Skip to content

Billy Graham in black and white

23 February 2018

The death of Billy Graham was followed by a flood of posts on social media, some praising him to the heavens as more honourable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, and others damning him as a would be war criminal who urged US President Richard Nixon to kill a million people in Vietnam.

I thought I would steer clear of all the hype, and not read any of it, pro or con, until a few internet friends posted things that I thought worth paying attention to.

First was Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, who met Billy Graham in 1988 when he visited the USSR at the invitation of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the occasion of the celebration of a millennium of Christianity in Russia:

At the airport waiting for our flight to Kiev, I asked Graham what had led him to undertake his first trip to the USSR in 1982 despite advice from Vice President Bush not to go. “I had been briefed at the Pentagon about what would happen if there was a nuclear war,” he replied. “I had been to Auschwitz and seen how limitless is our capacity for evil. And I was thinking about Paul saying in his first letter to the Corinthians that he was called to be all things to all people. I realized I had closed myself to the people in the Soviet Union. So I felt I had to say yes to the invitation I received from the Russian Orthodox Church inviting me to take part in a peace conference they were preparing in Moscow.”

Speaking in Kiev, he gave a vintage Graham sermon: “My grandfather never dreamed of the changes that have happened in our world — space travel, color television, travel from continent to continent in a few hours by jet airplane. But some things never change. Interest in religion never changes. The nature of God never changes.” He spoke about God’s love for each person, a love we cannot damage by our sins. Graham recalled a Moscow lady who told him, “I am a great sinner.” He responded, “I too am a great sinner, but we have a great savior.” He recalled Prince Vladimir and his conversion. “He turned away from idols and destroyed them, opening a new path in life not only for himself but for millions of others right down to our own time. God never changes, but you and I must change just as Prince Vladimir changed a thousand years ago.” He ended his sermon saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  (see Jim Forest’s book Religion in the new Russia).

The second was Irving Hexham who posted a link on Facebook to a sermon preached by Billy Graham in South Africa in 1973, in which he said that Jesus was not white.

I was there. I heard it.

I also heard John Gatu of Kenya, who preached immediately before him, who in my opinion preached much better.

I said as much in response to Irving’s Facebook post, but that is not the full story. Facebook lends itself to the visual equivalent of sound bites — one-liners that never tell the full story. That is why I prefer mailing lists and possibly blogs for discussing such things.

And there was a story behind that sermon that deserves to be told again.

The rally at which Billy Graham was the main speaker was the culmination of a 10-day conference, the South African Congress on Mission and Evangelism.

The conference was organised by the South African Council of Churches and African Enterprise, an evangelistic (and Evangelical) organisation.

The organisers wanted to make the conference as widely representative of South African Christianity as possible, and, in particular, to bring “Evangelicals” and “Ecumenicals” together (they weren’t too bothered, at that stage, about the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, whose presence would probably be even more scary to Evangelicals than the Ecumenicals).

SA Congress on Mission and Evangelism Rally at Kings Park stadium, Durban, at which Billy Graham preached. 17 March 1973.

And if anything was going to bring the Evangelicals in, it was Billy Graham, who was a hero to most of them. So he was there as bait. The Evangelicals would come to hear Billy Graham, they wouldn’t come to hear John Gatu, no matter how well he preached.

And the bait worked.

Billy Graham Rally at Kings Park, 17 March 1973

Many Evangelicals remained suspicious, and shied away from the Ecumenicals, whom they regarded as “political” (if anyone deserves that epithet today, it’s Evangelicals, especially American ones) and too
focused on the “social gospel”.

But many overcame their suspicions and joined in.

I heard Billy Graham preach on one other occasion, at Earls Court in London in 1966. On that occasion I and those with me handed out pamphlets critical of some of Billy Graham’s comments on the Vietnam War. The pamphlets were produced by the Christian Committee of 100, of which I had become a hanger-on.

Billy Graham rally at Kings Park, Durban

I had been told by several Anglican clergy that they did not approve of Billy Graham, because they did not like “emotionalism”. The way they described it , it sounded as though he had an almost hypnotic effect on the crowd, getting them all worked up.  But I was disappointed.

I was less than impressed with his preaching on that occasion. Far from being emotional, it was rather dull and boring, and there was no appeal to the emotions at all. But on both occasions it clearly worked for some people, who went forward to commit their lives to Jesus Christ as Saviour.

For some of them it may have been a recommitment. I’ve seen many people respond to such “altar calls” again and again. An Anglican monk once told me that he did at a Billy Graham crusade. As he got up to go forward, the ushers stopped him, and said “Not you.”
“Why not?” he asked
“It’s for those who have committed their lives to Christ.”
“But I have.”
“No, it’s for those who have committed their lives to Christ today.”
“But I do, every day.”

So the Evangelical ritual of the “altar call” is not necessarily well understood outside Evangelical circles, but Billy Graham’s preaching nevertheless influenced a lot of people and, I believe, brought many closer to Christ. He was certainly the best-known itinerant evangelist of the 20th century.

So what Billy Graham said in South Africa that day may have helped some white Evangelicals to see that racism wasn’t OK for Christians, and thus he may have planted some seeds that germinated and helped in some way to end apartheid 20 years later.

But at the time it was a huge disappointment. It could have done with a bit of “emotionalism”. There were 50000 Christians there, of all races (the government had demanded that they be segregated, but they weren’t, people sat anywhere they liked). They were expecting something to happen, but it didn’t. John Gatu preached a far more stirring sermon, and perhaps he should have spoken last, and sent out the crowd as manic street preachers, and they probably would have done it.

