On Saturday 22 April, 2017, a million South Africans met in Bloemfontein to pray for South Africa. Or three hundred thousand. Or closer to 2 million. Depending who you ask. People of all races, ages and genders. Or majority white afrikaans middle class people. Again, difficult to say.
Let’s get this straight from the start – this is not a popularity piece – writing on another such polarized/polarising event in South Africa is very likely to piss people off on both sides. But i do believe there are some important aspects that we really do need to think about and wrestle with, and i hope this will in part help us to do so.
People i greatly and deeply respect thought that Saturday was a truly amazing, incredible thing:
My very good friend Dalene Reyburn shares her thoughts on the #ItsTime prayer.
A prayer meeting doesn’t make a nation. Day after day after day of love, integrity, wisdom, courage, justice, generosity, selflessness and togetherness, makes a nation.
But man, I think praying for a day is a fantastic way to start.
My friend Julie Patrick was at the prayer meeting and shared her positive thoughts and some stunning pictures:
The biggest question is: where to from here? Well, our call is to mobilise. Mobilise as the Church and as a nation. We have a lot to do. Some are saying: Why spend so much money, time and energy on a prayer meeting when our country has so many basic needs? It’s a good question, and there are many answers to it. I think one answer would be: if about a million people are back in their homes right now transformed, restored, full of hope and full of joy, then they will change the environment around them. They will change the way they live. There will be a ripple effect on families, entire sphere of influences and beyond. As was said at the meeting: It only took twelve disciples of Jesus to change the world. We are 1,700,000. Let’s see what happens now!
People i greatly and deeply respect thought that Saturday was probably not a truly amazing, incredible thing:
A friend of mine who i respect so very much, Lorenzo Davids, shares his message to the people who gathered to pray.
In this vein I have been pondering the multiple missed opportunities by the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid to show the change they profess they have undergone. It’s simply not there on the scale required to be worthy of the Christian community in this country. If the people praying in Bloemfontein showed a bias towards a profound pouring of social and economic justice, and place causes like the plight of the black student and the poor at the centre of their repentance, I would gladly write the organisers a public letter of apology.
But Bloemfontein will be like Newlands and Ellis Park – pray, pray, pray and then continue the practices of injustice towards other citizens such as the poor, women, the LGBT community, black students etc. But in God’s eyes it’s not the justice that we do to our brother or sister that counts. It’s the justice we do to the stranger, the one who hates us and to the one who is not like us, that counts.
[Just for some context, Lorenzo was one of the key mediators recently in #FeesMustFall negotiations between students and universities – he has been on the front lines and this is not simply some armchair critique. Lorenzo is a passionate and positive person who is making a huge difference in South Africa]
Another friend of mine, Graeme Codrington writes this incredible, gracious, hope-filled invitational piece that is well-worth reading:
I won’t go into the many ways this passage has been abused in the past, including pointing out that it is the second half of a sentence, and that it comes in the middle of a consecration of a Temple with many other instructions attached to it. Let’s just focus on what these words themselves say. We are not just called to prayer. We called to sort our lives out, to humble ourselves, to seek God and to turn from wickedness.
I strongly support the desire Christians had to pray for our country. And I strongly support any group of people gathering together to commit themselves to good and to God. But the big question, 48 hours later, is “now what?” What happens next.
And because of that, perhaps it was a little bit of both. Something you are going to hear me going on and on and on about until some more of us start really getting it, is the notion of choosing to embrace a BOTH/AND over an often more destructive either/or.
So many people seem to be refusing to critique the event, which i find deeply problematic. i can critique the movie ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ for example and my conclusion will be that it WAS AMAZING! Critique doesn’t mean criticism – it may lead to criticism, but it isn’t inherently criticism in itself. A lot of people are really not getting that. This irks me, as does the fact that it just made me use the word ‘irks’ in a sentence. Twice!
Let me also say that this piece is written specifically for christians as this was a christian event and i am a follower of Jesus. i am more than happy for others to read it and comment as well if they choose.
IF MY PEOPLE WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME
Let me start with some positives, because i believe they were there.
# The church gathering in huge numbers. i think in and of itself this is an amazing thing. And with all the questions i have about the who and how and why and everything that follows this, i still think that hundreds of thousands of people [with good intentions, i believe for the most part that the majority of people who went to this thing went with the best of intentions] gathering and calling on God is a great opportunity for God to respond to that and change hearts and transform lives and i do honestly look forward to hearing and seeing some of how that took place.
# A call to repentance. Apparently that is how the meeting started and while i may have some issues with a white-led meeting of this magnitude in South Africa at this time, a white man calling majority white people to repentance is a great thing.
