St Peter wrote ‘Beloved, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless … but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet 3:17-18a), and Jesus himself had particularly harsh words for those religious leaders, who, by their conduct or teaching, undermined the faith of those entrusted to their care.
I write these words, because one of the most difficult and distressing parts of life as Archbishop is dealing with reports of Christian leaders – ordained or lay – who in some way fail or otherwise fall short in living out their calling. Whether this is by neglecting responsibilities, or abuse of position, too often the root cause lies in putting self interest above the interests of those they are called to serve. Jesus rightly warned, ‘Be on your guard against every form of greed’ (Lk 12:15) – alongside money and material acquisition, this can mean status, power (including the abuse of relationships), or other forms of selfishness.
We serve a holy God, who calls us to holiness in every part of life. While he does not expect us to be perfect, he does call for sustained discipleship, in which we strive to grow in Christlikeness. In this way we are called to be salt and light to the world. Yet we cannot speak out against corruption, call for the highest ethical standards and integrity in politics, business, and throughout society, and press for an ethos of service rather than self-promotion, if we do not insist on the same standards ourselves. We must ‘walk the talk’, as I was reminded when I participated in the Radio 702 5km walk with St Monica’s Midrand last month.
Ours is the God of infinite mercy and infinite justice – but not of ‘cheap grace’. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed for opposing Hitler, described cheap grace as ‘preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.’ St Paul also opposed cheap grace in his letter to the Romans (Rom 6:1-4).
And so this leads me to comment on one such case, reports of which have appeared in the media. In the Diocese of George, Bishop Donald Harker has stepped down, after a forensic audit identified fraud or suspicious transactions in the Diocesan accounts. For the sake of transparency, I am releasing onto my blog and the ACSA website my letter of 10 July to the Diocese of George, which gives fuller background to these events.
Due processes still have some way to run, and there is no intention to sweep anything under the carpet. As the Provincial Treasurer has since told the media, parties named in the audit are being afforded the chance to answer queries, and in some cases, missing documentation has been supplied which accounts for some of the transactions. Where anyone is found to have been enriched, but without criminal intent, it is possible for funds to be recovered either by repayment to the church or through civil action. But where there is evidence of specific fraud or theft, a criminal case will have to be made, and a small committee has been established to assess criminal and civil liabilities.
Meanwhile, I have appointed the Revd Canon Brian Marajh as Vicar General, with a mandate that includes implementing good governance structures and overseeing appropriate new Diocesan legislation. Please pray for him, and for all the Diocese, as they go forward from this point. My intention is to lead a clergy retreat early next year, as part of the process of healing and renewal.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are all frail and fallible human beings, and we must beware not ‘to think of ourselves more highly than we ought’ (cf. Rom 12:3), especially those of us in leadership, and so risk falling into temptation. Brothers and sisters in Christ, do pray for your leaders, and do not be afraid to speak out where warning needs to be given. As older Bible translations put it, ‘let us provoke one another to good deeds’ (Heb 10:24), and let us always model best practice, holding it up for the world to see.
Transparency in the running of parishes and dioceses, as well as the Province, is always to be welcomed, as it helps us hold one another to account. This is true not only of church governance but also in politics, and throughout wider society. As Jesus said, knowing the truth sets us free (cf.Jn 8:32). This, and the reverse – namely that abuses can be perpetrated under censorship and inappropriate secrecy – was our experience under apartheid. Media freedom, properly used, is our ally in this area. For this reason, I am seriously concerned by the proposed South African Protection of Information Bill.
Dear people of God, though I write of such serious matters, do not be downhearted, for Jesus has broken the power of sin and death, and these will not prevail. There is far more happening throughout our Church that spreads the good news of Jesus Christ, builds the kingdom of God and proclaims his glory! I see this myself, as I travel around the Province. Since I last wrote, we had a wonderful celebration of the inauguration of the new Diocese of Mbashe; and a joyful consecration of Bishop Daniel Kgomosotho, as the second Bishop of Mpumalanga. On 1 August, I joined around three thousand people, perhaps more, in Sekhukhuneland, for the annual Manche Masemola pilgrimage service. It was a remarkable time of remembering the faithfulness of this young girl, despite opposition that cost her her life – and of the redemptive power of God to use the tragedy of her death to bring newness of life. It was a wonderful affirmation also of God at work in and through African life and culture: he is the God of every people on this planet, and he meets us where we are as he calls us to follow him.
Finally, let me end with a prayer drawn that underlines the confidence that is rightly ours, in our God’s desire and ability to enable us to walk the path to which he calls us: ‘Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen’ (Jude 24-25).
Yours in the Service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town