Billy Graham started off well — saying that though we all come from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, we are all one in Christ, and waved his arm round the packed stadium and said “This is the church”.

And then he proceeded to preach a sermon full of bad cliches and mediocre pulpit jokes. If he had taken up the consciousness of unity that was beginning to emerge, and expounded on it, something might have happened. It was ready to happen. Fifty thousand black and white Christians gathered together, of all races, all classes, sitting together. There might have been a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We could have prayed and sang and exchanged the kiss of peace, and it would have been great, but it fell flat. About a fifth of them came forward for the appeal at the end. For the rest of us, there was nothing more. We could leave, so leave we did. A great anticlimax.

I doubt that more than 1% of that crowd were heathen who had never heard or responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Billy Graham was preaching to the choir, to the already-converted. But nothing must be allowed to interfere with the sacred Evangelical liturgical ritual of the “altar call”.

What was needed was not a call to come forward to the podium, but rather to go out,

Go down in the city, into the street,
Let’s give the message to the people we meet

… as a contemporary song (Light up the fire by Parchment) put it. That would have been a good song to sing while everyone was leaving.

The third piece is from Brenton Dickieson, who writes in his blog about Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, and Me | A Pilgrim in Narnia. I think he comes closer to giving a balanced assessment of Billy Graham than many when he writes:

Graham leveraged early superstardom to do very specific things that shaped American Christianity for the next three generations. In particular, Graham’s insistent and consistent ecumenism, his global interest, and his unapologetic views of racial integration—even going so far as to bail Martin Luther King, Jr. out of jail—are imprinted upon post-WWII American Christianity. In particular, it was Billy Graham who shaped what is now known as evangelicalism, distinct from and overlapping with both fundamentalism and mainstream liberalism. With all the things we may quibble about, for millions of people around the world, Graham made faith personal.

Brenton Dickieson is a student of C.S. Lewis, who, like Billy Graham, influenced many Christians, not through his preaching, but through his writing. In his blog he describes how Lewis met Billy Graham, and their impressions of each other. It really is worth a read.

The spell begins to break

14 February 2018

The land of Narnia was under a spell, so that it was always winter and never Christmas.

And in a chapter headed The spell begins to break we are told that the snow was beginning to melt, and there were signs of spring.

And I was reminded of that when watching a meeting of the chief whips of the various parties were discussing the procedure for a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, and the steps that would follow that.

It seemed that a spell had broken. The country had been held in thrall by a wicked witch, where people took sides and fought each other as we saw in parliament in the past. And the spell was broken and there was quiet cooperation and agreement. The Hawks, who had hitherto seemed paralysed, turned to stone statues in the witch’s castle, suddenly began to move again, and raided the Guptas’ castle, and started making arrests.

And suddenly I became aware of how much one man had put the country under a spell. One by one people became aware of what was happening, but still he held his own party under a strong enchantment, but the drips became a trickle, and the trickle became a stream as the snow melted, and finally the witch’s sleigh has got bogged down in the mud.

Four years ago the right-wing media accused Jacob Zuma of being a witch. I thought they were just misinterpreting a metaphor, and I still think that they misunderstood  what he was saying. Then the left, in the person of Julius Malema of the EFF began making similar accusations. He was not misunderstanding a metaphor. He may have had a point.

But seeing the change in the last few hours, it seems to me that a spell certainly has been lifted. People who were scared to speak, and looked uptight and tense in TV interviews are suddenly appearing relaxed, as if a huge burden has been lifted. Suddenly the witch has lost his power, and appears quite ordinary.

Let us be careful that we are not bewitched again.

 

Anti-Semitism, anti-leftism and anti-Christianity

5 February 2018

A friend recently posted a link to an article on antisemitism which claimed that antisemitism of the left was more dangerous than antisemitism of the right. I found the article biased and tendentious for several reasons. For one thing, the author seemed to characterise “the Left” in much the same way that antisemites characterise the Jews — with stereotypes based on innuendoes. Just as for antisemites there is no need to substantiate any accusations against “the Jews”, so for those authors there is no need to substantiate any allegations against “the Left”, because those are something that “everyone knows”.

When I pointed this out to the friend who posted the link, he said that the writer was writing about “the Left” in the American sense, and perhaps there is a great deal about American culture I don’t understand, and “Left” in the political sense means something different there. But it seems that terms like “Left” and “Right” in politics have become so meaningless as to be interchangeable, and not just in America. You pick one that you want to use to describe yourself, and ascribe everything bad to the one you didn’t pick. I’ve been aware of that tendency for some time, and have blogged about it before.

Yet I suspect that even in America there is some residue of the original meaning. Soon after seeing the antisemitism article, someone posted one of those quizzes on Facebook that purport to show whether you are left or right. Is it accurate? I don’t know, but I thought it would be interesting to do it to see what the quiz authors regarded as “left” or “right” characteristics, which can itself be revealing of social trends.

You can take the test here, and my results were as follows:

Of those I will comment that in addition to being solidly left-wing I am also solidly pro-life, meaning that I am anti-war, anti-abortion and anti-capital punishment. Most of those who claim to be pro-life are less than solidly so, and are rather full-of-holes pro-life. If you want a more accurate test to take your political temperature, try the Political Compass.

