"The church speaks" - a letter to the SA President

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included in sermon of 9 Dec 2012
by Bruce McCallum

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"The church speaks" - a letter to the SA President

  1. 1. The church speaks.... for such a time as this...125 November 2012Embargoed to the media until 7 December 2012Introduction:We, leaders and members from the Christian community, wish to affirm in what follows,our dependence on and submission to the depths and the height and the width ofChrist’s love, for without that love we are nothing.2 God calls us all to focus on“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever islovely, whatever is admirable—anything which is excellent or praiseworthy” 3 We askthat we will all hear what follows in the spirit of humility and concern for these virtuesto prevail in our beloved country.Where things in our society do not conform to these virtues and levels of excellence, we,leaders and members of the Christian community, have no option but to speak out. Weare convinced that if a situation arises that needs to be urgently addressed and we fail todo so, then (as Jesus Christ warns us) even the stones will begin to speak out.4In faithfulness to our Lord, and in looking at South Africa post-Marikana and pre-Mangaung, we now speak out, in a moment that does indeed have the qualities of a“kairos moment”, a special moment where we discern that God is speaking to us inparticularly urgent tones, a moment that requires transformational leadership andaction.1 This statement comes from the organisations who have initially endorsed it, the SACC, TEASA, Kairos SA andAfrica Enterprise. In it we wish to address the ANC as it approaches its conference in Mangaung conference inDecember 2012, but also address those within the broader political and economic spectrum, and especiallythose within the churches and the poor and oppressed in our land. It should be read together with the KairosSA “Word to the ANC” and the Church leaders statement of 16 October 2012, even though this statement nowgoes to and comes from a broader constituency.2 1 Cor 133 Phil 4:84 Luke 19:40 1
  2. 2. We could have opted to remain silent, as we are sometimes urged to be silent in eviltimes5, but our silence at this crucial moment may be interpreted as consent orcontentment, and for that reason and from a spirit of love, we now speak.....We speak to ourselves:Before we address our political and economic leaders, we confess before God and eachother our own complicity in and relative prophetic silence about what is happening inour society. At the same time, we also rejoice that there are voices within the faithcommunity who are engaged in certain actions that reveal the best of our prophetic andpastoral traditions. Many political and economic leaders as well as those who areregarded as the most poor in our society belong to the churches. Therefore, in a veryreal sense, this document comes from within the Christian community but is alsodirected at ourselves.We speak to ourselves because we are convinced that our strength lies in our weakness,our wholeness can only be revealed in our brokenness and our healing will only come ifwe reveal and accept our own woundedness. We see this moment as a moment toeffectively and decisively deal with the wounds and bring about the healing of ourcountry.  We confess that we have not fully implemented that which we declared in the Rustenberg declaration of 1990 as well as other statements and declarations we have made.  We confess that we have not always stood united against poverty and all that perpetuates the material needs of many millions in SA, that we have not fulfilled our role in helping to strengthen civil society, and that we have not cooperated with political and economic leaders to ensure abundant life for everyone in our country.  We confess that we have often been self-righteous rather than practising the righteousness and ‘big-heartedness’ of our Lord Jesus.  We confess that we have not always been the salt of the earth and the light of the world.Our most important quality, as those who follow the One who overcame death, is thequality of hope.5 Amos 5:13 and Ps 37:7 2
  3. 3. Is there hope for our democracy?A hundred years ago, when hope was scarce and conditions much worse than they aretoday, some South Africans gathered in a church near Bloemfontein and prayed for theGod of all hope to help bring an end to colonialism and oppression.We believe that God did. And thus began a process of de-tribalisation and a movementtowards justice.This process was deepened by the Freedom Charter (responding to the intense tribalideology behind apartheid) as well as other movements that affirmed the dignity andunity of all South Africans.So today, a hundred years on, we know something of the faithfulness of God:Firstly, we note that there are restless voices in different parts and sectors of our societyagain yearning for change, not for a superficial change of one self-serving political leaderfor another, or one political party for another but for a different kind of leadership thatcan restore hope to the poor. They yearn for a change from an increasingly corruptpolitical, business and societal culture to one that is accountable to the people. Theyyearn for a country with life-affirming values that recognises that the people belong toGod, and not to politicians or political parties.Secondly, we thank God that Christian hope frees us from the tyranny of the present toimagine a better tomorrow. We know that, even though the dream of a just, non racialand prospering democracy is temporarily in eclipse – being throttled by the actions (orlack of it) of a generation of leaders who seems to have largely lost their moral compass– the people of South Africa ARE capable of rising to reclaim their future. It is thechurch’s role to proclaim a message of faith in