Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Strong emphasis on need for action by Christians against economic and ecological injustice

Strong emphasis was laid on action by Christians to fight the injustices of the global economy and to seize the opportunity presented by the near-collapse of its financial system to change world institutions, in a message of an ecumenical conference at Willow Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"We are faced with a crisis that is far more than an economic or financial crisis. It is a spiritual crisis of a civilizational model that is economically unjust; ecologically unsustainable, structurally violent and socially degrading of human dignity," said the message from the Global Dialogue on the Accra Confession: Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth released on Friday, 10 September 2009.

The dialogue brought together nearly 60 high-profile theologians and church officials, mainly from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which represents 214 Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed and United churches in 107 countries, and 75 million congregants. For four days from 3 to 7 September they unpacked the implications of the WARC's adoption of the Accra Confession at its 24th general council in 2004 in Accra, Ghana.

"We recognized that the present global economic crisis has exposed the inadequacy of the system to meet the needs of the people across the globe. The crisis has unmasked the failure of the global economic system to nurture sustainable Earth communities," said the message of 28 articles.

It highlights one of the strongest themes throughout the conference, that of empire, describing it as, among other things, "an all-encompassing global reality serving, protecting and defending the interests of powerful corporations, nations, elites and privileged people, while imperiously excluding even sacrificing humanity and exploiting creation".

"The call on the churches in the present context is therefore to resist the life defeating and death dealing blows of the economics of empire and to present alternative economies that have their basis in the promise of life in its fullness for all."

Discussion during the four-day consultation held at the Willow Park conference centre focused on response by WARC member churches to a declaration known as the Accra Confession which was adopted at the Alliance's global assembly in Accra, Ghana in 2004. The Confession urges WARC member churches to accept that seeking alternatives to the current global economic model is a matter of faith.

WARC's general secretary, Setri Nyomi, affirms the importance to the Alliance of church action on economic and environmental justice. Nyomi states that the commitment to justice will remain central to the work of the Reformed church movement following the merger of WARC and the Reformed Ecumenical Council in June 2010 to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

"We are putting in place a structure that ensures that our covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth becomes stronger," says Nyomi. "We cannot ignore the millions of victims of injustice and the consequences of human devastation upon the Earth. I am grateful to all the participants for the forward-looking vision that came out of the consultation as reflected in the statement".

The group said covenanting for justice had to be a continuous process and that the Accra Confession had proven to be highly prophetic, and that it should be the basis for communion between churches in both rich and poor countries. "On the one hand, we give thanks for the gift of reconciliation in Christ, and on the other, we understand that authentic faith cannot be divorced from actions for justice. We come together in unity for the sake of justice.

"At our best communion is experienced in the struggle as we covenant for justice in the economy and the earth."

Another conference theme was also captured, that of the complicity of Christians and churches themselves in economic injustice: "We were also brought into an acute awareness of the seduction of globalization and the role that it plays in co-opting even the most radical movements while at the same time insulating the privileged from the violence it is based on and generates."

The group said "the answer to the crisis cannot be only economic or financial. We are in need of a more holistic and integrated strategy, led by a renewed and deepened spirituality of life."

But it also came with practical suggestions to be pursued: "We should develop and agree on a set of specific principles of economic justice that are based on the biblical values of care, compassion, responsibility and accountability, taking into account the work done by the ecumenical family.

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, coordinator of the event and WARC's senior executive responsible for justice programmes, says: "The Global Dialogue has provided a way forward for the Accra Confession to be lived out in every place - from the streets to institutions; from communities to churches. It was made clear that today more than ever, it is vital that churches to connect with each other and with peoples' struggles, as we work together for justice and life sustaining communities."

A plan of action for churches is being developed for churches in preparation for the WARC/REC 2010 Uniting General Council.

The full statement follows.