Be that as it may, very few of the characteristics ascribed to the left, either in the test or in the antisemitism article, appeared directly in the quiz questions. There was nothing about intersectionality (whatever that may be)  or “identity politics” (which sounds like a pretty right-wing thing to me). But there were quite a lot of questions about Christian values. One of a group of four that I opted for was “kindness”, because it came closest to the Christian value of love, though whether the test counted that as “left” or “right” I’m not sure, but I noticed that it does place the Christian value of forgiveness on the left.

The antisemitism article also has a significant comment on the Christian worldview — How Anti-Semitism’s True Origin Makes It Invisible To The Left – The Forward:

In addition to the belief in a shadowy group with the power to affect large-scale outcomes, conspiracy theories also reflect a worldview in which reality is the product of a timeless and cosmic struggle between good and evil. These kinds of dualistic narratives are especially enticing to groups that view themselves to be under existential duress, and as Elaine Pagels has shown, this has profoundly shaped Western culture. Jews under Roman occupation and early Christians under Jewish ostracism and gentile persecution developed theologies of the oppressed in which the devil and his demonic host squared off with God and his angels.

In the apartheid era in South Africa I, and I am sure many other South African Christians, opposed apartheid for precisely the reasons outlined in that paragraph. Because Christian theology is a “theology of the oppressed” (as the article puts it), we saw apartheid as a demonic ideology. I do believe that there is a cosmic struggle between good and evil, though I’m not sure that it is timeless. The Christian take on it is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the decisive battle was won by good, and we live in the last days of mopping up operations.

That worldview has been central to Christianity from its beginning, as can be seen from a historian’s account of how the Christian worldview first took root in the Graeco-Roman pagan society in which it first spread:

In antiquity, pagans already owed a debt to Christians. Christians first gave them their name, pagani… In everyday use, it meant either a civilian or a rustic. Since the sixteenth century the origin of the early Christians’ usage has been disputed, but of the two meanings, the former is the likelier. Pagani were civilians who had not enlisted through baptism as soldiers of Christ against the powers of Satan. By its word for non-believers, Christian slang bore witness to the heavenly battle which coloured Christians’ view of life (Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians 1987:30).

And the same worldview can be seen throughout the baptism service of the Orthodox Church. So, whether intentionally or not, John-Paul Pagano, the author of the antisemitism article, identifies Christianity with “the Left”, as the quiz also seems to do.

I also believe that Zionism is to Orthodox Judaism as Hellenism is to Orthodox Christianity. Both Zionism and Hellenism are offshoots of 19th-century romantic and secular central European nationalism, and have tried to coopt religion for their own purposes — more on that here, if you are interested. And it has generally been such secular nationalisms, rather than the “cosmic battle” worldview, that have encouraged the spread of conspiracy theories among Christians.

And this is where Orthodox Christianity, and the Orthodox worldview, tend to differ from that of both Western Christianity and Western secularism.

Western Christianity tends to be legalistic, to share the values of the Right rather than the Left, preferring punishment to forgiveness, and justice to kindness (in the left-right quiz mentioned above). It can be seen in the Western hostility to the Orthodox idea of hate the sin, love the sinner.  In Orthodox theology the Church is a hospital where sinners can be healed rather than a courtroom where they are to be judged.

But in much political rhetoric nowadays, we see that people love to hate the sinner and not just the sin. The American “right” hated Obama more than they hated his policies. And the American “left” hates Trump more than they hate his policies. They love to hate the sinner, and the sin often seems to be just an excuse for their hatred of the sinner.

One objection sometimes raised to the “cosmic battle” idea is that it is said to give people the excuse of saying “the devil made me do it”. But in Orthodox spirituality that is no excuse at all. What it does allow us to say is that “the devil made him (or her) do it”. It’s a third-person excuse, not a first-person excuse. It’s what opens the way for forgiveness and love for the sinner. As St Paul says, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness.

At the beginning of Lent is Forgiveness Sunday, when we ask for, and offer forgiveness to all who have offended us or whom we may have offended. It’s Forgiveness Sunday (a leftist value), not Punishment Sunday. And before receiving communion people acknowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.

So there is a cosmic battle, there is spiritual warfare between good and evil, but the line between good and evil is not primarily between states, between civilizations, between political parties, between races or ethnic groups, between classes or sexes or genders. It is a line that runs through every human heart, and above all mine. Western Christian sometimes speak of “spiritual warfare” in terms that are carnal, and apply it to flesh and blood enemies rather than spiritual ones. This can be seen in an exaggerated form in, for example, the novels of Frank Peretti, where spiritual powers are depicted as altogether material. For more on this aspect of spiritual warfare, see here.

And lest it seem that I am saying that the line between good and evil runs between Eastern and Western Christianity, making “us” superior to “them”, let me quote a Western Christian, G.K. Chesterton, on this:

The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor. A Christian may consistently say, “I respect that man’s rank, although he takes bribes.” But a Christian cannot say, as all modern men are saying at lunch and breakfast, “a man of that rank would not take bribes.” For it is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history. When people say that a man “in that position” would be incorruptible, there is no need to bring Christianity into the discussion. Was Lord Bacon a bootblack? Was the Duke of Marlborough a crossing sweeper? In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position at this moment.

 

The crème de la crème of South African religion and spirituality blogs

3 February 2018

I entered this blog in the 2017 SA Blog Awards, and the winners have now been announced.

Thanks to everyone who voted for Khanya blog.

I entered this blog in two categories: Religion and Spirituality and Arts and Crafts (that seemed to be the closest one could get to books & literature in the awards categories).

Here are the winners, so you can find the best in SA blogging.

