Why the letter from a sector of Clergy is challenging!
A section of Christian clergy leadership found it fit to pen a letter in which it decries the state of what they refer to as our National shifted moral compass. Since that communique, we all have been engaging at a multiplicity of levels on the subject matter with the intent of making sense of this letter. The claim of a shifted moral compass is not a wrong, neither is the reality that the Church has such a right to air its mind on such.
Our constitution is clear on the right of freedom of expression by all; hence, one may not question or muzzle the section of clergy leadership who deemed it correct to speak out as their letter attests. Throughout the known and unknown history of church it became accepted that the Church must serve as the moral conscience of our society.
Yet the letter or speak out has a few challenges. The communique assumes a right to speak on behalf of the Church of SA. This is a grave misconception as the structures and formations undersigning this communique is representative of a section of the Christian Faith in a society defined as of multi-faith persuasion and a secular state by definition.
Our respected leaders simply are not mandated to engage on behalf of the masses constituting the Christian Faith. In such communique, my learned colleagues directed their anger or warning to a person, namely the president of South Africa, who happens to be the president of the Ruling ANC party.
The first error this communique makes is to consolidate our collective morality in a person, a political president, a party, and a sole political leadership. This in my assessment is a jaundiced perhaps convenient interpretation of morality in which a nation’s morals are uniquely shaped by only a political leadership. The question is why would the clergy prove so soluble to misinterpret this critical necessary issue in a paradigm of political leadership definition?
The second challenge with this section of clergy leadership is that the communique lacks what I choose to call humility, humility not in submission of political authority for that is not the issue here. Humility of Christian dictum to appreciate the conjoined role of the church in the upkeep and or denigration of the very moral compass under question. A humility that dictates a sense of proverbial ‘hand in bosom of admission’ to admit that if we have a crises of moral degradation we the collective clergy have an undeniable role in it, in either a presence or an absence, but we are not exonerated. When we face a challenge of moral erosion, it cannot be uniquely the church’s role to bark out warnings but to firstly in humility soul-search what it means to be church in an epoch of such degradation. It has to be the church’s role to ask in objectivity as context – how did we as a collective get here?
My third challenge is the clergy sending out a warning to the president begs a question: Were these leaders or the clergy in this communique ever denied an open engagement with the political authorities of South Africa? If the ANC leadership for whatever reason denied the clergy or any part of the clergy an audience to frankly engage on critical matters of joint concern, perhaps then the section of clergy is warranted to prove public their stance.
Yet if these were afforded opportunity (which we know they have ) why was it necessary to enter a discourse in this sense of warning from an almost an assumed aloofness in judgement without any sense of co-equal conviction exemplified in leadership?
My fourth challenge with this communique in its current form, is that is has the ingredients of polarisation to further cloud political party roles and leadership when it attempts to compare and adjudicate politicians in opposition definition. This may be interpreted along two lines, one the clergy assumes a role of adjudicator by what powers they have yet to tell us. Two, the clergy with this communique sends out a confusing signal of clouding the political arena, by entering the political domain defined in party definition.
A further challenge with the communique resonates in this that the four leaders represented amongst others, the SACC (Bishop Joe Seoka), the Anglican Church of South Africa (Bishop Thabo Mokgoba), TEASA (Rev. Moss Nthla), and Kairos SA (Rev. E. Arrison) these are all legitimate structures and expressions of church definition in South Africa yet these do not constitute the conclusive church of SA. This may be considered a moot point yet it is not, because church definition an expression in 2012 in SA is a much wider definition than the group of leaders that penned the communique. In particular, KAIROS is a Para-church Organisation with a specific focus and cannot be seen in the same light as any of the other three. The communique therefore cannot claim to speak on behalf of the church as it leads in preamble sense, for it would be an arrogated claim and assumption given the evolving context of church definition that seeks to define itself outside the constricted historical SACC definition.
Another challenge in this communique resonates on the issue of veiled threat. The communique went further and threatens a mobilisation for lack of better word ‘overthrow’ this legitimately democratically constituted government. This is a glaring and necessarily political threat that assumes the church as led by these leaders can be politically mobilised to bring about change. I think this is precarious if the thought of this threat is taken to its logical conclusion. Is the church declaring its intent to enter the political arena as a party? At another level we are on dangerous grounds if the church- membership however defined can be abused to honour the political ambitions of a few who for whatever reason proves upset, and unhappy with the current political leadership. It in sense pits the church as a political structure.