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth
Executive Secretary, Church Renewal, Justice and Partnership

tel. +41 (0)22 791 6156

Johannesburg, South Africa, 3 – 7 September

1. In response to the urgent call to the common witness of a faith commitment in the Accra Confession: Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth adopted at the WARC 24th General Council, and in the continuing recognition of the urgency of the economic crisis and ecological destruction of our time, we write to reaffirm that the struggle for global economic justice and sustainable Earth communities is essential to the integrity of our faith in God and our discipleship as Christians. [Psalms 24:1]

2. In our continuing journey as a people of faith with the God of life - toward the June 2010 Uniting General Council, under the theme Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace [Ephesians 4:3], we are reminded of the reign of God who calls us into hope for justice, peace, wellness, harmony and unity [Titus 3:13-14]. Covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth is a testimony to just communion with God and God's creation.

3. From the 3rd to the 8th of September 2009, 58 church leaders, activists, pastors and theologians, who share a deep commitment to justice for the economy and the earth, representing churches of the Reformed tradition and global ecumenical institutions from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and the Middle East met in Johannesburg to reflect and dialogue on the Accra Confession.

4. The communication praxis of Jesus was to speak truth to power in word [Mark 7: 5, 6] and symbolic action [Mark 6: 30-44]. But Jesus not only spoke and acted, he also listened to the voices of those who were forced into silence by the violence of the system [John 4: 1- 26].

5. We, the participants of this Global Dialogue listened to the voices of people who struggle to come to terms with neo-liberal economic realities of post-apartheid South Africa. We heard from the people of Soweto about their collective action to resist the unjust system to find new ways of reclaiming their humanity. We learnt of ways in which people are reclaiming the economy to serve their interests - through political action directed against the state and its collusion with corporations. We also learnt of concrete action taken by people in making the state accountable to them as well as the church providing alternatives in places where the state has failed. Some of us also witnessed violence of the poor against the poor created by an economic system that pits them against each other in the struggle for life.

6. We were also brought into an acute awareness of the seduction of globalization and the role that it plays in co-opting even the most radical movements while at the same time insulating the privileged from the violence it is based on and generates.

7. We recognized that the present global economic crisis has exposed the inadequacy of the system to meet the needs of the people across the globe. The crisis has unmasked the failure of the global economic system to nurture sustainable Earth communities. The "idol" has been revealed as mammon. People are losing jobs, homes and access to public services. The growing awareness and acceptance of the ecological crisis and its rootedness in anti-people growth economies has further exacerbated the need for organized political action for global transformation. The need for churches and people's movements then is to use this crisis as an opportunity to initiate a paradigm shift in the economic system ensuring deeper democratic institutions enhances life giving economies. The call on the churches in the present context is therefore to resist the life defeating and death dealing blows of the economics of empire and to present alternative economies that have their basis in the promise of life in its fullness for all. (John 10.10)

Reading the Signs of the Times
8. The Accra Confession continues to be a prophetic response to the state of the world. This is due to the dramatic effects of the global financial crisis and the unprecedented level of ecological destruction and on-going climate change. We discerned a large consensus that the neoliberal economic paradigm, leading to a culture of greed, to unlimited growth and irresponsible consumption, is bankrupt.

9. Since Accra, we have deepened our understanding of empire, the system of death, contradicting God's will for life and justice for all. "We speak of empire, because we discern a coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power in our world today, that constitutes a reality and a spirit of lordless domination, created by humankind yet enslaving simultaneously; an all-encompassing global reality serving, protecting and defending the interests of powerful corporations, nations, elites and privileged people, while imperiously excluding even sacrificing humanity and exploiting creation; a pervasive spirit of destructive self-interest, even greed - the worship of money, goods and possessions; the gospel of consumerism, proclaimed through powerful propaganda and religiously justified, believed and followed; the colonization of consciousness, values and notions of human life by the imperial logic; a spirit lacking in compassionate justice and showing contemptuous disregard for the gifts of creation and the household of life." (Definition of empire from the Globalisation Project - Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa and Evangelical Reformed Church in Germany.)

10. Our churches, in different forms and to various extents, have not only struggled against empire through continuing reflection, dialogue and actions for justice and peace in the economy and the earth but we have also remained complicit to empire. This complicity remains the greatest threat to our communion, to our search for unity in Christ and is a betrayal of God's call for compassionate justice.

11. We see new opportunities in this moment of Kairos, in communion with other women and men at a grass-root, a national and an international level, to construct new economies of compassion, care and solidarity beyond empire.