Religion and Spirituality best blogs 2017

  1. Winner: Ruth Abercrombie
  2. Runner-up: My Spreadsheet Brain
  3. Runner-up: Adele Green

So there you have it — the crème de la crème of South African religion and spirituality blogs in 2017.

 

1968 in retrospect

25 January 2018

1968 in Retrospect: History, Theory, Alterity1968 in Retrospect: History, Theory, Alterity by Gurminder K. Bhambra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw this book going cheap on a book sale and I bought it because 1968 was quite a significant year in my life, and the title 1968 in retrospect interested me. The sub-title, however puzzled me. I had to look up “alterity” in a dictionary, and I’m still not sure what it means.

It’s a collection of essays by sociologists on the significance of 1968. What made the year significant for them was clearly the whole Student Power thing that erupted in that year, though they didn’t actually say so explicitly. One had to infer that from the contents of the essays, many of which were self-consciously not about the events of Paris in May 1968, as they said focusing on that meant that people missed a lot of other significant things, but in the end it became clear that it was the events in Paris that gave significance to the other things.

In the introduction the editors acknowledge that they weren’t born in 1968, though they asked for advice from a couple of people who claimed to have been there, and therefore their memories must be suspect. And to me that makes their whole enterprise suspect. As a historian I know that people who “were there” when significant events took place can never see the whole picture, and in the history of those events there will be gaps that only become apparent much later.

I know this from personal experience. I “was there” in the 1960s. I saw what I saw, and heard what I heard, but I didn’t see or here everything, not even all the bits of it that concerned me directly. Only 40 years later, when I read the reports that the security police sent to the Minister of Justice did I discover that I had been to places I had no recollection of being at. Such sources only become available to later historians, and enable historians to piece together a fuller picture of the past. So yes, “being there” is not enough. But does that make those who weren’t there less suspect than those who were? I’m not so sure about that.

The authors of these essays are not historians but sociologists, and there is little evidence that they have done much historical research on the subject. So that was a disappointment, to me, at least. What the book perhaps does show is the significance of 1968 for the history of sociology as a discipline. I will say some more about the significance of sociology in 1968 from the “I was there” perspective, but not in the Good Reads review. I’ll save it for an expanded blog post with more personal reminiscences, which will be extraneous to the book review.

I won’t deal with everything in the book, but the main thing that struck me was that many of the authors wrote about the “long decade”. 1968, they said, encapsulated the Sixties, and the Sixties really lasted from 1956 to 1976. Now if one is looking for the characteristics of that long decade, there are all sorts of cultural currents that they do not mention at all — the Beat Generation of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and their successors, the hippies and the Summer of Love in 1967, though that was before 1968. But it was students who experienced the “Summer of Love” who were also involved in the events of 1968, so what influence did one have on the other. None of the authors say. There were theological currents, such as the “God is dead” thing, and the Jesus freaks. The “Prague spring” of 1968 is mentioned in passing but not really analysed.

The editors said they were trying to get away from a Western perspective, and were more interested in non-Western perspectives, and feminism and gay liberation. So there is a chapter on politics and student resistance in Africa since 1968, whose author, Leo Zelig, writes:

This chapter looks explicitly at the nature of the student revolts in Africa in the late 1960s and 1970s. The chapter seeks to pull our attention away from Europe and North America, the privileged sites for discussing 1968, to focus on other voices that began to craft a new politics in that year.

But he goes on to deal with African students of the period as the privileged within their societies anyway.

And if the aim was to shift the focus away from the privileged, why was there no mention of student revolts that started in Soweto in 1976 and spread throughout South Africa? If the Sixties were a long decade, then that surely was a significant culmination of the student power movement of 1968, but it is hardly mentioned in the book. For that I recommend The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show, which gets the spirit of ’76 better than this book gets the spirit of ’68.

To justify the “history” part of the title the very least I would have expected would be a chronology of the events of 1968 that the authors and editors saw as most significant, and possibly some of the events in the preceding and following years that constituted the “long decade”. As one chapter in the book reminded us, 1968 was the year that Enid Blyton died. But the conclusion that I came to after reading this book was that sociologists can’t write history, and a real history of 1968 has yet to be written.

View all my reviews

Sociology in the Sixties: a personal encounter

I thought I would add a personal retrospect (not on Good Reads, since it’s no longer a review of the book), and I challenge any of my blogging friends who were alive in 1968 to do the same. It may provide some raw material for real historians to work on. But since the approach of this book is sociological, I should first describe my encounter with sociology in the 1960s.

In 1960 I registered for Sociology I at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). As an introduction to the discipline it had grave shortcomings (I see now, in retrospect). The prescribed textbook was Human Society by Kingsley Davis (which is so out-of-date that I couldn’t find it on Good Reads for a reference), and the impression was given that Davis’s approach was sociology. There was no mention of other schools, not the slightest hint that there even were other schools. We had lectures from Prof G.K. Engelbrecht on various forms of social deviancy, like juvenile delinquency, and I had to write an essay on the causes of adult crime.

Halfway through the year I went to a student conference at Modderpoort in the Free State. It was the first conference of the Anglican Students Federation, which was formed at the conference, and there were a number of interesting speakers on a variety of topics that were far more stimulating than most of the lectures we had at university. Among the speakers was Brother Roger of the Community of the Resurrection whose paper Pilgrims of the Absolute made me aware that my Christian values ran counter to those promulgated by Kingsley Davis and the Wits Sociology Department. For Davis Society was the Absolute. And so I became critical. I developed my own critical theory about sociology, that it was idolatry and incompatible with the Christian faith. Christians were therefore to be counter-cultural and eccentric — having a different centre from that of Kingsley Davis and the sociologists.

