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Unburdening the Captors

19 May 2017

Yesterday the South African Council of Churches (SACC) held a press conference to release the report of its “Unburdening Panel”.

Unburdening, Uncapturing: SACC and SACP take leadership while ANC dithers | Daily Maverick:

,,,for the first time since the height of apartheid, the church is intervening to take on “a government that has lost its moral legitimacy”. The SACP, meanwhile, is convening “progressive forces” in the country for a national imbizo that could set the agenda for the big political conferences coming up…

The heads of all the churches that are members of the SACC have agreed to issue a pastoral letter across all congregations about the report on the Unburdening Panel. This will guide preaching, discussions and prayer in churches across South Africa. It is an unprecedented move in post-apartheid South Africa and it is happening now because the church leaders believe that government has lost its “moral barometer”.

This could be a “game changer”, as journalists like to say.

The last time I saw such a game-changer instigated by Christians in Southern Africa was in 1971, when the leaders of the Lutheran Churches in Namibia issued a pastoral letter to be read in all their churches saying that they agreed with the World Court that South Africa’s rule over Namibia was illegitimate and illegal. The South African government were gobsmacked.

For years the South African government had been saying to other denominations, like Anglicans, Methodists and Roman Catholics, “Why can’t you be like the Lutherans? They aren’t political, they just get on with preaching the gospel.” That it came from such an unexpected quarter and also that the Lutheran churches together were the biggest in South West Africa (as the South African government liked to call Namibia in those days) caused them to sit up and take notice. The Prime Minister of South Africa, Balthazar Johannes Vorster, travelled to Namibia for a special meeting with Lutheran leaders, and tried to cow them with the bombast he usually used with recalcitrant church leaders, and it didn’t work. They stood up to him and answered him right back.

And it made a difference.

The World Court decision, and the Lutheran endorsement of it, suddenly made black people walk tall in the streets of Windhoek. The National Party idol, like Nebuchadnezzar’s, did not need to be worshipped any more. In fact it had feet of clay. Even later back-tracking by Bishop Leonhardt Auala of the Evangelical Lutheran OvamboKavango Church could not stop the momentum for change.

We didn’t have TV back in those days, but the SACC conference yesterday was broadcast live on eNCA, and you can see it here.

Ten years ago there was a movement for Moral Regeneration in South Africa. It was government sponsored and government initiated and the man who was put in charge of it was Jacob Zuma, who about that time was described by a High Court as having a “generally corrupt” relationship with a businessman who was jailed for fraud, but released around the time that Jacob Zuma became president.

There were attempts made to get civil society to buy into this Moral Regeneration thing, based on ubuntu, but the most they seemed to achieve were to produce a list of shared moral values that were so vague as to be meaningless, and again, after Jacob Zuma became president, we heard no more of moral regeneration. I’ve said more about moral regeneration and ubuntu here and here.

This Unburdening Panel set up by the SACC seems to be a step in the direction of a real moral regeneration, rather than the phony government-initiated one. It was pointed out that it is pastoral, not inquisitorial. To judge from the questions asked by the media, it seems that it is difficult for the media to understand this. As someone once put it, the media just don’t “get” religion.

They kept asking questions to try to get the church leaders to say that Jacob Zuma was corrupt.

But such questions are, quite literally, satanic.

The word “satan” means “accuser” or “prosecutor”, and the journalists’ questions were aimed at getting church leaders not merely to accuse Zuma, but to judge him and find him guilty. And that is a satanic temptation, the temptation to judge and condemn. Jesus said “Judge not that ye be not judged.”

SACC Unburdening Panel

The SACC leaders resisted the temptation. The most that they would say was that the jury is still out, and they might have added that they are not the jury. The purpose was not to investigate, much less to prosecute. The purpose was pastoral, to help those who were troubled in their conscience to unburden themselves.

But while Christian leaders should not be accusers of their brethren (Rev 12:10) they should give pastoral care to those who are troubled in conscience, and point out what kinds of behaviour are sinful and need repentance, and in the course of this unburdening a lot of corrupt behaviour has been revealed. Church leaders should not be pointing fingers to say who is wrong, but they can and should say what is wrong. It is the behaviour rather than persons, that is to be judged. And they have found plenty of evidence of bad behaviour in the highest circles of government.

For this to have any effect, for the promised pastoral letters to be sent out and actually read in churches, there needs to be a lot of awareness of what is happening, and so I’ll do what I usually try to avoid doing — ask people who read this to “like” and share it on Facebook, to tweet and retweet on Twitter and other social media (you’ll find buttons for doing this at the bottom of this post), and to do the same with other articles you find on the subject, and if you have a blog, write about it and link to other articles, including this one, if you like.

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