actions that will assist us all to reclaim afuture of hope and compassion. We hope that it does not take another hundredyears, but we are determined to begin that journey forthwith.Thirdly, the unfinished story of reconciliation means that when many South Africans goto the polls in 2014, they will vote for the future, but largely with the past in mind. Weare concerned that, for most of our people, this unfinished story means that their choiceshave become stereotyped into believing that it is as simple as “white” vs “black” parties,and that white for them equals apartheid and racism, while black equals freedom andjustice. Many of our people understand that this is not always true, but the continuedpromotion of this perception by some political leaders (rather than focussing onbuilding a culture of good governance, a just reconciliation and the building of greatersocial cohesion) only contributes to more and more racial alienation and growingcynicism in our society, putting even the small efforts at reconciling our society at risk. 3
  4. 4. Finally, we know that God is faithful to accompany us all when we are determined to risewith courage and faith to face such challenges of history. It is by God’s grace that wehave, through much struggle and hardship, come to a place where colonialism andapartheid are largely defeated foes. We know and affirm that in this universe, evil doesnot have the last word.It has been and continues to be the task of all South Africans to continue to de-tribaliseour society and our minds and to build the democracy we want for our children. We areconvinced that God who engenders faith, hope and love in us, those things that endureforever, is the same God who will stand with us in this moment and beyond.With these thoughts in mind, we now address South Africa’s political and economicleaders:We speak to you, political leaders:Jesus sometimes addressed those in power in very direct but loving terms, and hisfollowers should not shirk from doing the same.Jesus called Herod “a fox”6 and he addressed Pontius Pilate directly on the question ofwhere power comes from (‘you would have no power over me if it was not given to youfrom above’7). We regard power as sacred as it is given to us from above.Some political leaders are working hard and doing their best to serve the people ofSouth Africa, and for this we are grateful. But we believe that too many are self-servingand arrogant.We ask you:Do you not understand that many of your words and actions are leading manySouth Africans towards cynicism and away from hope? And do you notunderstand that you are setting yourselves up against the arc of history, which isand will always be bent towards hope? Do you also not understand that lack ofdecisive action where waste of public resources has been revealed, leads to aculture of impunity and immunity where the poorest part of the population onceagain becomes the main victims of bad governance?At this time, and to reverse what is currently happening, we urge you: a. To recognise the loss of hope and the growth of cynicism and anger, of which Marikana and now De Doorns are massive signals.6 Luke 13: 327 John 19: 11 4
  5. 5. b. To practice the authority and the power you have with the grace with which it was bestowed on you, addressing and repenting of corruption and self-service. Abuse of power is irresponsible, and you need to know that as people entrusted with power from above, you are held doubly culpable for such abuse. We will not remain silent on this issue as we regard power as something deeply sacred.c. To stop the sickening double-talk, which we view as a form of deception and corruption, the wiles of a modern-day fox. You cannot on the one hand say that you are against corruption and on the other hand clearly take part in various acts of corruption or turn a blind eye to corruption. This continuous deceptive double-talk is causing a high level of cynicism amongst South Africans and a distrust of political processes, which are meant to hold the polis together. We need integrity in our politics and we ask that you stop deception and corruption and adhere to the highest possible levels of integrity.d. To not settle for mediocrity, but to think deeply about the kind of leaders you appoint as part of a cadre deployment policy and those you elect at your elective conferences. South Africa deserves the best we have. We are alarmed at the growing tendency toward putting the interests of the party above the interest of the nation, even purging talented leaders and government officials simply because they served under a different leader within the same party! This is a practice for which South Africa is paying a high price in terms of moral values, social capital and the escalating levels of poverty. The choices you make affect us all. As South Africans, we will discern the direction you wish to take us by the leaders you chose.e. To understand that the current electoral system, where internal party systems allow that a few thousand people begin the process of deciding on the political leaders for the rest of the Republic, is clearly not acceptable and sustainable. But given this reality, we ask that you particularly not ignore the voice and needs of young people in our country. Here we do not refer to the ANC youth only, but to the voices of all young people in this country, who are looking to you for leadership that would open up new vistas to the future. Listen to what they are saying. You ignore the voice of the youth at your peril.f. To stop the compromising and decay of our education system. A government that allows the education system to regress in the way ours has regressed, does not deserve to be governing the people of South Africa.g. That instead of adding any more plans to what is on the table, to rather start implementing the plans we already have, especially the National Development Plan. This will begin to create more economic certainty for us all. 5
