Is the church relevant to SA’s social transformation?

2013-05-19 06:00

Can the church be relevant to South Africa’s social transformation in the future?

There is a church on just about every block in the townships, on every little village hillock, and worshippers randomly spread out under trees or by riversides.

Couldn’t this abundant presence have done anything to monitor and deal with the lack of textbooks in neighbourhood schools; or to be the antidote to the ravages of drug culture in our townships?

Just what could the church possibly do about the rape carnage in our society?

Can it penetrate the undercover plague of domestic violence, with victims often hiding the fact till it is almost too late?

Or might the church be lacking in the zeal it manifested in apartheid days – the urgency that produced the 1985 Kairos Document to deal with the social ills of our time?

This past week President Jacob Zuma responded to the cry for help from Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, over the social mayhem visited by the drugs industry and yesteryear the same was the cry of Lavender Hill and Premier Helen Zille calling for military intervention.

Has the church anything to offer?

Much has been said in various formal and informal forums about the apparent paralysis of the church in the South African sociopolitical milieu.

It has been suggested that the church has retreated to the sanctuary, abandoned its prophetic ministry, become timid, become insensitive to the glaring sufferings of people, buried its head in the sand so as to “see no evil, to hear no evil and to speak no evil!”

Yes we campaigned for social justice and the end of apartheid, but now the time has come to recognise that it is not enough to help campaign for freedom and democracy, and then appear to retreat to our everyday church institutional business of life.

We have to consistently engage and help strengthen the institutions of democracy and support the positive efforts that make South Africa a good society.

Can the Spirit of Pentecost 2013 rekindle anything of the original readiness to stand up and be counted to make a difference?

There is no question that the voices of our churches do raise important points, they do challenge the conscience of the nation at key moments, they do represent the values of the Kingdom of God in our social, political and economic fabric; the real problem is that the voice is lost in the howl of the wind because it is sporadic, scattered, unfocused and sometimes contradictory.

To address this, efforts are under way towards a United Christian Action, for a concerted contribution to the positive transformation of society.

Today, churches across the land are celebrating Pentecost and in certain parts of the country they have come together in united prayer for the big challenges facing South Africa.

In partnership with the department of social development, the churches are focusing prayer on the painful problem of domestic violence and the ugly scourge of rape.

Part of the prayer disposition will of necessity involve a penitence and a spirit of contrition, first for the church’s own inadequacy – as individual Christians and as congregations of faith in our communities; contrition also representatively for and on behalf of South Africa.

The penitential and non-triumphant demeanour is an essential disposition for the Christian Church in making its humble contribution to social transformation.

Through the annual call to repentance the Brazilian Church has shown that one critical issue at a time can be addressed concertedly by all of society, egged on by a penitent church that claims a share of the social ills, and seeks God’s forgiveness and the grace of discernment and wisdom to engage the matter effectively.

For this the example of the Brazilian Church is in using a See-Judge-Act model academic scientific research is applied to “See” the reality for what it is; and then use the lenses of Holy Scripture to “Judge” in terms of spiritual values; this leading to “Act” from an informed platform.

Imagine what we could achieve as a nation if the Christian churches that together account for 80% of the population were to use the See-Judge-Act model to deal with social challenges like rape, domestic violence, drugs, corruption, productivity, education, and lifestyle health and wellbeing issues – communicable and non-communicable diseases!

Brics and Ibsa have opened the doors of mutuality also for our churches. We have enough examples of how the church can concertedly seek to serve the nation by mirroring to it, its shortcomings with no triumphalism.

The church would present its mirroring, not just to government, but to all sectors of society.

While we should recognise the opportunity represented by having almost 80 % of this nation within the church’s sphere of influence, we should also appreciate that these citizens can only be reached effectively, and be communicated with respectfully and seriously, when it is evident that we have taken enough trouble to gather scientific evidence of the problems, that we have reflected on these through the lenses of scripture and tradition, and that we have taken seriously our role as the agency of the Holy Spirit of whom our Lord says: “And when the Advocate comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.”

This calls for a spirituality of engagement that is not sporadic but consistent; engaging the nation holistically and seriously over time with a social transformation agenda for the common good.

Can the Spirit of Pentecost 2013 fire up the church for national hope?

It is our hope and prayer that indeed the Spirit at Pentecost 2013 will inspire the church to be a regular and constant factor of the national developmental and moral psyche.

This should be in collaboration with other faith traditions, with academe, organs of the state and of civil society.

In this way, we trust, the role of the church will be what it is: the moral compass and energiser of the nation. For: Id est quod id est!

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