The church needs to rediscover its voice

2010-10-20 00:00

THE spectacle of the ANC youth league busy trying to wrestle power from their elders in the political showdown of the month at the national general council has hidden what potentially is a monumental shift in the politics of our nation. Distracted by the power, the politics and the playmakers, it’s easy to miss that this is part of a broader awakening of the first post-apartheid generation.

Across business, politics, media and the church, young people in their 20s and 30s are starting to rise to positions of influence and power, and they bring with them new energy and attitudes bound to change our country forever.

Yet before you despair — not all are disciples of Julius Malema — many of the silent majority are disciples of Jesus.

Twenty-five years ago young Christian theologians of the apartheid era made history with the publishing of the Kairos Document. Despite being seen as a theological justification for violent revolution and much too radical by most of the older church leaders, it captured the zeitgeist of the time, underlining core values and expressing the feelings of the youth of South Africa as they struggled to shape the future of their nation.

The document sparked off debate and action throughout the church in South Africa. One of the more significant outcomes, the national pray-away, birthed here in Pietermaritzburg at the National Initiative for Reconciliation, celebrated its 25th anniversary this month. With political leaders jailed it was left to church leaders like Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak to take an increasing lead in the struggle.

The Kairos theologians were vindicated and now we are free. Yet while South Africans are out of captivity we have not reached the Promised Land. We are still living in a country blighted by poverty, struggling with reconciliation and rapidly following a path of Western materialism that has not satisfied the West and is likely to destroy so many positive aspects of African culture. We are like the Israelites wandering in circles in the desert, worshipping the golden calves of profit, personal gain and luxury lifestyles.

It is fascinating that Moses, the greatest spiritual and political leader of his generation was not able to lead his people out of the desert and into the Promised Land. He, and his generation, had too much of the old Egypt in them. Only the young leader, Joshua, was able to cross the Jordan into that land of promise and it was his generation who saved Israel from the desert.

Today’s political, cultural and religious leaders in South Africa are walking in circles in the desert, unsuccessfully trying to find ways to realise the South African dream. Our leaders have lost their vision and they need to make space for new voices.

A generation of young people in their late 20s and early 30s are beginning to take up positions of power and responsibility. We are seeing the rise of a generation largely free from old apartheid ways of thinking.

Yet what we are seeing in the ANC youth league doesn’t even begin to represent the potential of this generation. Overpoliticised, underrepresentative and media savvy, they are making waves in a media welded to the conflict narrative. They have developed an addiction to the limelight and instead of serving the nation are trying to grab power from the older generation by force, politics and guile.

It is time for the young people of the church to stand up and rediscover their voice as their parents did 25 years ago with the Kairos Document. Millions of Christian young people are already selflessly serving their communities, building the nation with sacrifice and hard work that shuns personal fame and fortune. They need to find their voices, infusing the public debates of the next few decades with biblical values and real experience of working among the people.

Key among these debates is the way in which we handle the change of generations. Just as Joshua needed Moses, South Africa’s young people need to be given the space to dream and shape creatively the South Africa of tomorrow, but they can’t do so without the wisdom and guidance of the older generation. A movement of young people working to rebuild our nation needs to be supported by a movement of older people able to counsel, support and cheer them on. There is no place in the new South Africa for power politics and a battle of the generations no matter how impatient we might be for change.

It’s time to move outside of party politics to secure the future of our nation. Twenty-five years after the Kairos Document, the youth of our churches need to find their voice to craft and articulate their own value-driven vision for our nation. It’s a voice that will surprise, challenge and maybe even shock us. But it’s a voice that may just take us closer to the Promised Land.

• Miles Giljam is the newly inducted team leader of African Enterprise South Africa. This essay is based on an extract from his induction speech made in Pietermaritzburg earlier this month. African Enterprise (AE) is a Christian mission agency active in the cities of Africa. It played a key role in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

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