Trinitarian Communion and Christian Justice
12. II Corinthian 13, verse 13 sees Trinitarian Communion as the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the community of the Holy Spirit. More particularly, Trinitarian Communion acknowledges God as the Creator-Sustainer, Jesus Christ as the reconciler between God and humanity, humanity and humanity and humanity and the earth, and the Holy Spirit as the ever-present power, inspiring the activity of the redeemed as doers of Christian Justice. On the one hand, we give thanks for the gift of reconciliation in Christ, and on the other, we understand that authentic faith cannot be divorced from actions for justice. We come together in unity for the sake of justice.

13. Because God is love we are confident in the assertion that God continues to love those who have been told repeatedly that they deserve no love. In obedience to the crucified Christ, we yield to the sovereign God our willing service. And with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we carefully analyse and expose gross systemic subordination as well as microstructures of "naturalness" and patterns of inequality, supposedly sanctioned as the providence of God. In other words, we hold Trinitarian Communion and Christian Justice as indivisible entities in the providential unfolding of God's purpose for humankind. At our best communion is experienced in the struggle as we covenant for justice in the economy and the earth.

Signs of Hope and Energy
14. We have listened carefully to the experiences of how people are resisting the effects of empire on their communities. We saw how women and men in Soweto are engaged in organising for change and reclaiming their respect and dignity through struggle for clean water and electricity in a context where the political leadership has failed them. These stories of resistance are attested to in many other places as well.

15. We heard of stories of how churches, both in the North and South, are living out the Accra Confession in their contexts. For example Churches in Zambia are involved in engaging in studying and understanding what globalization is and its impact on their daily lives. Some churches in the North have and are developing policies that enable them to set aside resources for the promotion of the Accra Confession and education for justice.

16. We have been encouraged by an emerging dialogue between churches in the North and those in the South, especially on Empire and what it means for both perspectives. The dialogue on globalization between the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) and the Evangelical Reformed Church (ERK) in Germany has served as a signpost of what is possible for us all. This journey of conversations holds potential for South to South dialogue also [Isaiah 1:18]. The growing consensus on empire as a lens from which to read the Accra Confession and to seek after justice is a sign of hope.

17. We listened to the pain of communion in the light of the South African churches experience of apartheid. We search for community in Bible study, prayer, and hearing of the healing word of God in our world with an awareness of the agony of pain that can only be healed by truth, repentance and reconciliation.

18. We look to the future with hope, new energy and the commitment to walk in communion and struggle together seeking justice despite our different social locations.

The Way Forward
19. In John Calvin's theology, human life is set in relation to the life of God. Life for the honour of God is based on faith in God, who puts God's own life at stake for the benefit of humankind. Our common journey forward as a people of faith is accompanied by our life giving God [Matthew 1:23].
20. We are faced with a crisis that is far more than an economic or financial crisis. It is a spiritual crisis of a civilizational model that is economically unjust; ecologically unsustainable, structurally violent and socially degrading of human dignity. Therefore the answer to the crisis cannot be only economic or financial. We are in need of a more holistic and integrated strategy, led by a renewed and deepened spirituality of life [John 10:10].
21. We need to recognize that all power is accountable to God. If economic or political structures fail to serve life, they must be changed. Theology of life needs to guide us in our way. Christians cannot accept that humanly constructed structures and systems, as powerful as they might be, are unchangeable. We experience everywhere in the world the struggle of people against an "economy of death" rearing its ugly life threatening head on the poor and marginalized. We need to seek for cooperation and solidarity of the body of Christ with grass-root movements, international groups and civil-society groups. For example the networking for global water justice.

22. In the faces of women, children, people living with disabilities, people living with HIV and AIDS, those discriminated on the basis of gender, race, caste, sexual orientation and sexuality we see the suffering of those most affected by the consequences of neo-liberal globalism. We affirm that all of life, in all its diversity, together is the image of God. The broken body of Christ that is united in the bond of love and with the Spirit of Peace invites us to journey together for justice and peace in the economy and the earth.

23. We need the expertise of Reformed women and feminist theologians, ecumenical leaders, young people, laypersons in economics and international relations to go forward, reflecting on the gender, race, caste and the other implications of empire that the Accra Confession addresses.