  6. 6. If you are not willing to do these things and to imagine a new kind of politics that willbring abundant life to all, please step aside and make way for others who are able to re-imagine what a healthy democracy in South Africa will look like. The current situation isneither healthy nor will it produce good fruits. What happened at Marikana will merelybe a first instalment of much worse to come if we do not radically change our ways.We now speak to you, economic leaders, trade unions, etc:As a church, we have not addressed the economic leadership of this country before andnot prayed sufficiently for our businesses. We do so now, with the confidence thatChrist gives us.Much of the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament speaks about economic matters,‘oikos nomos,’ the rules of the household. Jesus speaks about rich and poor, aboutinclusion and exclusion, about greed and poverty. He does so in a context of repentance,forgiveness and the bestowal of grace.We all know that economics and politics are intimately linked and that these processeshave to work together. When they work against each other any nation will fall intochaos.We express appreciation for those economic players who are acting with integrity andwho are taking risks and growing our economy. But we also wish to ask our economicleaders and trade unions:  Why, after 18 years of democracy in South Africa, and after several years of economic growth, do we have a higher unemployment rate now than when we started our democracy? Why is inequality deepening, so that we are the planet’s most unequal society? What actions have you taken to alleviate this situation? To what extent are you responsible for this? Some of these have global features, but some are relevant to us in South Africa only.  What are economic leaders doing to share the pain of global economic trends, instead of continuing with huge salaries, in the face of economic downturns?  Why are you, business leaders, more concerned about maximising the short and medium term profits of your companies via mechanisation, specialisation and optimisation, than about the long term future of our country via job creation, job preservation, education of our youth, and applying environmentally sustainable business practices?  Why, for instance, is our mining industry still only extracting and exporting and not beneficiating that which is mined from the land that God has given to us? If 6
  7. 7. there is anything good that has come from the Marikana massacre, it is that we are now beginning to ask these questions with more urgency.  Why, for instance, are you not taking steps to ensure that the various agricultural empowerment initiatives achieve the desired outcomes for all?  Why, economic leaders, do you not convene an economic negotiations summit to agree on an economic accord that all South Africans can subscribe to? Why do you wait on government to do so?  Why are current structures that have been set up for dialogue, not working? What role do you play in that?  Why are the needs of young people, particularly for employment, not being addressed? Can the differences between various groups not be resolved so that the focus can return to job creation?  Why is the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) spending still as low as it is indicating an unwillingness to invest in communities from which massive profits are harvested?  What can we, the faith community, do to assist the whole nation to engage in a more healthy dialogue about economics and its impact on the present and future of our country and our people?We speak to the most poor and oppressed in our land:South Africa faces a crisis moment, and thanks to the strong messages from the pooreston the mines and the farms, South Africans now have no option but to begin torenegotiate our economic life together. This crisis is therefore an opportunity, and onethat cannot be wasted.As South Africans, we have to consider together what the best options are for us. Fromwhat we can see, there seems to be two options for our nation:  Either we break the South African house down completely, destroy whatever foundation is there and start building again on a new foundation  Or we re-inforce the present structure and ensure that it is infinitely better and safer than the first house that was built.The image of the “house” is an important one. Jesus said that “a house divided againstitself, will fall”. If we were to follow the first option, the South African family will nothave a place to live in and there will be considerable chaos (making more room forcriminal syndicates and demagogic leaders to move in) until the new house isconstructed or until there is complete chaos. This approach has already caused and 7
  8. 8. would mean considerable more pain for all of us as South Africans and the future wouldbe completely unpredictable.Re-inforcing the present house would mean that we can all continue to live in the house(we can agree that there are cracks but that it is not falling apart entirely) and whilethere would be some discomfort, we could start in one room and move to others andalso build re-inforced structures and pillars outside the house, while the South Africanfamily – all of us together - continues to live with each other and build betterrelationships with each other. This would also allow us to evaluate what went wrongduring the first phase and ensure that it does not happen again.The fundamental decision must however be made: the present house is cracking andtherefore something must be done urgently. Delay in making this decision to dosomething will only mean that the crisis and the danger grows. Therefore, as SouthAfricans we must decide! And soon....The most orderly way to do this is for our parliament to sit (these are the people whomwe have democratically elected), even on Christmas Day if necessary, and withwhatever support they need from the rest of civil society, to make this decision to re-inforce the house. It cannot be business as usual and all South Africans will stand insolidarity with our political decision-makers if this were to happen. If politicians refuse,civil society should meet and take over this role – we do not want our political decision-makers to only respond if there is widespread violence and neither do we want thosewho would commit violent acts to think that this is the only way to get the politicaldecision-makers to react with urgency. This would be an extremely dangerous message,and we wish to warn against this.The poor should then ask and demand clear answers to the following:  What does re-inforcement of the foundations of our society mean?  