This communique stands in a new culture of clergy expecting respect whilst they show disrespect for other sectors of leadership. This communique further lends itself in support of the lop-sided and biased discourse of good leadership debate, a discourse allowed to continue unabated in which political leadership remains the only measureable quantitative and qualitative meridian of what is good leadership. Nay saying the reality that good leadership extends beyond the scope and confines of political leadership, whilst including it.
It is rather convenient and disingenuous to locate good leadership as only measurable or answerable in political leadership. Is it not time we as clergy ask ourselves have we shown good leadership in our local assemblies, in our structures in the general structures of the church. If we are accused for the same things (power-mongering, arrogance, maladministration of church finance and bad stewardship) the same we level against others and still assume an adjudicator role, we either have missed our appreciation of what it means to be Christian or we are oblivious to the reality of our personal role in this moral compass shifting.
This new culture of some clergy representing the Christian church to prove disrespectful to other forms of societal leadership is worth bemoaning. It troubles me to cite this example here but perhaps it is time we admit wrong even if it is committed by our very heroes. I shall cite the Archbishop Desmond Tutu former Anglican Archbishop, Nobel Peace Recipient and decorated liberation struggle icon as one such example who has yet to show any regard and respect for the ruling political leadership democratically elected. Archbishop Tutu on the strength of his personal role deem it his right to prove scathing and almost in vilification of our democracy when he finds periodically reason to denigrate this leadership. I need not remind us all of his variety of comments in anger and personal rage, I need not remind us he was rebuked by Former President Mbeki for confusing political and Religious matters in seeking to dictate to the ANC. Since the advent of President Zuma, the retired Archbishop has proven disrespectful towards the President, and sought means to insult the President of the ANC and South Africa in his personal capacity.
Not once did President Zuma, ever attack Archbishop Tutu, or proved disrespectful towards the Arch even when we all knew the Arch was overstepping. This past week Archbishop Tutu again asked Minister Trevor Manual what he was doing in this Zuma – Cabinet. It is my unsolicited submission these comments by Archbishop Tutu do not help our democracy, but it brings the church and other stuctures of our society into a polarised context.
South Africans are often too indebted to our heroes that we afford them space to run roughshod in personal rage. It is disconcerting and rather arrogant of the Archbishop to prove this disrespectful when the same is not meted out to him given his stature and role in historical sense. It appears a previous role in anti-apartheid activism affords one an inalienable right to bark, attack, insult, abuse and denigrate others who no different to one equally contributed and is still contributing to making SA what it is desired to be.
The last challenge with the communique vacillates on an assumption that the Church is separate from the society we live in. A society in which members of church are expressed in youth, workers, unemployed, professionals, classes of economic definition, women, the sick the needy etc. These same people vote in elections and mandate leaders not in an incapacitated state but a democratic franchise sense. Can the church please show respect for the citizen’s rights to vote and decide on their own political future.
In the end, I pray that this communique has little to do with a feeling of snubbed or chided candour, in which the SACC who in my view remains the proverbial womb of our freedom, now feel excluded. It is my view that if we celebrate the SACC and its role in history of struggle we must equally ask what role it played in the last twenty years. When we make that assessment we may find that some of our challenges today, emanates from this reality that the SACC like many other structures proved silent for twenty years of post -apartheid making and therefore must share the burden of our current moral compass shifting like all other church structures and formations.
In conclusion, I distance myself as a member of the South African clergy from the communique for it proves aloof, biased, and lacking in Christian humility affording this section of church leadership a place and space above others to dictate the moral code and definition of adjudicator status rather than an active member among other members stance.
Whilst it is the prerogative of my fellow clergy to air the prism of their contemplation , I bemoan the imbalance in such and therefore critique this warning as not free from attempting to interfere at Mangaung. The church leadership role cannot in silo-sense be that of judging and warning and exoneration of itself, but ought to ask what our common role in building South Africa is. It is my submission that more than our utterances and accusations is what the architect of our faith Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour desires of us as collective clergy.
The challenges before us as South Africans remain manifold, leadership at all fronts remains required and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge for perhaps our non-involvement proves to be our true involvement. We cannot conveniently bask in glory of celebrating the good and simultaneously outsource in apportioning the bad to others conveniently.
If South Africa is in a shifted moral compass crises, we as clergy are equally answerable less in warning but a humility of consciousness to admit our role. Respectfully submitted, may we find each other not in attack but common missio-dei.
Bishop Clyde N .Ramalaine Bishop, Author and Political Analyst
In his personal capacity.