Wednesday 10 November 2010

To the Laos - to the People of God, November 2010

Dear People of God

The month since Provincial Synod has been remarkably busy. Through various conferences and opportunities to speak publicly it has been good to remind myself to remain ‘Anchored in Christ’, as our Vision says. Returning to Jesus our Saviour, his incarnation, and what it is to be human, has both resourced me and guided me, as I have reflected on the spiritual and ethical leadership for which our world cries out. In Jesus we see the fulfilment of what is promised in the book of Genesis – that to be human is to be created bearing the image of God, and intended by him to ‘be fruitful’, living in love with him and with one another.

This picture of God-ordained flourishing, of individuals and of communities, has become my key message, for example in co-hosting a conference with the South African Minister of Health on the role faith communities can play to promote primary health care across Southern Africa. It is not our job to do governments’ work for them, but we can support them. Within ACSA we have empowered great numbers to spread accurate information around HIV and AIDS; and we must now look at using the same approach in promoting everything from basic hygiene to good nutrition. Healing and wholeness were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, and they should never be far from the heart of ours.

Human flourishing applies equally to the political sphere, where I have argued that Scripture’s vision of fruitful humanity provides grounds for faith communities to support human rights, constitutional provisions, and initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals, wherever they promote the godly well-being of individuals and communities. I also argued that true leadership – in politics, or any other walk of life – lies in shouldering the responsibility to promote this ‘common good’. Indeed, all of us should ask ourselves whether the choices we live by enhance or diminish human flourishing at our own level, and act accordingly.

In the Irene Grootboom Lecture, and speaking at the Right to Know Campaign March, I highlighted the importance of truthfulness in upholding media freedom, in politics and in wider society. You may remember that Irene Grootboom won a court ruling that under South Africa’s constitution, she ought to be provided with adequate housing – though she died before she ever received a home. The great gulf between our just rights, and governments’ abilities to provide them, can only be effectively tackled if politicians are honest about the difficulties they face. To pretend otherwise, or make unrealisable promises, is only to raise impossible expectations that inevitably worsen relations with communities. Only the truth can set us free to work together to overcome these challenges.

In the Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture, I also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Kairos Document, which was so fundamental in realigning the churches’ engagement with politics under apartheid. Its writers identified three different sorts of ‘theologies’ of those terrible times, and challenged Christians to challenge ‘state theology’ (using the Bible to justify and promote the government and its policies, no matter how right or wrong, on the basis of Scripture passages such as Rom 13) and ‘church theology’ (which dealt superficially in paradigms of faith such as peace and reconciliation, without looking at underlying questions like justice and mercy); and instead to pursue ‘prophetic theology’, bringing to bear the aspects of the Bible which have a direct bearing upon the situations people face.

The challenges of these three ‘theologies’ remain with us, in our changed times. Let me explain. Just because a government is legitimately elected, does not mean that its citizens are required to support all it does, unquestioningly. Democracy says politicians should still be held to account, and not only by voters every few years. This is one reason why media freedom is so important. Similarly, churches, in supporting democracy, must beware of being ‘critical friends’ of governments in ways that are too friendly and not critical enough, when human rights are not adequately pursued and upheld. It can be a difficult tightrope to walk – but we have no option but to walk it. For we must always be open to ‘prophetic theology’. As some have said, this means reading and thinking and praying with ‘the Bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other’, and letting Scripture critique every aspect of the life of our countries and our societies.

Meanwhile, over 4000 Christians from around the world gathered in Cape Town during October for the third Lausanne Congress – and in the preceding 3 days, some 500 Anglicans held a very successful conference, co-sponsored by our own Growing the Church initiative, that looked particularly at how Anglicans do mission. The Lausanne Congress issued a wonderful ‘Declaration of Belief and Call to Action’ that roots mission and ministry in our response to God’s prior love for us, and I commend it to you (it can be found online). I was privileged to be at both the opening and closing ceremonies – though in between travelled both to Lesotho for the Anglican Womens’ Fellowship Provincial Council meeting, and to the brand new diocese of Mbhashe. There, they elected as their very first Bishop, Revd Sebenzile Williams, currently Rector of St Martin’s, Gonubie, and formerly Dean of Umtata Cathedral. Please keep him, his wife Xoli and their family, in your prayers, as he prepares for his consecration on 16 December. Please also join in praying for Pumla Titus-Madiba as she takes over the presidency of the AWF, and in giving thanks to God for all that Ray Overmeyer has done during her time in office. Finally, it has been a joy to welcome the Bishop of Hull and the accompanying delegation from our link Diocese of York, in the Church of England.

Let me end by saying how much I have appreciated our recent Morning Prayer readings from Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach), through all this busyness. They have brought together wonderfully the mysteries of God, the need for true worship rooted in holy living, a call to the highest ethical behaviour, wise insights into human frailties, and sheer practical common sense. When I think of Jesus, the eternal word of God incarnate in human form, I realise again how, in much the same way, every aspect of human existence finds its proper place in him. Therefore let us redouble our commitment to ‘follow him’ and seek to grow in Christlikeness, for our own sake, and for the sake of the world.

Yours in the Service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

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