Jump to 1965, when at another church conference, in Johannesburg this time, on the topic of “The Church and Youth”. Prof G.K. Engelbrecht of the Wits Sociology Department was invited to speak. He said that that task of the church was to help youth to adjust to society. He spoke of the problems of maladjusted individuals, and how the church could help them. I was older then, and at a different university, so I felt more free to question Prof Engelbrecht than when he had been lecturing 400 first-year students in 1960. So at question time I asked him, What if society is wrong? What if you have a bad society? Was the role of the church still to help youth to adjust to it? What about the Old Testament prophets — weren’t they maladjusted individuals? No, said Professor Engelbrecht, youth must adjust. But I persisted, What about a society like Nazi Germany, must youth adjust even to that? “Youth must adjust!,” he said, even more emphatically.

That confirmed all my prejudices — that sociology as a discipline was simply a con to sucker people into accepting the status quo, and that remained my view until 1968.

1968: A personal retrospect

At the beginning of 1968 I was at Nijmegen in the Netherlands, staying with some Augustinian friars. The beginning of the year was marked by fireworks and the hooters of the barges going up and down the Rhine. A visiting English student friend, Alastair Wyse, and I walked through the snow to the German border and took a bus to Kleve, to have a beer. A friendly German citizen bought us many more, and would have carried on doing so until we were unable to find our way back to Nijmegen.

I was a student at St Chad’s College, part of the University of Durham in England, studying for a postgraduate Diploma in Theology. I was spending the Christmas vacation with the Augustinians in Breda and Nijmegen to get a feel for the theological ferment going on in the Dutch Roman Catholic Church. They were modernising, and the Augustianians had abandoned their religious habits for business suits. Alastair Wyse told me that just before leaving England he had seen a DJ on TV wearing a monastic habit, so pop culture was overtaking the Dutch Augustinians and leaving them behind. I had a couple of T-shirts with me, with the slogans “Jesus Saves” and “God is Love”. They were sold by the satirical magazine Private Eye and John Lennon had appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror wearing one. I took a photo of the OSA brothers wearing them, with their business suits. Perhaps it epitomised the new monasticism, or the conflict in the Western Christian search for “relevance”. Relevance to whom? Pop culture or the suits? You can see more on this, with more pictures, here.

The Augustinians had produced some rather good liturgical innovations, I thought, and the reasoning behind it was that the liturgical life of a community was the expression of the life of the community as a whole. They had no desire to impose this on anyone else. I asked them if there would ever be a non-Italian Pope of Rome, and they said that as he is the Bishop of Rome, an Italian city, he ought to be Italian; he just mustn’t stick his nose over the Alps and try to tell us what to do.

I returned to St Chad’s College in mid-January to find just the opposite. Most of the students were studying theology, and many were preparing to be ordained in the Anglican Church, so the chapel was fairly central to what went on. The previous term the college had used a new experimental liturgical text of the Church of England, called Series II. At the end of the term the staff had asked students to submit written comments on it. Not everyone had submitted comments, but those who had had been entirely negative. When we returned at least some of us expected that there would be a college meeting, where this would be discussed. But there was no meeting. The chapel services had reverted to a kind of ornate and fussy 1930s Anglo-Catholicism, imposed by the college teaching staff.

When we queried this we were told it was our own fault; we had not made written submissions. Four of us, in particular, found this unsatisfactory. I had been among the Dutch Augustinians, and seen what they did. Two others, Graham Mitchell and Hugh Pawsey, had been at a conference organised by the Student Christian Movement (SCM) at which one of the speakers had been a Swiss Reformed Chilean Pentecostal called Walter Hollenweger, and came back talking a lot about the Holy Spirit. The fourth was Alan Cox, who in the previous summer vacation had met a Zen rabbi in the USA called Murray Goldman, who he said had converted him to Christianity (and later converted to Christianity himself, I was told).

Alan Cox went to see the principal, John Fenton, and had a long chat with him about the weird liturgical regression. The principal convinced him that it didn’t matter what we did liturgically. It didn’t matter whether we had the Series II of last term, or the Italianate baroque of this term. We decided to take the principal at his word. It was the custom, on the eves of major feasts, for students to attend Evensong wearing cassock and surplice and, if graduates, academic hoods. We turned up in current hippie gear — orange trousers, flowery shirts and the like, because, you see, it didn’t matter. But it turned out that it did matter, not least to the principal, who was furious.

It was also a custom for some students to preach and lead services in local churches, and Alan Cox and I went out to the Durham mining village of Bishop Middleton with Herbert Langford, the vice-principal, known as “The Brang”. He was a German Jew who had fled Hitler’s Germany and arrived in England as a penniless refugee in 1939, and had then become a Christian. I rather liked and admired him.

On the way back he asked “Vy veren’t you vearing vedding garments the other night?” We explained that we thought that the “wedding garments” were becoming a new form of circumcision. He harrumphed, and disagreed.

The next major feast was the Conversion of St Paul on 25 January. So on the 24th, exactly 50 years ago as I write this, the order came down from on high: “Vedding garments, by order”.

I had just received a bunch of press cuttings from my mother back in South Africa, and one of them described how an Anglican priest in Cape Town, Gray Featherstone, had nailed 95 theses to the door of Cape Town Cathedral about the church’s lukewarm opposition to apartheid. Inspired by his example, we compiled a document about the college as a Christian community. We could not come up with 95, only 33 propositions, so we headed it 33 Revolutions per Minute (those over 40 may understand). When the time came for Evensong, we left our cassocks, surplices and hoods neatly folded up in our places in chapel while we were in the college office, running off copies of our 33 theses on the stencil duplicator (again, those over 40 may understand).