24. We found that a change of paradigm needs transforming education. This needs to take place on different levels and in different ways. This requires a mutual learning by exposure, engagement and dialogue and needs to happen on the levels of church-leaders as well as on the level of the local congregations.

25. We should develop and agree on a set of specific principles of economic justice that are based on the biblical values of care, compassion, responsibility and accountability, taking into account the work done by the ecumenical family. It should lead to the following steps:
- To organize a global ecumenical conference (including the Roman Catholic church) to propose a new international financial architecture, that is: a) based on the principles of economic and climate justice, b) serves the real economy, c) accounts for social and environmental risks, and d) sets clear limits to greed;
- To support processes of strengthening regional and local economies in the different social and cultural contexts.

- To make use of the 10 to 15 year time window to reach and implement the necessary goals of climate justice.

- To engage in climate justice with a twofold strategy: a) mitigation in order to slow down global warming to the level agreed in the ecumenical family (WCC Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt and campaigns of churches and ecumenical agencies), and b) adaptation to climate change and support especially of the most affected and vulnerable people.

26. In the Global Dialogue we found the necessity of an increased and sustained dialogue bringing together Reformed sisters and brothers from all ends of the earth. We need to share our experiences from each of our contexts, on the basis of our communion in Christ. This should take place in consultations between churches of the North and South as well as between churches from the same hemisphere. We also recognize that many people in the North live in conditions of the South and that there are elites in every country in the South, who live as those in the North. With commitment to one another in partnership and solidarity we need to engage in an open trustful space for an ongoing discussion and common understanding. In the light of communion and participation we need awareness for the different contexts we are coming from.

27. As WARC/WCRC looks towards its future, it needs to ask questions about its vision, its membership and their commitment and how it best lives out that vision. This process needs continuing support in organization and administration.

28. This vision of a way forward needs the development of policy and strategy for support, resources and engagement of its member churches to prioritize the urgency of covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth. The new communion needs to pay attention to this reality.


1. Rev. Dr Prince Moiseraele Dibeela, United Congregational Church of South Africa
2. Dr Johan Botha, URCSA/ERK Globalisation Project, Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa
3. Ms Martina Wasserloos-Strunk, URCSA/ERK Globalisation Project, Reformed Alliance, Germany
4. Dr Johann Weusmann, URCSA/ERK Globalisation Project, Evangelical Reformed Church, Germany
5. Dr Puleng LenkaBula, URCSA/ERK Globalisation Project, Covenanting for Justice network
6. Prof. Dr Allan Boesak, URCSA/ERK Globalisation Project, Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa
7. Rev. Dr Ben Du Toit, Dutch Reformed Church, South Africa
8. Prof. Dr Nico N Koopman, URCSA/ERK Globalisation Project, Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa
9. Rev. Basil Manning, United Congregational Church of South Africa
10. Rev. Cheryl Dibeela, United Congregational Church of South Africa
11. Rev. Dr Festus A. Asana, Presbyterian Church in Cameroon
12. Prof. Dr Maake Masango, United Presbyterian Church of South Africa South Africa
13. Rev. Coutinho M. Moma, Evangelical Congregational Church Angola
14. Rt. Rev. Christopher Mkandawire, United Presbyterian Church of South Africa
15. Ms Josephine Muchelemba, United Church of Zambia
16. Rev. Peggy Mulambya Kabonde, WARC executive committee member
17. Prof. Nelus Niemandt, Dutch Reformed Church
18. Rev. Dr Jerry Pillay, Alliance of Reformed Churches in Africa
19. Rev. Hendrick Pillay, United Congregational Church of South Africa
20. Prof. Dr Thias Kgatla, United Reformed Church of South Africa
21. Rev. Jimmy de Wet, Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa
22. Dr Sri Adiningsih, Reformed Ecumenical Council, Indonesia
23. Ms Maritza Anie Boudjikanian, Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches, Lebanon
24. Rev. Charles Norton Jansz, Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka
25. Ms Carmencita Karadag, Peace for Life, Philippines
26. Rev. Decky Kornelius Lolowang, Christian Evangelical Church in Minahasa, Indonesia
27. Mr. Philip Peacock, Church of North India
28. Prof. Dr Mammen Varkki, Church of South India
29. Dr Martin Engels, Reformed Alliance in Germany
30. Rev. Matthias Hui, Reformed Church Bern Jura Solothurn, Switzerland
31. Rev. Dr Ulrich Möller, Evangelical Church of Westphalia, Germany
32. Rev. Jane Rowell United Reformed Church, UK
33. Prof. Dr. Christoph Carl Stückelberger, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Switzerland
34. Rev. Dr Sjaak van't Kruis, Protestantse Kerk in Nederland, Netherlands
35. Mr. Helis Barraza Díaz, Moderator, Covenanting for Justice Network, Colombia
36. Rev. Clayton Leal da Silva, AIPRAL, Brazil
37. Ms Omega Bula, United Church of Canada
38. Prof. Dr Katie Geneva Cannon, PC (USA)
39. Rev. Dr Susan Davies, Covenanting for Justice Network
40. Rev. Daniel James Meeter, Reformed Church in America
41. Prof. Dr Oliver Patterson, Covenanting for Justice Network
42. Ms. Sara Pottschmidt, Covenanting for Justice Network
43. Mr. Peter Vander Meulen Covenanting for Justice Network
44. Rev. Robina Winbush Presbyterian Church (USA)
45. Dr Peter Borgdorff, President, Reformed Ecumenical Council, USA
46. Rev. Dr Clifton Kirkpatrick, WARC President, USA
47. Dr. Edwin Makue, South Africa Council of Churches
48. Prof. Dr Tinyiko Maluleke, South Africa Council of Churches
49. Rev. Dr Samuel Ayete Nyampong, Presbyterian Church of Ghana
50. Ms. Athena Peralta, WCC, Philippines
51. Mr. Moatlundhi Mogera, Student, South Africa
52. Rev. Philip Woods Council of World Mission (CWM)
53. Rev. Dr Vuyani Vellem South Africa Council of Churches
54. Mrs. Irma Patterson, USA
55. Rev. Dr Setri Nyomi, WARC General Secretary, Ghana
56. Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, WARC Executive Secretary, Covenanting for Justice, Guyana
57. Rev. Dr Douwe Visser, WARC executive secretary, Theology and Ecumenical Engagement, Netherlands
58. Hans Pienaar, Correspondent, Ecumenical News International, Johannesburg

