, we need to see the bigger picture and realise that the here and now is not just the here and now, but the here and now only exists of those who went before us and because of those who are still to come, there is a bigger picture, whether you like it or not - me having to wear the Springbok jersey, to keep myself from vomiting on it, because there is a bigger picture, because men and women have bled for me to get there

Why the difference in this response? Because he dared say something negative about the Springbok. I wondered what this means. Mark Keohane, leading sportswriter and at one point media guy of the Springboks, reflected about this on his popular blog, in a post called, 'St Luke slays Loftus louts'. Keohane analysis is sharp on Watson's reception at Loftus, stating, ' The Loftus crowd, many of them believers of Christianity, misread the contest because effectively they were doing battle with one of their own, but whereas they lacked conviction in their application of resentment, Watson was committed to his stand of defiance. Watson, disgusted at wearing a jersey with a Springbok emblem on it, is not popular for saying so. He is even less popular for calling South African rugby a game run by Afrikaners, even though there has never been a disciplinary to confirm if he ever did utter the supposedly wicked word 'dutchmen'. (In the official transcript of his speech these words never appeared-acc)

Indeed, Keohane's analysis point to a commitment deeper then the Christian commitment, which is where Oom Tjol Lategan comes in. In an article, by Le Roux Schoeman he is quoted to have responded, taking the initiative (i.e. running with the ball), in a debate on the Springbok emblem. His response was simple: his Springbok blazer was more precious then money, it's not simply a trademark. This blazer with the Springbok on was a central part of his attire, as he goes to the Newlands rugby stadium, which he then call the 'rugby-church'. There we have it. At least for oom Tjol, rugby is more then just a game. The Springbok is more then simply an emblem or a trademark worth millions. For this grand personality of Springbok-rugby it's a religious symbol. No wonder then that a fellow Christian is crucified in public, for raising his struggle over the Springbok jersey, whilst another, is supported and defended in the face of the most damning of allegations. The point is he never challenged the holy Springbok. Maybe, oom Tjol indeed has helped the debate, to help us to see what is really going on here…



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sarojini takes on the Mighty Men

Sarojini Nadar, a theologian from a deeply evangelical background, are being roasted in some Afrikaans blogs (here, here and here ), by some of the followers of the Mighty Men Movement. They do it in support of 'oom Angus'. Why ? Because she dared to engage the kind of teaching that comes from the 'oom' (uncle)? No, there is another deeper reason behind it.

What Dr Nadar, a respected Biblical scholar, said, according to a report in the Burger, evidently touched a raw nerve amonst these guys. The Burger in a veiled effort to cast a shadow over her motives, links her paper, to another young Christian, Luke Watson, who is also vilified by the Afrikaans press for his views on the Springbok emblem. Nadar, also influenced by feminist theology, apparantly presented a critique of the theology behind the preaching of Buchan and suggested that it could lead to the kind of abuses of women, which is endemic of patriarchal theologies. She warned against the danger of these Mighty Men rallies, which could be a new version of 'Afrikaner male hegemony'.

Of course this version of her presentation, via the lenses of Le Roux Schoeman is an interpretation. But it does reveal where she touched the raw nerve and Schoeman's article is the source of the vile reaction. This reaction, in sense proves her point: whilst these men confess their (version of)Christianity, they tragically, remain deeply embedded in a violent culture, which a few dare to uproot. Language of might, of war, of power ('mag') and the crude display of this 'mag' is seen as inherent to the core of Christian, biblical male-ness. This version of male-ness is then justified by scripture and perpetuated in relationships of power, in spaces where it may still be exercised: the privacy of the home and, of course at 'Loftus'. Here anything goes. One can only hope that, for goodness sake, Buchan, will be able to respond to critique and honest engagement from fellow sisters and brothers. That his role will not be to provide another mask of a deadly virus, but a source of deep healing and hope, for all God's men, and women, for the sake of our families and communities.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Belhar and the church

Last night we read Belhar (Confession) again amongst the leadership, here in Riverlea. What's the fuss about this dreaded Belhar, we wondered afterwards. Maybe, the fuss or resistance relates to the fears of white Christians that everything will be taken away from them…even their church. So, just a few Belhar comments on church.

The church belongs to God, not to the members. So, in a sense no-body can say… this is my or our church ! Belhar say: We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit.

The church of God should be one, i.e. not divided according to race. Race-based churches are simply not biblical. This reminds me of the Psalm 133, which states, Behold how good and how pleasant it is where brothers live together in unity.. because there God commands his blessing (v3);

That this church has been entrusted with the message of reconciliation, 'in and through Jesus Christ'. Belhar state, we believe …that any teaching which attempts to legitimate forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered …false doctrine.
Yes, the gospel calls the church towards justice…that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice

So, indeed the gospel calls all of us to make difficult, costly decisions, indeed a costly grace. The truth of the matter is however that we realize that this road also calls us to make these decisions, for the sake of the church of God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Being a refugee church- good or bad neighbour?

The challenge of xenophobia and how we deal with refugees has not yet been dealt with. Maybe it would be a good starting point to accept refugees and migration as facts of life. For now, however another outburst looms as the now (in)famous Central Methodist is accused of harbouring 'illegals' and messing up our city centre. In another Radio 701 interview, caller after caller expressed their disgust at the stench, the squalor and the overcrowding at this (pretty mainline, non-emergent) church.