We put one on everyone’s table in the dining hall. At dinner, we all went to sit at high table to see how the college staff reacted, and, we hoped, to discuss it with them. Alan sat next to Brang. Graham and I sat on either side of one of the tutors, Eric Franklin, facing the Principal, and Hugh Pawsey sat next to the other tutor, Hugh Bates, who, seeing the theses lying on his place, tore it up while the Principal was saying grace.

Afterwards Hugh (Pawsey) asked him why he had reacted like that, and he said if anyone wants to give him something they can put it in his pigeon hole. The Principal made polite conversation, as did Eric Franklin, and Brang didn’t seem to say anything to Alan at all. After dinner we put another copy of the theses in Hugh Bates’s pigeon hole, and then at coffee got discussing it with the Brang and Eric Franklin, but didn’t manage to get much further, Brang didn’t understand at all, and Eric Franklin seemed to think that the best approach was moral paralysis.

The main argument in our theses was not in favour or or against any particular liturgical practices, but rather that the college must meet to talk about it, staff and students together, rather than the staff soliciting individual written submissions from students, and then making arbitrary decisions based on those.

That was part of our contribution to the student power movement, three months before the events in Paris. We had not consulted Daniel Cohn-Bendit — we had not even heard of him then. Perhaps student power in its varied manifestations was something in the air, and that was at least part of our experience of the spirit of ’68.

The following day we had a meeting with the principal, who largely agreed with us (so he said), but said that there were two communities in the college, the graduates and undergraduates, and that there were some very frightened people among the undergraduates, and he thought liturgical stability was needed to keep them from flipping entirely. We said that there were far more diverse communities than the college, and we thought that the way of holding them together in their diversity would be to meet and discuss things.

At the end of January there was a meeting of the university African Society, chaired by Gavin Williams, a South African teaching in what passed for the Sociology Department in Durham (Department of Social Theory and Institutions). The speaker was a Mr Hodgkins from Oxford, who spoke about Frans Fanon. Some of what he said is so true of South Africa 50 years later that it is almost uncanny.

According to Fanon many postcolonial societies are controlled by the national bourgeoisie — the university and merchant class and civil service. They are unlike the European bourgeoisie in that they are not interested in owning the means of production, but in keeping a finger in the racket. They have an aptitude for trade and small business, and are imitative of the West. They have no ideas and cut themselves off from the people. They promote “Africanisation” to secure jobs for themselves. They are suspicious of foreigners, they choose the easiest means of staying in power, that of the single party, which represents and is the instrument of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. There is a divorce between the country and the towns, and the cult of the mystique of the party leader. In this decay the army becomes the arbitrator in any disputes. If there was to be any real revolution, it must come from the peasants, and not the urban bourgeoisie.

We adjourned to a pub afterwards to continue the discussion. I had met Gavin Williams at the wedding of a friend, Stephen Gawe, the previous year, and though him met the head of the department, John Rex, also a South African. Over the next few months I learned more about sociology from chatting to Gavin Williams and John Rex in pubs than I did in an entire year of Sociology lectures at Wits. I learned that Kingsley Davis represented only one school of sociology, the stucturalist-functionalist schiool of Talcott Parsons, and that there were several other schools, with a variety of views.

In the Easter vacation Hugh Pawsey and I attended a seminar on “Orthodox theology and worship for non-Orthodox theological students”. It was held at the World Council of Churches study centre at Bossey in Switzerland. As an impecunious student I took the cheapest flight I could get, from Gatwick to Basel. But the plane broke down in Basel, we we had to crowd into another plane belonging to the same company, which was going to Zurich. It was a twin-engined Aero Commander with canvas bucket seats, heavily loaded. As we approached Switzerland we ran into a thunderstorm, going through heavy clouds with pouring rain and lightning flashes all around and the plane bucking like an under-exercised horse. I knew there were Alps up ahead and hoped the pilots could see them because I certainly couldn’t.

On arriving in Zurich I took a train to Fribourg and stayed with another South African student, Barbara Newmarch, who was studying there. She introduced me to the class system of Switzerland, or at least that part of it. The working-class kids in the street spoke German, the upper-class kids spoke French. The following day I got the train to Celigny, and the Orthodox seminar began.

The seminar was arranged by Professor Nikos Nissiotis of Athens University, He gave lectures, as did Fr Cyril Argentis, Fr Boris Bobrinskoy, Fr Alexis van der Mensbrugge and Fr Jean Tchekan. The lectures were interesting, but the “Aha” moment came when discussing it with some Lutherans seminarians from East Germany (DDR). About 30 of them had come, and formed a large block. As we were standing outside the chapel, which had ikons of Christ and the Theotokos, one of them was saying “But what about the Word? There is nothing about the Word!” And I pointed to the ikon of Christ and said, “There’s the Word.” The Lutheran response had told me as much about Orthodoxy as the lectures themselves.

We had a couple of free days. On one of them Hugh Pawsey and I took a boat across the lake to Yvoire on the French side, a village that retained much of its medieval character. On another day we took the train to Geneva, and went to the headquarters of the World Council of Churches, where we met Walter Hollenweger, who had spoken at the SCM conference Hugh had been to in January. We told him about what had been happening at St Chad’s, and he suggested speaking to a journalist, as they were the ones who were best at understanding and producing liturgy these days. We decided not to; the basic problem was a lack of a sense of community in the college, and we thought bringing in an outsider would be counterproductive.