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bob, still milking the poor.

Its multinational companies like Nestle, which keeps tyrants like Mugabe in power. They maintain their hold on poor, exploited nations, they remain silent at the cruel measures by the Mugabes of this world; together they milk the poor.

The Mugabe empire is still in place and thriving, irrespective of democratic elections, which emphatically rejected Bob, a 'government of national unity' or any interventions by SADC or, what's that guy's name again, the small one in the big chair and his pipe(dreams). In the mean time, Bob is still milking the poor Zimbabweans. When some of them realize what is going on, he just utter a few insults to fictitious British colonizers, pounce on white farmers and MDC, and then, almost magically, everything returns to 'normal'.

What is it that keeps his type in power? It's certainly not his people. They trusted 'the revolution'. They trusted democracy, SADC-style. They trusted 'the West'. It all failed them. We still see our leaders walking hand in hand with him, showering him with lofty praise and generous gifts. (Apparantly the Mugabe-empire pride themselves with some camels, gifts from the self-appointed president of the United States of Africa and guardian of Africa's interests against the West, the other village lunatic, Colonel M Ghadaffi.)

This evil system that keeps his ilk in place, is much more pervasive, insidious and powerful. It's a system that proclaims, above all else, our greatest virtue is in ruthless, economic growth, the accumulation of money. Its a system where those in power reward themselves with the cream of the crop, at the expense of millions of their poor underlings.

The Nestlé's of this world knows this and Mugabe and his comrades, demonstrate that in this world, even the most hard-core of revolutionaries are not able to overcome the lure and attraction of money and economic power. (Let's not forget about cde Blade, and the tools of his trade, as minister of Higher Education).