Yet, it remains a question, what is the Spirit telling us of this overcrowded refugee church. Of course, the pastor here, never goes to town about their fantastic growth or their fame. From what we hear it's simply a case of a dirty, messy and black African church, a refuge for the most vulnerable, arriving many times on foot, fleeing decay, disease, death. It is a church that is known to be open to acknowledge the reality of migration, of the vulnerable of the shocking face of how the powerful maintain their positions of power. For these poor people, this church is a sign of hope and as such, for the property developers, the business people around the church, a source of disturbance. I'm sure these neighbours would hope and pray for a quiet, middleclass faithful and possibly, they are doing everything in their power, to make it happen- so that this church can stop being a refugee church, and again be a 'normal' church, a good neighbour.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In God we trust- the gospel according to Zapiro?

I have been taken aback by Zapiro's recent cartoon on COPE. Obviously he wants to draw attention to his work and it helps to be controversial. After-all, all publicity is good and he often paint himself, as the ultimate example of satire, presenting his social critique on current affairs, in an open market. I have often been challenged by his cartoons and often defended it as another exhibition of freedom of speech. This one is however bordering on being blasphemous to the Christian faith.

In another recent incident, a group of Christians successfully stepped up pressure on University of Cape Town (UCT) to apologizes for material which were also offensive to Christians. One of the arguments they used was to state that, 'if it was Muslims. their would have been a worldwide uproar'. Why then should the Christian faith simply roll over and allow this to happen? I don't think this argument is helpful. Whilst people of faith share certain traits and values, Islam and Christianity, have different understandings of the relation between church (mosque) and state, (especially in a secular democracy, like the South African state). The Christian faith, in my view, are not immune to the critique of adherents of different faith stances, like Jonathan Zapiro, who is an self-confessed atheist. Also, Christian symbolism, need to be deconstructed as mere symbols, images of the ultimate realities we hold dear. More so, God is beyond the images of Christ, which we sometimes worship and may not be captured by our human constructions. Hence, we don't worship the cross or images of the cross. They remain metaphors pointing to a higher reality, who we serve and worship.

In my view, it is fine where Zapiro unmask COPE's supposed belief in Thabo Mbeki as their Messiah. It's however offensive and disrespectful, when he portrays Mbeki as Jesus Christ on the cross. Whilst Zapiro would want others to respect his atheistic stance, but also his respect for human rights, here he does not display any of these towards Christians. They don't have the same rights as he, and their faith certainly don't deserve the same decent respect. Here he betray the values that made him such an astute social commentator- values of freedom, equity and respect for difference.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

unity in the church

How does the church deal with conflict, with tensions which threaten to tear us apart? Maybe it would be better to speak also of tensions, which has kept us apart. This is a critical question, not only for the church, but for our society as well. It seems as if the precarious notion of reconciliation is making way for new forms of apartheid, new inequalities, with current economic meltdown simply a mirror of reality. How does one overcome this deep tension and conflict?

In the book of Acts, one feels the tension seeping deep into the daily experience of the early church. Their journey, the ongoing prompting to cross boundaries, and deepen their understanding en experience of the faith in Jesus, is told by Luke as samples of how they grappled with this reality.

Acts 15, in particular, is all about the nature of the incorporation of the non-Jews in the early church, which had her roots in Judaism and more specifically their inclusion around the table of communion, even though they did not go through the Jewish ritual of circumcision? In the South African case, it was dealt with by creating separate tables, separate churches. What does Luke tell us on how they dealt with this matter?

  1. He rereads the history in the light of the current situation. One can almost say, that he re-members their own story and journey in terms of his immediate readers and the need of his readers. In this respect he might recall the voice of an influential leader, a hero of the people, an authoritative voice interpreting the tradition. Here history is not simply a reconstruction of the past, no, it is the foundation for decisions now;
  2. Luke recalls the importance of key documents and writings. Indeed, sacred documents like the text of the Bible and its interpretation, often becomes a site of struggle. In understanding Gods word for today, we however may not sidestep the tricky and risky exercise of interpreting and making choices. Sometimes we will have to state, 'Here I stand, so help me God' other times we will be more hesitant and mumble something or simply have to keep quiet. The sacred texts of our faith, will often be silent about what we face today, yet, maybe within those silences we may here God's spirit's whispers;
  3. There will be times of compromises, difficult trade-offs, where leaders have to take a step, where they've never been, or where the people would never dare to go. This is where faith and trust will guide beyond the well-known frameworks and certainties. These steps and decisions can be dangerous and can never be entered upon lightly and without a deep faith in the grace of God. It is a creative imaginative act of embodying anew something of God's presence in new situations. This is the times, where we might say, stuttering probing: 'the Holy Spirit and us decided….'
  4. There is another element, which flows out of the preceding: to guide organisations and people on this journey, calls for a particular kind of people, mature leaders, who are willing to bear the brunt, the pain (?) of leading. Often we see (verse 22,25-27, 36) leaders being asked to go and physically be with the people, to speak, spend time with, to embody the new community. Often this is a difficult presence, a presence which carries within itself the sacrifices, difficult decisions and compromises. This new community is not a static state of tranquillity other- verses 37-38, speaks also of a difficult separation of ways, of decisions to awkwardly accept difference, to carry, in one's own body, the scars of the cross.

Whilst the separation of tables, became the scar of apartheid amongst Christians, it might possibly also become the scar of hope towards a new kind of community

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