I’m not a human rights expert, so maybe I got this all wrong. But in our context at least, I think I got it right: Does humanism and human rights have anything to do with each other? Human rights isn’t received very positively in our Afrikaner Calvinist communities. In the common tongue it’s associated with “criminal rights”, protecting criminals who actually took away worse rights from others. And this is not the religious or political right only! Now, South Africa do have the second most liberal official understanding of human rights in the world (second to The Netherlands only), so maybe people anywhere wouldn’t have been that fond of our way of doing, I don’t know, I’m just observing for now.

Humanism is not being thought of very positively either. It’s associated with atheism generally. I remember times when I’ve been talking about social justice, that Christians would say that we must just be wary that we are not “only humanising” society, instead of “Christianizing” (obviously, my own choice of capital letter probably point out that I have my biases as well). Again, this is not only the evangelicals, but steady, mainline reformed Christians who are actively searching for social justice.

So, do the church have anything to say about human rights? About humanism? My first reactions when I heard these kind of sayings was that as Christians we should at least be humanists, at least take human rights very seriously. A few years later, I still think the same things. Maybe this was the reason I found it quite interesting when a lecturer told me the other day that Barth in his theology said that we should work for the humanization of society. I actually read a paper Barth delivered shortly after WW2, but forgot about it until that comment. What I remember is a very strong Christian approach (although this was delivered at a secular converence on humanization), but a very strong voice saying that the church has something to say about humanism, about the humanization of society.

I say this still sitting within a tradition that know the evangelicals very well, and that know christendom very well, and that sometimes forget that the ideals associated with these is gone. Within this new world, what should the church do? In South Africa the government is realizing that churches actually has abilities to help with the humanizing of society which the state do not. We have an infrastructure which the state do not. And should we play this role? Yes and no…

But for today, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, we need to work for the humanization of society, and we need to do this together with humanist organization, with human rights groups, we are fighting for the same thing. We need to do what we can, in South Africa also where the are of government cannot reach. There is a no, which says that we still need to be a critical voice, although a positive critical voice, and that we should not simply become the social work arm of a government, this church-state relations have cost us dearly, but I’ll leave that for another day.

We need to be a critical voice, a voice for the voiceless, for those who cannot speak for themselves. The strangers in our land, the strangers in our neighbouring country. We need to be a voice against governments when they do not recognize peoples human rights, do not recognize the humanization of society. But on the other hand we need to work with everyone else in the common goal of humanizing society.

This post is part of the May 2008 synchroblog on human rights, and below you will also find a list of the other synchroblog contributions from a group of Christian bloggers who post on the same general topic on the same day. We also join thousands of other bloggers around the world in blogging for human rights.

Other Synchrobloggers

And for a list of some of the other “Bloggers unite” posts, click here

Last night I visited Arthur and some of the Pangani people. They have been starting to feel a call to get involved with the Zimbabwean situation. Since Friday I’ve bee feeling the same calling, although with no idea how to actually get involved, so I do what I do: I blog, I tell the stories as I hear them, and I hope to get as many people as possible to think and talk and hopefully get actively involved with Zimbabwe.

But we talked, Andrew was there, who wrote the article I referred to on Saturday, and Jody the Canadian, who is currently working with Zimbabwean refugees, and Arthur, and Mariah, who has spent some time in the past working with refugees (in Canada I think). We talked about the big picture, but also about the small. And this is where our attention got fixed. The small problem (or rather, one of the symptoms) is the millions of refugees currently in South Africa, and on this level it seems possible to get involved.

Obviously, no one will be housing millions of refugees, but it is possible to help a few. These people face enormous problems in Zimbabwe, except for the lack of food and basic medicine, many of them now fear for violence and their lives. In South Africa they now experience some of the worst forms of xenophobia in the squatter camps where they found safety up to now, and this also result in a fear of bodily harm or death.

