“Thus if Christianity in its introduction was
corrupted by the inclusion of aspects which made it the ideal religion for the
colonisation of people, nowadays in its interpretation it is the ideal religion
for the maintenance of the subjugation of the same people.”
– Steve Biko

We are busy working our way through Biko’s
essay “
The church as seen by a young layman”.

In the last posts (here , and here) we looked
at how he challenged the South African church of his day to be about the
‘requirements of specificity’.  In
the quote above Biko continues with his line of thought.  He states that the model of
interpretation used by the white churches serves to keep the status quo intact.
I wonder if things have really changed in the last thirty years?

Here is something I’ve been thinking about
for quite some time.  Our
theologies are more often than not driven by economics.  Just think about it.  When we’re confronted by texts that
involve money, we have an immediate rationalizing response.  Like the story told of Jesus and the
rich man.  Do you know of anyone in
your circle of friends who have taken that Scripture literally and sold

Why don’t we use the story of Zaccheus (Luke
19) as a paradigmatic text in post-Apartheid South Africa.  Just think what could happen if all the
beneficiaries of apartheid gave half away into trusts that could help the poor
– or give up to four times of stolen goods back? Or freely share the knowledge they have obtained?

 No, Tom, you’re interpreting these texts wrongly I hear you
say …

These are the exact interpretations Biko

By spiritualizing texts we are serving the
status quo.  White people who have
been enriched in the apartheid era are still rich (I know some white people are
poor and have been so even during apartheid and in these situations the race
divide collapses and we can work with the dialectic between the “haves” and the
“have-nots”) – and by loving the poor ‘in our hearts’ and giving ‘in our
hearts’ and by actually being ‘poor in our hearts’ we perpetuate the cycle of

I’m convinced that a reason why we still
don’t have reconciliation in the church has to do with money.  For when we reconcile the dualism
between spiritual and physical will inevitably break down in the face of
sisterly and brotherly relationships.

Biko notes that another factor that leads to
this irrelevant interpretation is the nature of the church in its
denominational character.  He
pinpoints this when he states that,

bureaucracy and institutionalisation tends to make the Church removed from
important priorities and to concentrate on secondary and tertiary functions
like structures and finance etc. And because of this, the Church has become
very irrelevant and in fact an "ivory tower" as some people refer to

Long before it became fashionable to talk
about the ABC’s of church (Attendance, Buildings and Cash) Biko challenged this
ivory tower that inevitably leads to an interpretation of the Christian story
that serves those vested in building that same ivory tower. Biko further notes
that these bureaucracies are controlled by whites (I don’t know if this is
still so).

All these factors lead to what I think is a
spiritualization of the Jesus message that lives in a Platonic and Gnostic