After 10 days of lectures we boarded a bus to Paris, where the seminar concluded with Holy Week and Pascha at St Sergius. There we had to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, but Hugh Pawsey and I fasted with the students of the seminary who lived in primitive conditions in the crypt of the church, because we had no money for restaurants. We spent our last francs on the cheapest loves of bread we could find, which we ate sitting in a park.

The thing that made the deepest impression on me was the Easter kiss. The church was full, and it took 45 minutes for everyone in the church to kiss everyone else. A few years later Western churches introduced the “kiss of peace”, but in 1968 I had never seen anything like it, nor heard anything like the Catechetical Address of St John Chrysostom that followed, which seemed to summarise the entire gospel in one page.

Holy Week at St Sergius in Paris, April 1968. The priest is Fr Alexander Kniazeff.

As we left Paris on Easter Monday 22 April 1968 the student power demonstrations were just beginning. Perhaps we should have stayed and witnessed more of the historic events, but we had no money at all, just our return boat and train tickets, so we left, and called at Hugh Pawsey’s parents place in Kent to cadge some money to continue our journey, and get something to eat.

Back in Durham about thirty students were having a sit-in in the university administration building. Newspapers were quoting police spokesmen as saying that they were taken by surprise, as they had not expected any “trouble” in Durham, which was the most middle-class university in the UK.

The Dean of the Theology faculty, Prof H.E.W. Tuirner, called a meeting of all the staff and students of the faculty, and asked for ideas on how to improve communication. One student shouted, “You’re just scared that we’re going to pull up the paving stones in Sadler Street and toss them through your window.” No, no, said the Dean, it’s nothing like that, we just want better communication. But undoubtedly the desire was sparked by what was happening in Paris.

Meanwhile, back in South Africa, the National Party government passed the Improper Interference Act, which made it illegal for people of different races to take joint political action. As a result the Liberal Party, of which I had been a member, was forced to disband.

The term passed, the exams came, and then I went to London to see the Anglican Bishop of Natal, who had sent me to St Chad’s. He was in London for the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. St Chad’s College had a September term for graduates, and he asked me if I wanted to stick around for it. If I preferred, he could arrange for me to spend a term at a South African theological college rather than hang around waiting for September. That sounded good to me, so I said yes, I’d rather go home. He asked if I would like to stop off anywhere on the way, to see something different while I was abroad. I said yes, I’d like to see Tanzania. He said that would be stupid, and suggested Greece instead, but I didn’t fancy the colonels who were in charge there, so I went more or less straight home.

But while in London I met up with Alastair Wyse, who had been with me in Nijmegen at the beginning of the year. He had been at St Chad’s the previous year, but then had gone to the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield. We spent a pleasant day in Hyde Park, making paper flowers and giving them to passers-by as a token of peace and love. A couple of months later he was arrested for planting a bomb in Westminster Abbey, and was sentenced to three months in prison. He wrote to me while he was in prison, but I lost touch with him after he came out.

I returned to South Africa, back among friends and family. The most notable change was that the safari suit, which was just beginning to make its appearance when I left in 1966, was now the height of white male South African fashion, and would not be complete without a packet of Gunston cigarettes in the top jacket pocket and a comb in one’s sock.

A fortnight after I arrived home a couple of men from the Security Police visited me at my mother’s Johannesburg flat and confiscated my passport. Then I was summoned to John Vorster Square, their new headquarters, to see a Lieutenant Jordaan. I had left South Africa for the UK in January 1966 after failing to keep an appointment with Detective Sergeant van den Heever, who wanted to give me a banning order. On my return, these things picked up again where they had left off.

On the 11th floor he said. I arrived at the entrance lobby of John Virster Square, and looked at the lift, but it only went to the 9th floor. Someone asked me what I wanted, and then directed me down a small passage. There was a tiny lift at the end of it, but only one button, for the 10th floor. Up it went. It stopped at the 10th floor, where a man asked what I wanted. I said I’d come to see Lieutenant Jordaan. He phoned to check, then sent me back to the lift, and he sent me up to the 11th floor. The lift was controlled only from the outside. The only other way out, it seemed, was defenestration. The lieutenant asked me the usual questions they asked of people for whom a banning order was required — where do you live, how many entrances, what kind of building, who else lives there. Then he said I could go. The banning order only came three years later, so that is not part of 1968.

I found that the Christian churches in South Africa were in a bit of a ferment too. They had produced a theological critique of apartheid, called A Message to the People of South Africa. Christian groups had previously made practical criticisms of apartheid, saying that it was unjust, that it implementation caused unnecessary suffering and things like that. This was different, in that it attacked the ideological foundations of apartheid, saying that it was not merely a heresy, but a pseudogospel. The “Message” was published in various languages, and I went with a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest, Cosmas Desmond, distributing the Zulu version in rural Natal. We took it to several former members of the Liberal Party. Most of them were peasants, as opposed to the urban bourgeoisie mentioned by Frans Fanon.

Enock Mnguni, former chairman of the Stepmore branch of the Liberal Party, with copies of the Message to the People of South Africa for distribution

I went to spend a term at St Paul’s College in Grahamstown. As I had already completed my diploma studies in Durham, I had no exams to prepare for and could read and study what I liked. I found a book on Orthodoxy in the college library, The World As Sacrament by Fr Alexander Schmemann, later published in an expanded version as For the life of the world. It rounded off what I had learned at the seminar at Bossey, and made more sense to me than most of the other theology I had read.