South Africa don’t do refugee camps, but at places people are trying to help refugees. Central Methodist in Johannesburg is the one example we talked about. There is differing of opinion on what is happening there, but you can read some of it (Ekklesia Article, News report on refugee camp linked with crime), but in spite of the troubles, I hear very positive things about this move. A few other examples were also mentioned, people housing Zimbabweans in their homes, other smaller shelters. The conversation turned so that the other members, who are working together, are now talking about doing something similar, Arthur have a short post on this. My one recommendation is that when this is done, care should be taken that we are not taking away jobs from South Africans when trying to help Zimbabweans. However, if this article is right, there seem to be some space for skilled workers. 

Anyone out there also doing this? Anyone know of anyone that is involved in helping Zimbabwe? Helping refugees? Anyone that would want to get involved but don’t know what to do?

I found a copy of Where We Have Hope last night on my shelf. Bought it at a second hand book stall last years somewhere. It was written by a journalist who worked in Zimbabwe, Andre Meldrum (google this name and you’ll find a lot of info). The end of the first chapter really caught me. It gave words for what I’m more and more realizing my own feelings towards South Africa and Africa is…

“I am seated in the middle aisle and cannot see Harare’s twinkling lights dwindle as we fly up and away. But I do not need to. Zimbabwe is indelibly etched in my memory. I am steeped in this country, it is in my pores. More than just the physical look and feel and smell of the land, I have a deep sense of what the country stands for: liberation, majority rule, democracy and human rights. This is what Zimbabwe meant when it won independence in 1980 and it is what so many are valiantly fighting to regain. This conviction of what Zimbabwe stands for cannot be erased simply by forcing me out of the country.”

Update: I’ve been thinking since Saturday, but forgetting to say this: This might be a good time to again watch Schindler’s list, or using it in church.

As discussions about Zimbabwe go on, and as I myself are thinking about Zimbabwe more and more, and thinking about the role of the church in Zimbabwe, and sitting in a class where I feel that we are talking about Zimbabwe, but not about the idea that we have a role to play in betering things (wow, this is getting to be a looong sentence), I just read that the Anglican Church is actively taking part. According to an article on our churches official website they played an active role in Kwazulu Natal in getting the court order that the Chinese weapon ship bound for Zimbabwe cannot enter South Africa. When searching google on this I also read on BBC that they are making statements that international action are needed in Zimbabwe, and this was a few weeks ago.

Update: I had lunch with Albert Nolan and some other people today, and he corrected this. It was not the Anglican Church, but an ecumenical body, which currently has an Anglican bishop as voice. So the ecumenical church did this, and they did more. They got the legal advice, which would have been almost enough to stop the deal, but to ensure that this didn’t go through, they talked with the trade unions, who agreed that the dockers would go on strike if the ship enter any South African harbor! This is the type of stories that the world need to here about, where the church is working together to change society. And as Nolan reminded me today, there is a lot of small things happening in the church which bring hope.

I preached on Genesis 11:28-12:9 on Sunday. I started preparing real early, reading Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary on Monday, and Von Rad’s shortly after, but never quite got around to making the sermon. I knew what I wanted to say though. God call Abram, promise to bless him, but in the same breath call Abram to also be a blessing to those around him (see some thoughts in Afrikaans here). God call Abram, but he doesn’t call him out of this world, but to be wholly part of this world (see some more thoughts in Afrikaans here). In Genesis, it is the creator God who now become further part of the creation-gone-bad by calling Abram, and by becoming involved with human history.

But last week we again had two armed robberies on houses in our congregation. In one the people were wounded, in the other a man was killed, leaving behind a wife and kids. Shot in the head when he wanted to press the alarm button. This happened on Friday evening, on Saturday I finally got around to finalizing the sermon. Furthermore, the reports on Zimbabwe started coming in, I blogged on that here while I was preparing the sermon.

How do we preach in this context? What do we say? As I said to the congregation at one stage: In church many would say we are not supposed to talk politics. But in this context, and reading the story of Abraham, I cannot do other but talk politics. But politics isn’t about who is right and who wrong, I never spoke about Mugabe for example. Maybe what we call politics in the church, is actually just ethics. Public Theology.

I believe the message, even for this hurt congregation, and believe me, our congregation, and community, is hurt. The violence have been going on for weeks now, every week the reports come in, for this congregation also, the message is that we should bring hope. There is a message that God bring hope to the world, but the other side of the coin is that God bring hope through us as well.

