which level of justice

February 1, 2008

Each year the Theological faculty at Pretoria hosts a theological conversation as it’s “faculty opening”. It’s usually quite well-attended by ministers from our church, but this year they held it a few days later, after classes has started, and we also had a number of students attending. Or maybe it was because Prof Allan Boesak was speaking, whatever the reason, this year the event was very well attended.

Allan Boesak and Etiene de Villiers (professor of Ethics at UP, but not as well-known as Boesak), was the main speakers, and the topic was “Can the Dutch Reformed Church still play a role in South Africa”. Their deliveries can be found in about a week at teo.co.za. Both answered “yes”, but both said that then some things in our church would have to change. For the emerging people reading this, you would have enjoyed it, lot of Kingdom talk, lot of justice talk.

But what really caught me was that both talked about the role of the broad church in broad society. They talked about the problems of HIV, globalization, economic capitalism, environmental destruction (on a large scale) and poverty (on a global scale), and the role of the church in this. It was all about the relationship between church and government etc. On the other hand, the conversation in many congregation is more and more focusing on the local community. Poverty in the people living among us, unemployment in people around our congregation etc. The local issues.

I’m struggling to see how these two sides get together. People talking about the larger role of the church in society is, I believe, addressing the real problems. People focusing only on local level tend to sometimes miss the real problems of society, and rather focus on some petty things we see. Not that these are not important. We need to look after old age homes, and be nice to those working for us. But these is problems that are threatening to kill a world, and local congregations seldom seem to talk about this. But people talking about these large societal problems seem to miss the people, they don’t talk to those in congregations, the people who need to address these issues, rather, they talk about the role of the “church”, church being so broad that many times I can’t see what that would mean for my own ministry.

If we can get these two things together. The broad societal problems, yes, on a global level, and the role of the local congregation in this, then I believe we can start changing things. I love what is happening in thousands of local congregations who start looking at their direct context, addressing the issues in their communities, but sometimes they would need to look past their own horizons, and then someone would need to know what they would do then.

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5 Responses to “which level of justice”

  1. Steve Says:

    There’s that old saying: think global, act local.

  2. Cori Says:

    Thanks for pointing this out, Cobus. This articulated well a half-formed idea in my mind 🙂 I think the global aspect is a bit overwhelming for most people and so they just let it go. But I’m always excited when world problems are mentioned and prayed for from the pulpit as already it gives a sense of being involved in something much bigger. I like what Steve says. I think that ‘thinking globally’ will require a lot of intentionality and education. For example, how to read the media, how to respond to what you read in the media, understanding politics, the economy etc. It’s hard to convince people of global injustice, for example, if they don’t even begin to understand principles like fair trade.

  3. cobus Says:

    I think what wee need to agree on at least is that it wont be that easy to solve global issues if everyone just “clean up in front of their own door”, the world is simply too complex. Maybe if churches can do what you’ve metioned, Cori, we can help people to vote in a way that would better lead to justice, to place pressure on society at places that really matter, and not just those that the media tell us is important etc.


  4. Good to see the students ‘getting in on the action’. I was sometimes disappointed at the lack of student participation at faculty happenings when i was there.

    Just a thought that popped up when reading your helpful questions and struggles- part of the inability to look ‘globally’ or ‘structurally’ is the emphasis on personal sin and salvation. I think a healthy emphasis (brought through liberation scholars etc) is an understanding of corporate and structural ‘evil’ or ‘sin’ and the salvation/liberation/revolution that is needed to ‘atone’ for it. If you see sin structurally, then you can’t ignore the structural/global redemptions that needs to take place. Unfortunately, many congregations tend to focus on ‘Jesus & I’ and trying not to swear or drink, ignoring their/everyone’s complicity in societies woes and oppressions.

    (did that come out right? Oh well, I look forward to the contents of their papers as i’m asking similar questions about the white mainline church in general.)

  5. cobus Says:

    I absolutely agree Gareth, but the practical question still remain. Theology can change, but that does not always answer my questions of how a single congregation take part in the war in the middle East, the economy which oppress the poor, of global warming which threatens our ecology…


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