Folly of the faithfull

2009-04-14 00:00

I heard, with increasing amusement, an interview given by someone on the religious desk of the African National Congress recently, who felt it important to attack Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu for his stance on Jacob Zuma. The speaker was incensed because “the bishop just says whatever he wants”. And it reminded me of a conversation I had with another comrade, many years back, on why the ANC leadership seemed to be so anxious around religious functionaries.

On the one hand, we were often treated a little bit like we were just useful idiots — never really being brought into the nub of any matter. And on the other, statements from people like (as he was then) Bishop Tutu, were given much the same weight as would a personal letter written by God. The ANC was extremely jumpy around religious people, but the whole relationship was peculiarly ambivalent.

Things have changed, of course. Now the ANC is in government. And while a great deal of what that government has done over the past 15 years is good and laudable — a very different picture than was the case when whites were in power — it is also true that there are many things which are not. In fact, there is a long list of things which are not and one would need to be either wilfully blind, or completely uninformed, or grossly ignorant not to see them.

It is, therefore, surprising, not that Tutu “says whatever he wants” — that is his nature, that is his calling — but that there are so few other church and religious leaders who have done the same. (I am talking of people who have remained religious leaders, not religious leaders who have become political leaders.) Where are they? Why are they so quiet? Where is the evidence of the leadership they should be showing at a time like this? Have they been bullied, in one way or another, into silence? It simply cannot be that there are no issues.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that church and religious leaders should be simply condemning the ANC because I think the ANC and the sorry state it is in at the moment is only one of the problems in our present political life. I am wanting to know why the church and religious leaders in general appear to have left politics entirely to the politicians? History has shown that to do that is extremely dangerous. In fact, let me be more emphatic: we do it at our great peril.

So, I have no problem with the unctuous Ray Macaulay inviting Jacob Zuma to address his congregation. I find it strange that others have not done likewise, either to praise him or to bury him. Surely, that is precisely what the churches, temples, mosques and shuls should be doing — enabling their congregations to weigh the options and providing them with guidance and leadership at a time like this?

Because, let’s be perfectly honest here, it is the likes of ordinary church-going people who will be voting on April 22, either to make a president out of Zuma, or, highly unlikely, not.

It is wrong. It is utterly misguided of people in positions of power and influence, such as the leaders of the churches (and the mosques and the temples and the shuls), to be washing their hands of responsibility when it comes to who that person (and the party under him or her) will be.

• Michael Worsnip is director: 2010 World Cup Unit, Western Cape Province, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport. He writes in his personal capacity.

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