Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pastors and Sex..thinking pastor Ray and JZ

Pastor Ray and Pastor Jacob Zuma are redefining the discussion on pastors and sex. We are talking sex again! Perhaps JayZee, would not qualify as a real pastor, but the way things goes these days, who cares? There remain a group of churches, who feel that he is annointed enough to wear the cloth. So, with tolerance stretched to new levels, in a spirit of brother and sisterhood, let's join hands and sing, Kum-bah-jah. Afterall, Pastor Ray and JayZee shared the same pulpit at some point, spreading the love (so to speak).

What I am interested in is how they are redefining the mores in a country that are predominantly Christian. My observations: I am aware of the rising tide of secularization, which desacralise open public discourses on all issues, yet, I also maintain that there has also been and upsurge in privatised religiosity, in particular the neo-charismatic, free-spirited, prosperity type. This is merely an observation, not a value judgement on these movements or churches.
Then, the new leaders of these, come are under intense public scrutiny-they gain celebrity status and their views on matters, matter. Also, how they handle, sex and marriage. So, understandably there was a huge public uproar when Pastor Ray divorced his first wife and soon after that married again. Some left his church, others joined perhaps, to get closer to the fire of God.
Further, these stories are timely reminders that pastors and public leaders are mere human beings, no demi-gods. They share the same struggles, vulnerabilities and needs. We also need to appreciate that theological differences exists with regards to morality, marriage and issues on sexuality.
However, society, at least as articulated through media, dispite open-ness and greater appreciation for a wide array of sexual expressions and positive appreciation for sexuality, remains surprisingly conservative, especially with regards to what is expected of public leaders.
Dispite condemnation and outrage, there is also no deep, ongoing debate on how to appreciate our sexuality as a divine gift of our Creator.

On the other hand, I need to note my own discomfort at the media reports on the behaviour, of our president. If the reports are accurate, on the birth of his latest offspring on Oct 2009, from another friend's daughter, then it supports the perception that he continues to have casual sexual intercourse, without the proper or any (?) use of condoms. If this is correct then it evidently undermine his authority in leading our nation in the fight against HIV infections. Whilst some would argue that his own sexual exploits and adventures, remain his private business and also embedded in the mores of his culture, these reports however strengthen the image of a president, who have scant regard for the scourge which plague our nation and subcontinent. In this respect, I would argue that he urgently need to set the record straight, and come out publically to shed light on his views. Otherwise, the questions will linger. Pastors, will have to talk sex, this time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

SA Church leaders (NCP) calls for unity

In the spirit of a joint Christian witness, National Church Leaders met in Stellenbosch from the 18-19 January 2010 to reiterate their commitment to common efforts towards building a better South Africa. To this end, the leaders have agreed to work together to form a united Christian witness and will seek a meeting with President Zuma and other Government officials.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s reflection on the call and action of unity was the focal theme of the meeting. He called for a deeper experience of Jesus as the Source of unity. Church Leaders called for a greater unity in concern for the dignity of all in South Africa, in action to build a better society and in joint action as part of the world community.

United in concern, the leaders of church communities called for an urgent clarification of the status of formal agreements between faith communities and government. The leaders asked that human trafficking become a focus point for all communities. Countering trafficking in persons requires formation in communities and awareness raising, especially considering the 2010 World Cup.

United in action for a better South Africa, the national church leaders’ consultation is thankful to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for their commitment to fund Faith community programmes in HIV & AIDS Programmes.

United in concern for the situation after the earthquake in Haiti, the church leaders called for solidarity with Haiti in prayer and in a national collection in all represented churches

South African churches and Christians respond to Haiti crisis

The people of Haiti need our bread – give them bread yourselves. (Mk 6.37)
The Earthquake in Haiti last week has left an already devastated country on its knees. The Leaders of the Christian Community in South Africa, gathered in Stellenbosch for a National Church Leaders’ Consultation, having prayed for the people of Haiti, appeal to your generosity. We acknowledge the courageous and heroic acts undertaken by the survivors of this calamity. Let us support the People in Haiti with our bread. Haiti’s devastation will need the whole world to respond.
Immediate needs are for food and water. Many other needs will become clear over the next weeks.

We ask each Church community to offer prayer for the situation. We also ask that each community consider a special collection for disaster relief in Haiti. Due to transport difficulties, it would be better that immediate contributions from South Africa be financial. We appeal to the International Financial Institutions (IMF, World Bank, etc) to cancel Haiti’s considerable international debt, allowing the country to make new start. This would be a significant act of compassion. We appeal to President Zuma to drive an African response at the upcoming African Union summit.
We commend the South African response. May this service be counted as mercy. We are confident that the People of God in South Africa, united behind this response and with the support of the Government, will be able to show our solidarity with a people in need of our Bread.

Details of the bank accounts for the appeal:
Project Caritas: (administered by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference)
Name: Project Caritas
Bank: Nedbank
Acc No: 1604750693
Swift code: NEDSZAJJ
Bank Code: 160445 Nedbank, Cnr. Andries and Pretorius, Pretoria
Donations should be marked ‘HAITI’.

Beyers Naude Special Fund: (administered by the South African Council of Churches)
Name: Beyers Naude Special Fund
Bank: Nedbank
Acc No: 21901966
Swift code: NEDSZAJJ
Bank Code: 190805 Nedbank, Fox Street, Johannesburg
Donations should be marked ‘HAITI’.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are SA's black parents failing their children ?

At various points in our history, we wrestled with (percieved) moments or periods of crisis. I would argue that, at least in the South African context, the recent publication of results of matriculants of 2009, signals that the serious crisis for the black community ain't over.