I was also faced with the prospect of bring ordained as an Anglican deacon at the end of the year, and realised that I didn’t know much about that. At the ordination service the bishop would ask, Do you think you are truly called to this office and ministration and I would be expected to say “I think so”, but probably most of the people who said that had not thought about it at all until that moment. It had certainly not been mentioned during my two years at St Chad’s College, and I’d not heard it mentioned at St Paul’s either. I scoured the college library for books about the office and ministrations of Anglican deacons, but there was very little. There seemed to be a rather large lacuna in Anglican theological education.

I left St Paul’s and Grahamstown on 30th November 1968, in the little branch line train that chugged over the hills to Alicedale, where we waited for the main-line train from Port Elizabeth that would take us to Johannesburg. I was very conscious that this was the end of my being a full-time student, and that I would never be a full-time student again.

Grahamstown station, the line to Alicedale. November 1968

So in December I was ordained as an Anglican deacon in Pietermaritzburg on one of the hottest days of the year, and was sent to work at the Missions to Seamen in Durban, and that was where I ended 1968.

Ordination in the Anglican Diocese of Natal, 22 December 1968, with Bishop Vernon Inman, at St Saviour’s Cathdral, Pietermaritzburg (now demolished)

Retrospect

So that was my 1968, an outline of it, anyway. There is probably much more that could be said, but that would requre a book and not a blog post, which is already too long. I had a small and rather peripheral encounter with the student power movement, for which 1968 is most famous. I had a not quite so peripheral encounter with Orthodox Christianity, which in the long term proved more significant for me personally. I’ve not mentioned the high-profile assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the USA, the Vietnam War, which was never far from our thoughts, and several other things.

So if you were around then, what was your 1968 like?

J.M. Coetzee on white writing

9 January 2018

White Writing: On The Culture Of Letters In South AfricaWhite Writing: On The Culture Of Letters In South Africa by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collection of essays on South African writing by white people. The essays are arranged roughly in chronological order by what they describe, though they were written at different times, and there is no thread of argument that links them together.

We discussed some aspects of the book at our literary coffee klatsch last week White writing, dark materials | Notes from underground, so I won’t repeat that here.

The first essay. on idleness in South Africa, deals with the first European (ie Dutch) writers who described the local people when writing for people back in the Netherlands. Their overwhelming impression was of idleness, which offended their Calvinist work ethic.

There are three essays on the literary genre Coetzee calls the “farm novel” or plaasroman. He deals with the farm novels of C.M. van den Heever in some detail. These were mostly written in the period between the World Wars, and dealt with the urbanising of Afrikaners, Most of them have a kind of nostalgia for a vanished or vanishing rural way of life, where the city and urban life is seen as evil. They promoted an ideology of landownership. In this respect they dealt mainly with the farm owners of the family farm, and paid less attention to the bywoners (sojourners, sharecrioppers). or the labourers. One thing that struck me about this (though Coetzee does not say so explicitly) is the similarity of this ideology to African ancestor veneration. It is wriong to sell the family farm because the ancestors are buried there and so on. The villains are the money lenders who get the farmers into debt, and then try to take over the farms. Some are Jews, some are deracinated Afrikaners, but all have the taint of the city and its values.

Another essay deals with the rendering of foreign speech into English or Afrrikaans. Pauline Smith, who wrote farm novels in English, did this by rendering the dialogue of Afrikaans-speaking people with Afrikaans syntax, moving the verb closer to the end of the sentence. This was more common in 17th-century English, so it gives the impression of being slightly old-fashioned. Coetzee thinks that Smith got this speech pattern from the Authorised Version of the English Bible. For example, “Every bit of news that came to her of Klaartje and Aalst Vlokman Jacoba treasured.”

Alan Paton does something similar in Cry, the beloved country when rendering the Zulu dialogue of a country priest into English. The priest has come to the city to search for his lost son, and here too the theme is of rural people going astray in the city. So Paton devises the dialogue to represent the innocence,/naivety of the country priest in the city.

The chapter I found most interesting was on Sarah Gertrude Millin. Though I had read a book she had written, a memoir Measure of my days, I did not think of her as an author, but rather as the wife of a judge. I read it when I was still at school, where I had been forced to drop History as a subject in favour of Latin, so for several years Millin’s book was the main source of my knowledge of 20th-century South African history.

From Coetzee I discovered that Millin had written several novels, mainly between the wars, where one of the main themes was the evils of miscegenation and “tainted blood”. Coetzee traces this concern to 19th-Century scientific theories, especially Darwinism, and the concept of superior and inferior races. In the 1920s and 1930s when Millin wrote her novels, such views were politically correct, especially in South Africa, though her novels were more popular overseas. But after the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and the discrediting of Nazi race theories, such views became politically incorrect, except in ultra-rightwing circles.

View all my reviews

CS Lewis’ Response to Critics of The Lord of the Rings: The Dethronement of Power | Earth and Oak

8 January 2018

When Tolkien began there was probably no nuclear fission and the contemporary incarnation of Mordor was a good deal nearer our shores. But the text itself teaches us that Sauron is eternal; the war of the Ring is only one of a thousand wars against him. Every time we shall be wise to fear his ultimate victory, after which there will be “no more songs.”

Source: CS Lewis’ Response to Critics of The Lord of the Rings: The Dethronement of Power | Earth and Oak