It's critical for us to start to ask the deeper questions, and to expose these companies and countries that continue to exploit the poor and if need be, indeed, we should start anew campaigns to boycott their products. In the 1980s clerics like Beyers Naude, Allan Boesak and Desmond Tutu travelled the world, calling for economic sanctions against the illegitimate regime of the Nats. They maintained that the call for economic sanctions, is a call of conscience, where people of faiths need to put pressure on the economic interests that keep Botha in power. I think that we are at a point where Mugabe's friends and allies need to be exposed and called to account. If need be, stronger pressure need to be placed upon them join us to dismantle the Mugabe-empire. Let's keep our eyes on how Nestle will respond to this new scandal...till further notice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let’s prevent suicide amongst young people

I was invited by a dynamic young organisation, called MAD (Mothers and Daughters) here in the South of Johannesburg to speak on suicide amongst teenagers. This multi-religious group aims to build positive young girls, through information and support networks. The event took place at the Bill Jardine stadium and various people spoke including rugby heroes, Laurence Sephaka and Aswin Willemse and head physio of Orlando Pirates soccer club, John Williams.

My input was small yet, I received a lot from this interaction. I stood as some-one who experienced suicide in my own family, but also, I shared that one of our church's leaders committed suicide last year. We were perplexed, gutted, broken. It however challenged us to look deeper, to realise that no-one is to blame, for this illness.

I said:

The World Health Organisation released a report, in this month, finding that between the ages 10-24 years, suicide is amongst the top three reasons for death, especially amongst boys. Amongst the guys the biggest killer remains.... car accidents. I'm not going to say anything about drags tonight. This kind of car accidents rather refers to the toxic mix between speed, booze and adrenaline. It's what happens on our roads in the 'normal' run of things.

All over the world, (England; Israel; Ireland; China) suicide is on the increase, or at least amongst the top killers of young people. But, I believe we can prevent it. I believe we can turn it around. The WHO states, "Most causes of death of young people are preventable and treatable."
Daisy Mafubelu, from the WHO, states,
It is clear from these findings that considerable investment is needed - not only from the health sector, but also from sectors including education, welfare, transport, and justice - to improve access to information and services, and help young people avoid risky behaviours that can lead to death."

But there is another reason why, I think, we can turn these statistics around. I am reminded of a clip in a movie, from the film School of Rock, where Dewy (Jack Black) is a stand–in teacher for his friend. He is ask some deep question about his philosophy of education, especially on testing and then he says that he doesn't believe in testing, because he "believe the children are our are future"

Some of the teachers, hear this and say, but... doesn't that comes from a song.. he just continues...

Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

The story of this song is fascinating. It was of course, sung by Whitney Houston, but released originally for Mohammed Ali's 1977 movie called The Greatest, sung, of course by jazz artist, George Benson. This song was written by Michael Masser and a young woman called Linda Creed. She was fighting breast cancer and these were her words.

Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

Greatest love of all


Linda Creed died in 10 April 1986, a few weeks before her hit made number one by Whitney Houston...and today this song lives on…This is the kind of spirit that will enable us to overcome teenage suicide today.

However, we need to do more. We can to do three things. This is taken from a campaign amongst high schools in Sydney Australia. It's called ACT
1) Acknowledge:
We need to acknowledge that there is a crisis of youth/teen mental health. Suicide is not a moral issue, it's a health issue. Let's take it out of the right and wrong, let's acknowledge when things are not well, let's allow young people to speak out when they feel they are not coping, when they have failed, in terms of expectations. Let's allow this, in order for us to grow. Many times we as parents need to set the example by asking for help, when we are not coping. Acknowledge when we struggle.
Further, we also need to say youth depression, one of the big causes of youth suicide, is a disease like any other, like flue, cold, diabetes, etc, and it can be treated. There is treatment and help available.
2) CARE: We need to build a community on a culture of care, instead of a culture of greed and materialism. What are our greatest assets, our greatest values- to win, to bling ? Sometimes, we as parents buy our children stuff, when they simply are looking for some-one who will be able to see the beauty that they already posses inside and to care. Let me say this: the greatest need of young people today... is to be some-one for some-one. Am I right here... the cell phone, the labels, the whack hairstyles, Mxit, Facebook, Twitter... is all about friendship... to be some-one for some- one. The greatest love of all is happening to me…learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all (Linda Creed).
3) Tell:
If you know its going down with your friend, some-one in class.. tell. In Israel, amongst young people it was found that they don't want to talk because they might be considered to squeal, they will be labelled a 'tell-tale'. We need to speak out. Speak to a teacher, to a counsellor, a doctors, nurse, pastor, imam, who-ever... just tell. I like the picture on one Suicide Prevention Facebook groups "Never let your buddy fight alone". Another Facebook group, Suicide Prevention gives guidelines on what to spot for and If you see these tell, because you might save lives.
Your friend might be
- Talking about dying (Or any form of harming oneself)
- Recent loss or losses
- Change in personality (Sad, irritable, anxious, withdrawn, apathetic)
- Change in behaviours
- Change in sleep patterns (Can't sleep, nightmares, etc)
- Change in appetite (Not eating enough or overeating)
- Fear of losing control (Going "crazy")
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Low self esteem (Feeling worthless, self-hatred, a burden, shame)
- No hope for future (Believes things will never get better, nothing will change)

