Now that I’m sick in bed I
actually have time to respond to some of the comments on Facebook and the blog
regarding my question whether – “there is a space for all-white Afrikaans
churches in the new South Africa.”
First let me make a few
comments on where I’m coming from.
I am a white boy born in South Africa in 1975. My home language is Afrikaans. I have spent most of my adult life in predominantly white
Afrikaans speaking churches. I am a beneficiary of Apartheid. Therefore when I’m asking the question
– then it is in a large sense an autobiographical one.
Let me give here a summary
of some of the responses I received on Facebook and the blog.
- That the church is a ‘spiritual’ entity that
transcends time, place and culture.
- That it is the Spirit that creates multicultural
communities and therefore it shouldn’t be forced.
- That the black churches are not multicultural, so why
should white churches be?
- That the predominant group in a particular church is
not as crucial as their attitude towards those that isn’t in the group.
- That those who have asked forgiveness from God should
now forgive themselves and help because it is the right thing to do – not
because they feel guilty.
- That the question is flawed and that it should be a
non-issue in 2009.
- That the idea of a new South Africa is not evangelical
So here are some of my
Although I believe that the
church is a transcendent reality, I also strongly believe that it has local
expressions within histories that are located in real places. Our geographical
space is South Africa and our apartheid history has been well documented. These histories and places ask specific
questions to churches located within it.
Whenever these actual stories and happenings are ignored – the gospel
becomes a form of religion without a context. Any spirituality without a
contextual mooring becomes a dangerous ideology.
I believe that it is the
Spirit who fosters and builds multicultural communities. Yet this fostering and building happens
through tough encounters between real/actual people. Just think of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10/11. I therefore find it difficult to expect
that multicultural communities will develop smoothly ‘in the Spirit’ or in the
abstract. ‘Spiritual’ language has
become the dichotomy wherein we hide from the real claims the Spirit of Jesus
makes on our comfort, resources and racisms. Love does not happen in the abstract. Racism and classism are overcome when
the Spirit connects people with each other in real space and time. If I never have contact with a person
across boundaries is it because the Spirit is not leading me, or because I’m
not following? I reject a
‘spiritual language’ that sidesteps reality and one of the sentences I feel we
need to deconstruct in South Africa is, “I follow the leading of the Spirit …” In my experience this sentence implicates the Spirit in leading a lot of people into self-centered
consumerism and isolation.
Concerning the comments on
the black churches, I want to note that I’ve asked the question from my
specific biological group. I agree
that the question should be asked by all groups – yet the Afrikaans churches
were the main culprits in the oppression of the people in our country and also
the beneficiaries thereof.
Therefore, it has been
pointed out rightly that we have to deal with forgiveness. We have to ask God’s forgiveness and
forgive ourselves. But what about
asking forgiveness of those who have been oppressed? I regularly ask black people in our country whether a white
person has asked forgiveness for the atrocities of apartheid. You can guess the answer to that. I also ask whites who tell me that they
‘are tired of saying sorry’ if they can tell me a story of when they asked a
black person for forgiveness. You
can also guess the answer to that.
If the church can’t become
the facilitator of Spirit-forming communities of real people coming together in
conversations and acts of reconciliation with God and each other, then the
church in South Africa is a farce.
Though it is sad that this
question is still around in 2009, it is, and I feel a deep sense that it is the question we have to live in.
In my blog post I asked the
following question and still wonder if it isn’t a good one to ask:
Apartheid was built on a theological justification. People
were taught this system in churches. When Apartheid fell, did the church
teach a new story or did we just stop propagating the old ideology without
“renewing our minds” towards a counter-narrative? Are we living with the
same apartheid mind (church) in a post-Apartheid South Africa?
We have to reject
dichotomies of physical/spiritual or evangelical/political and see what it
means to call Jesus Lord of all in
South Africa today. In the 1950’s
Dieterich Bonhoeffer asked of his Nazi Germany – “Who is Jesus Christ, for us,
As white Afrikaans churches
we have to ask that question of ourselves and follow Jesus and not make the
same mistake Peter made when he asked of John’s journey, “what about him?”