The embedded church of service delivery
In a hard-hitting paper read at the annual congress of the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) today Professor Tinyiko Maluleke said that while South African Christians who had been involved in the liberation struggle liked to think of themselves as belonging to the “prophetic church”, the church had rather become “embedded”, and had become the church of service delivery.
The churches had allowed the ruling party to organise relationshps with the churches in a way that suited themselves, and the rulers were always amused by visits from church leaders.
Prof Maluleke has been president of the South African Council of Churches for three years, and so had been on many visits to the Union Buildings, and it was clear that those in power wanted to pretend that religion has a smaller place in public life. The church has been coopted, not by the government, but by the ruling party. The church believes that service delivery is good for people, but the ruling party needs service delivery in order to stay in power. Service delivery is done for people, and the people are just passive recipients. There is no consensus and no discussion about the service itself. This role for the church comes not from the side of the poor, but from the side of those in power. The ruling party was smart in organising the religious landscape, and in meetings between church and political leaders the most important thing was the pictures of the President taken at the end. The meetings were not dialogue, but briefing sessions.
Professor Maluleke shows that we have not progressed in relationship with those in power since the days that church leaders went to government offices and were treated to PW Botha’s wagging finger.
Having opened the day like this. it closed on a similar note, with Prof Willem Saayman giving the David Bosch memorial lecture, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Bosch’s magnum opus, Transforming Mission. It was introduced by David’s widow Annemie showing the latest of the 16 foreign language translations of the book – the Czech edition.
Willem Saayman recalled the Kairos Document of 1985, and said that David Bosch, with his Reformed and Baptist/Mennonite pacifist views, had been unwilling to endorse it, but had preferred to work through the National Initiative for Reconciliation, whichy had appeared about the same time.
The Kairos Document referred to State, Church and Prophetic theology, and Willem wondered what David Bosch would have made of the current situation. David had referred to his own role as that of an antibody, as one that fights toxins that attack the body from within.
Now there is a new Church-State theology, represented by the Neopentecostal churches, many of which uncritically support the government. There is a Free Church theology, represented by the old “English-speaking mainline” churches, the Dutch Reformed Churches and the classical Pentecostals, which is mildly critical of the government, but somewhat detached from it. What is needed, however, is something equivalent to the Prophetic Theology of the Kairos Document, which cannot be exactly the same, because in 1985 we had am illegitimate government, but now we have a legitimate but incompetent and corrupt government.
In between these were several other speakers, dealing with mission after four major gatherings that had taken place in 2010 – at Tokyo, Edinburgh, Cape Town and Grand Rapids. There isn’t time to describe all these, as I need to go to bed and get some sleep before tomorrow’s session.