Let me conclude with this: we are all vulnerable, our children even more, given the developmental challenges they face, but we need to continue to keep the spirit strong-because we can win this fight. It will not be easy all the time, in your own life, in the life of your friend: The song of Linda Creed ended off with these words.

And if by chance, that special place
That you've been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love

Top of Form


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On being intersexed

Recent hurtful leaks and slanderous media reports, about the teenage sensation, and our most recent worldchampion has also highlighted our ignorance about people born by being intersexed. Whilst the jury is still out on whether this is the case, it does not really matter what the outcome will be. This is a particular medical condition, and in itself not a reason for unfair discrimination, ridicule or exclusion. The manner in which these sensitive matters have been reported on by certain media houses are reason for grave concern. The sad reality is the even Christian bloggers recently referred to this condition in the rather derogatory manner as being a 'hermaphrodite'.

Intersexed Society of South Africa, is an organisation who aim to 'spread knowledge about intersex, to provide the space for the development of an intersexed voice in Southern Africa, and to combat discrimination on grounds of intersex'
They state,
'Intersexed people are a natural variant and an important part of human diversity, the birth of an intersexed infant should be celebrated no less than the birth of any other infant and ALL diversity should be valued whether of race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, ability, geography and or socio-economic status.'
I think it is critical for Christians to again affirm the dignity of all of God's people, and the inclusivity of the household of faith.
We have also just started a Facebook group, called, God Loves Intersexed People.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Caster Semenya, another Christian response

Recent leaks and ‘revelations’ by newspapers and speculation about the gender of South Africa’s 800m winner at the recent World Championships, Caster Semenya, have highlighted the critical role that media play in our world. It has also raised the issue of ethical reporting, i.e. what is right and wrong in the way stories are carried.

Whilst the international athletics body, the IAAF, has maintained, up to now, that no official findings has been released, that sensitive matters like these, will be dealt with confidentially and that any official findings will remain private, the current spate of media speculation by some newspapers, and the manner in which it is done, challenge one to speak out and raise a voice of concern and protest against these.

It should be noted that various church leaders have been requested to say something, to come out. None of the recognised churchleaders wanted to say anything. The URCSA presbytery of Tulbach, Tom Smith of Soulgardeners, however came back with a strong endorsement of this statement. It should be noted that bloggers like My contemplations and Emergen Bracken, also released Christian viewpoints on this critical matter.

We say,

1) We call all of us, including members of media, to respect the privacy and dignity of Caster Semenya and her family.
Let us remind ourselves that we all have been created in dignity and according to the image of God and have the right that this dignity are to be protected and respected.

2) Without pre-empting the findings of any investigation, we would remind all, that any reporting on the complex matters of sexual and gender identity, the personal dignity of the body of people, in particular women, need to be done with the utmost of care and sensitivity.
Within a particular historical context of abuse and the demonization of the female body and physicality, speaking on these matters is never innocent or objective. It either entrench the oppression of women or liberates.

3) We therefore call not simply for restraint, but also for reporting that upholds the dignity, challenge the frenzy and warped images and maintains the strong ethical code that distinguish fine journalism from newer forms of abuse and character assassination, in the quest for wider circulation and profits.