Will it mean that the elite will stop blocking all the different ways in which creative forms of restitution can happen?  Will it mean that small pieces of land could be transferred to farmworkers from farmers, the church and the state, which have many hectares of land?  Will it mean that workers in the mines will benefit even more when profits go up?  Will it mean that executive remuneration will be frozen until workers reach a certain point?  Will it mean that the Apartheid ministerial handbook will be revised within three months? 8
  9. 9.  Will it mean that poor schools will receive science laboratories and sportsfields, and budgets to pay sport coaches?  Will it mean that governance will not be in the hands of those who prove themselves to be corrupt and in cahoots with criminals?If these elements, however it is phrased, do not constitute a “new deal” within two tothree years, then workers and the youth have no choice but to break down thefoundation so that something completely new can emerge. This is the choices that faceus as South Africans: we either work together on such a new deal (and do so urgently)or we face a revolt of the poor.The church was sidelined – or we sidelined ourselves - in the initial negotiations prior to1994, and if the poor and oppressed and young people, most of whom are in thechurches, give us a mandate, we could help to begin a negotiating process that wouldresult in a new social compact. This should be a transparent process and we can and willgive monthly public feedbacks and draw in international expertise, if and wherenecessary.We speak to you about the future:If there is something on which we all agree, it is this: we wish to build this country forour children, our grandchildren and their children. We wish to deal now with “theproblem of the future”.We all agree that a high quality of education is the key to many of our challenges, andthat this should not be further compromised. Unfortunately it has been compromisedand now only a combined and collaborative effort from government, civil society, thechurch, the economic sector and other stakeholders will ensure that we do not continueon our present trajectory.We all agree that steps must be taken now so that our young may be released from theburdens of the past,We all agree that it is only when we work together towards the same goals that ourcountry will move forward out of the moral, political and economic morass in which wefind ourselves.We speak about our commitments:We firmly believe that an enormous opportunity lies in the unity of believers in SA andthat this can be a beacon of hope. Our disunity is often caused by ourselves whilesometimes it is engineered by those who see our unity as a threat to their nefariousactivities. We pledge to not wait on others to do what needs to be done to address issuesin our country, but to take the initiative to encourage all citizens to become activelyinvolved towards the full realization of a healthy democracy for South Africa. 9
  10. 10. We therefore commit:That we will never cease to pray for all our people of this country, for ourselves, for thepolitical and economic leaders of our society and for the poor and oppressed.That we will work together against corruption and for integrity. To this end we endorsethe call for 7 – 9 December 2012 to be declared an interreligious ‘Preach and teachweekend’ against corruption.That we will do all in our power to hold the value of quality education for all our peopleas something not to be compromised.That we will work together towards employment opportunities for all in our country.That we will request our congregations and official church structures to find the bestpossible ways to receive this statementThat we will regard creation as God’s painting, and that we will treasure the naturalheritage in our country for future generations.That we will together speak and act in hope and to engage in campaigns to revitaliseand strengthen the voice of the church and the rest of civil society.We now speak to God in prayer for our country, our society:That you, Great God Almighty, Ruler of all nations, may sufficiently disturb us all that wewill not settle for mediocrity and for the politics or economics of “you are on your own”or “it is our time to eat”.We pray that we will all work together against the widening gap between rich and poorand pursue socio-economic cohesion and togetherness. We pray for ubuntu andsamehorigheid to be restored and to be displayed in our life together.We pray for courage to speak to each other with wisdom, grace and love.We pray for equal justice, for abundant life, and for the inner and outer healing of all ourpeople.We pray for this wonderful place and people with whom God has blessed all of us, thatwe may order our lives in ways that give glory to our Creator.We pray for wisdom. We pray that we may not only speak, but also continuously listendeeply to God and to each other....May GOD continue to bless this rainbow nation - Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrikaMay we take up our rightful place and be an inspiration for the rest of Africa 10

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