We need to preach on South Africa. We need to preach on Zimbabwe. Telling the stories of the people there, telling the story of the Bible, realizing that the story of the Bible is forcing us to, in some way I don’t understand yet, take part in the story of suffering ongoing around us. Our congregation is starting to talk about our role, a missional role, in the context of violence around Kameeldrif.  It’s not a new conversation, but we took it upon ourselves in all earnesty. I’ll be getting together with Arthur tomorrow to have some talks on Zimbabwe. What is the role of the church in a time like this? What can we as a church do?

 

It’s been years now since we started talking about Zimbabwe. I remember hearing the stories of farmers being forced from their farms, even of farmers being killed. I still think it was a crime, and I still think it was quite stupid and didn’t help the country at all. But life went on, the farmers lost their farms, they got new farms in Australië, or new jobs somewhere. Somehow, throughout all this, I still thought that much worse problems was going on in the world. But I think that might have changed:

The evening after first hearing about the ship full of weapons on it’s way to Zimbabwe, I told my flatmate that: “now, for the first time, I am really worried about Zimbabwe”. At that point I started thinking about Rwanda, Uganda, and the other worst case stories of Africa. Could it be? Is this really where Zimbabwe is heading?

Yesterday I’ve been hearing some of the stories about the current situation in Zimbabwe. The personal accounts stand out more than the news. One pastor told about people he know very well who actually are still farming in Zimbabwe. ZANU-PF (Robert Mugabe’s party) are doing “voters education” on the farms. So they had to leave and go stay in town, so that ZANU-PF could “educate” the workers. This education involved the chopping of of fingers, of hands, the cutting of of lips…

Arthur sent me a mail yesterday with an article written by a friend of his who was there, the photo’s ain’t nice…

The things which happened over the past years in Zimbabwe was bad. It was really bad. But when we all thought that Zimbabwe has hit rock-bottom. When we thought that now the people would throw out Mugabe and start something new, it got worse! We assumed that Morgan Tsvangirai will win the election. A friend who is onto economy and things like that said a few weeks ago that within 5 years a lot could again be back on track in Zimbabwe… that idea has changed.

What do we do? What should the church do?

Our denomination has started a project to help feed Zimbabwe. We made an arrangement with Makro to pack crates of food which is then sent to Zimbabwe and can be picked up be church leaders there to help the people of Zimbabwe. Currently a crate cost R15000 (approximately $2000). This certainly is needed, and even if political problems stop today, would still be needed for quite some time. Anyone interested in contributing to this could mail Dr Gustav Claasen.

I think the church have a mayor role to play in forming people thoughts on this. We need to talk politics in church! We can no longer turn our heads away. How about using Hotel Rwanda, Last King of Scotland or The Interpreter and discussing the Zimbabwean situation along with them. After first seeing The Interpreter I remember thinking that this is telling the story of Zimbabwe (that was some years ago). Today I fear that Last King of Scotland, or worse still, even Hotel Rwanda might be telling the story of what is approaching in Zimbabwe! For more information on Zimbabwe you could also visit this site posting updates on the Zimbabwe Situation, or this blog from a Civic Action Group keeping you up to date on the situation in Zimbabwe.

But what next? Is it maybe time for the church to start saying out loud that the world powers should play a much stronger role in Zimbabwe? Could it be time that the United Nations step in in Zimbabwe? Should the large church organization, the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church not say very loud that “enough is enough!“? What about other faith or philosophical traditions, almost all of these would agree that what is going in is deeply unethical. I’m not a politician, and surely don’t understand everything. But I do know a little bit about ethics, and I know that the right to self-government should be respected, and that Zimbabweans should have the opportunity to govern themselves, and do things in their way, which might differ from developed countries. But I also know that the right to life had priority over the right to self-government. And when this right is taken from the people of Zimbabwe, how long can the world take part in active non-participation?

If your not taking part in this months bloggers unite yet, I urge you to join in. On Wednesday bloggers all over the world would be joining hands to blog about human rights. And when blogging about human rights, remember Zimbabwe.

Let us be a voice for the voiceless…