We denounce any speculation and crude reporting and call our members to consciously analyse, expose and boycott such reports.
We as faith communities want to hereby affirm our commitment towards an inclusive and humane society that upholds and protects the dignity of all people, in particular those who remain vulnerable.
We publically declare our full spiritual and pastoral support to Caster Semenya and her family. We will continue to pray for this young, outstanding Christian and her family and we thank God for her own church, who stand with a great cloud of witnesses alongside her.
We want to remind Caster of the words of God to his young prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you…”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dance festival- a celebration of our young people

We had such a wonderful evening last night attending the West Rand Dance festival. I had some personal interest, so my reflections will be biased. Even so, I am exited in what our various dance studios, are doing in our communities with our children.

Often we are overwhelmed my so much negativity, in the meantime, the simply continue to produce excellence year after year. What we enjoyed last night, are in a sense the wealth of the potential, but more importantly, the verve, sheer hard work and determination of our young people, in particular our daughters. This time the issue was not nagging about sore thumbs (in this case hands), or gender verification tests, it was celebration of our best.

The evening was well organised, the costumes and dance technique of high quality (I'm actually quoting the adjudicator) and evidently of international standard (again, the adjudicator), but that's not my focus here. Here, I simply want to rant against our media, who often (like in this case) fail to elevate and celebrate this good news story. They are seemingly not interested in this and would chase after the gory stories, which sells. Back in the days, we debated at length, ad nauseam, the theme: the pen is mightier than the sword. Do you remember those highschool debates (or shouting contests, actually)? It's only the last few weeks that I've understood the real significance of that debate, although, I think, usually the pen (laptop) and sword, usually fight alongside each other, on the side of the powerful.

I think, we should, continue to enjoy and celebrate the finest accomplishments of our young people; we should challenge them to work hard at fine-tuning their talents, at aiming to be the best at what they do. Sebastian Coe, Olympic medallist at middle distance of the 80, is clear, 'anyone who is serious about reaching the top of their profession will get there through a combination of hard work, focus, application and sheer talent….' This is happening in our communities, under the radar of the public media yet, it is there and as parents and educators we should continue to support it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Canada: the chickens have come home to roost

What does the ruling, on a white refugee desparately fleeing South Africa, of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, say about their own competencies or sense of reality? Is it possible that the members did not know about the complexities of the current South African transition? Is it possible that they are not aware of their own struggles, with their own racialised history and the genocide of the First peoples in North America?

I'm not sure about the answers to these questions. Its complex. I however would hope that the Canadian government will look into this affair, come out of their innocence and declare where they stand with regards to these matters. They need to re-affirm their support for the complex peaceful transition in South Africa, towards a non-racial, just society; they need to affirm their seriousness in addressing redress. All communities in South Africa, face the cruel reality of an inherent violent society. Our challenge is to change it all, to keep the dream alive of a just society, for all who live in it, and to make it a reality.

Last weekend, I was part of a church meeting in Soweto, where we wrestled at length, on the safety of our churches and members, all black. Members were shot at, robbed, brutalised, the last few months. On Monday afternoon, coloured members of our church were traumatised in the middle of the Southgate Mall robbery and had to run for their lives. We support them in this situation, of course, but this is not the issue for me here and now. We all know that violence affects us all, even for a highschool in Welkom, in the Freestate.

The question is what lurks behind the ruling of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board. What we have here, is a manifestation, a commentary on their own struggles. Canada, a highly diverse country, some would argue, a deep settler community, like Australia, New Zealand and the US, is still struggling to come to terms with the growing demands of their own indigenous communities for reparation, for justice. The ruling elite also have to deal with the fears and insecurities of their constituencies, who amassed their personal wealth, power and prosperity, at the expense of the colonised. Somebody asked me on Sunday, why Austrlia have never been challenged in the same way, as white Afrikaners on their institutional racism, by the world community. My thinking is simple: they had the military, culturalm political and economic power to virtually wipe-out the indigenous peoples, whilst in Africa, it was impossible, simply because of the sheer numbers. I also think the reason why Australia is sometimes called 'little South Africa', and Canada to a lesser degree, is simply because these emigrants feel a sense of déjà-vous there Anyway, my point is simply that we need to look deeper into the current decision and challenge the Canadians to acknowledge that their government cannot innocently wash their hands, parading as the paragon of open-ness and diversity…the chickens have come home to roost.