The Sunday Times (10-01-2010) editorial states, 'The national matric pass rate of 60.6%,which has been steadily declining since 2005, is a national disgrace.' The editorial continue correctly, 'The matric results are an important indicator of the quality of the country's education system', but then concludes naively, 'Taking politics out of the classroom and making teachers teach would be a good start'. If only it was that simplistic.

What did they miss here? They missed the fact, that it was black learners who failed, again (Here, I include African, Indian and coloureds, conscious of the fact that this could also jade the picture). Karen van Rooyen writes an article (in the same edition), where she states, 'Statistics for 2009, are not yet available, but in 2008 only 57% of the 460 000 black matrics passed, compared with the 99% of the 41 000 white matriculants.' This crisis is amongst the blacks, not the whites. The answers offered, at least here, therefore places the blame on the overwhelmingly black-led, ministry of education, SADTU and finally, on the black parents. Black parents are not interested in their child's development and, to put it bluntly: they are bad role models. The title of van Rooyen's article gloatingly ask the rhetorical question: 'Are SA's black parents failing their children?' If education is the key to development and progress, then the black community is evidently in deep trouble, and, according to this analysis, by their own making.

But let's delve deeper into this abyss. Of course, these results clearly debunks the notion (myth, dillusion) of a 'non-racial', 'multi-cultural', 'post-racial' (pick your favourate) rainbow paradise; or the parody of the post-colonial African state, where white people suffer brutally under policies of redress and the hands of vicious savages; whilst black people drive BMW's and sip expensive whiskey. What we find underneath these dilusions is the truth that not much have changed for the majority of black youth, as far as their future is concerned. This climate of despair is evident and is rife in working-class black communities and institutions and it impacts directly on the results we have seen. I've had many agonising conversations with teachers, in black communities (mostly coloured communities). They are at a loss for words to describe the utter desperation and powerlessness to simply teach (like the editor of The Sunday Times would have it). How do you teach young people, who are addicted to drugs, who are living by the grace of violent gang networks, whose parents crawl out before dusk to catch a taxi, only come home after dark, again dependant on the taxi's ? How can you expect them to walk to school meetings or use public transport after dark, to meetings in suburbs. How can these parents sit with projects and do internet searches, when they can barely afford 'koopkrag' (power). These black parents ensured that the white kids excel and be supported by the parents. Black schools are embedded in their communities and those few that excel, are the exception. The overwhelming majority of these schools however remain the bitter fruit of an elite transition, which left behind the 'throw away people', those left behind in the 'location', in the mukuku's, those who have to bear the brunt of the 'economic recession'. We must remember, that the so-called recession hit the working-class communities last year, in full blast. The elites got government bail-outs and golden handshakes for their mess. Government favour this elite and pay themselves handsomely for our 'peacefull' transition. But it came at a price. In a lucid exposition of the current elite transition, economist Sampie Terrblanche, shows in an article, (By 09-01-2010), how the current ANC-alliance, with white business, is gambling away the future of South Africa, in the way they enrich themselves. Terreblanche states that whilst, the capitalist ownersclass became a multi-racial since 1994, now 20% of the population, revieces and owns 74& of the country's income. The other 80 %, like in the story of Jesus about the poor man Lazarus, live from the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich man.

Chris Gibbons, conservative commentator, writes, 'At 23.6%, the country’s unemployment rate is the highest of 62 countries surveyed by Bloomberg News. Jonas Mosia, industrial policy co-ordinator at the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), estimates that the economy has lost “almost half a million jobs in the first half of 2009” and that “numbers could reach a million by the fourth quarter of 2009”. (Recession: what is SA doing about it ?) And let me add: the overwelming majority of those who lost their jobs, comes from these very same working-class communities-they are black. This is the kind of context in which black learners prepared for and wrote exams last year.

So whilst the ruling party, congratulates themselves, pat each other on the back and call each other 'comrade this' and 'cadre that', nothing much have changed. The crisis, but also the struggle for dignity, in the black community continues. This struggle remain political, but at the heart its a struggle rooted in the liberation struggle for the soul of the nation.

Monday, January 04, 2010

new conversations on suicide or looking away, in silence ?

The suicide of a committed believer, an influential evangelist, over the festive season in Stellenbosch, unsettled us all. Again. Of course, on the one hand, it was the reality of death in itself, especially this time of the year. On the other hand, perhaps it was the fact that he committed suicide. He was suffering, for years, with depression and, in the words of a young medical student who shared at his funeral, 'our medical system failed uncle Ben'. This is a thoughful euphemism from her, because in actual fact medical facilities in and around Cape Town seemingly turned the family away, before his untimely departure. Apart from this critical, young voice most pastors speaking, however wanted us to 'look away' from how he died and focus on God. Well-meaning and inspring. Is it enough ?

His death however raised, as in many other silent cases, amongst others the issue of the relationship between spirituality and science. After a long conversation with a medical doctor, I am convinced even more that serious ongoing reflections and conversations need to be nurtured and maintained on issues of mental health, the pharmaceutical, as well as the private medical industry. Apart from the fact that people of faith still spiritualise these matters (often simply because this is the only language they know and which empowers them), leaders in faith communities often fail to adequately comprehend the complexities of medical conditions and ethics. Are we able to accompany people, in these trying times? I think we need a new conversation and language on these, which will hopefully, open up the old texts (and new ones !)which we read, in a new way. This could mean the death of the well-known, worn-out dogmas and cliches; it could also mean the birth of new voices sharing good news.