# People mobilised to say it’s time to do something. While, in many ways, this feels like 23 years too late, we can’t go back and change time and so instead of this taking another day, month, year or decade to happen, we have to celebrate in some way that people have finally gotten around to the idea of #ItsTime
For me the biggest plus of Saturday’s prayer thing is that around the country for whatever reasons, there were a million plus people calling out to God. Regardless of intention or misstep or anything that could possibly be criticised about that in any way, i do believe that God is bigGER and that He works in this way:
‘And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…’ [Romans 8.28]
So regardless of anything, if people are calling out to God and God answers and people respond, there is huge potential for Saturday to have been a positive thing or the start of a very positive thing.
There were however some issues that i and others had with the event and i think it’s important to consider them at least:
# Before the event happened, there was a statement Angus Buchan made which caused a lot of people concern:
Cancel every other meeting and make sure you are there. I really believe this is the last chance that we will have in South Africa to bring normality back to this beloved nation. [Angus Buchan]
Some people have tried to define what Angus meant, but i don’t think that is very relevant. Words are important and what is more important is the message that was heard. The questions that are raised are: What does normality mean? Normal for who? It has certainly never been normal for black and coloured and indian people in this country, so are we talking normal for white people?
Maybe it was just a poor choice of words and that’s fine – we all make mistakes. But at the same time, those of you who are defending Angus in this, need to realise that his poor choice of words caused a lot of people pain, as well as confusion as to what exactly he was calling for.
The message that is received is actually far more important than the message intended and in that i believe he got it wrong.
# The venue was problematic for a lot of people, for different reasons. The kind of costs involved in travelling to Bloemfontein from other parts of the country immediately cut off the majority of the population [except where sponsorship was possible] which resulted in it being majority white [i honestly don’t know the exact make-up of the crowds but 51% white feels quite safe] because the money in South Africa is still majority white. So access was a problem. Holding this event on a white farmer’s property in a country where land is such a contentious issue for the dispossessed was problematic, although it could have been the opportunity for a hugely prophetic moment if a number of white farmers had publicly committed then and there to get creative with their land in ways that invited previously dispossessed people to participate with them in bringing about change. i don’t believe that happened? And so holding the event at a place that is a symbol of pain [whether you agree or disagree with why it is] for so many people feels insensitive.
# The #ItsTime name and nature of the event was hugely problematic. It’s not time. It is LONG OVERDUE. We have not moved enough in the direction of those who were previously horrifically disadvantaged and brutalised by law and still in many ways by structure and system and in so many hearts still around the country.
All of the same criticism that was levelled at people who chose to make the recent #AntiZumaMarch their first act of protest or their first march fits in here. [While at the same time celebrating that okay you all finally got to it, but what is going to be next?]
THOUGHTS GOING FORWARD
# The reporting of the number of people who attended. While the number of people who attended didn’t feel like such a big deal to me [clearly from pictures you can see there were a LOT of people] a conversation on the way to the airport changed that. And having seen a few posts where people have been challenging the idea that there were a million or two people there [some by showing concerts that had way less people but looked way bigger] it seems like there were not. It’s a matter of honesty and integrity, which with something as quantifiable as numbers should be fairly easy to get right’ish, which will affect credibility of everything else you put out.
# Fruit. This is the bottom line for me. You will be known by your fruit. So we can’t fully arrive at the success or failure of this event until we observe the fruit. And i am honestly looking forward to stories that come out of this event. If millions of people around the country had a life-transforming encounter with God then lives will be changed. So there will be ripples and with an event this big, we should be expecting those ripples to be noticeable. So maybe the best thing we can do is visit this all again in three months time and look back at what has taken place.
When thousands gathered together for the Passion Worship event in Cape Town, i wrote a piece that did not go down well with a lot of people. i felt like i gave the event a fair critique, speaking of some of the positives and some of the negatives i had experienced. i received a fairly emphatic backlash. i have yet to hear of a single story of change that came out of that event that was specifically linked to that event. Which doesn’t mean at all that nothing happened, but certainly that nothing happened which rippled itself in my direction. But this is a million plus people [if we take into account all those who prayer around the country who didn’t attend]. So can we agree to look back in three months and speak about the ripples that have moved through our land?
We recently hosted the Justice Conference in Cape Town [maybe a thousand people in total] and a month later i could tell you many stories of ripples. We stayed with a family in Durban where someone quit her job and they decided to move linked to decisions made at the conference. We connected with some powerful women who made contact via Justice Conference related conversations who are now working together on an exciting project. We held dinner conversations that were largely brought together based on time and relationships linked to the Justice Conference. So i have no doubt that the Justice Conference has already made and is making a difference. And that was just a thousand people. So we should be excited to see what happens when it’s a million or more. It is the fruit that comes out of this event that will speak to the effectiveness of it.
# We have to embrace critique. i have no problem with people disagreeing with me. But it has felt like so many people have simply refused to engage with any critique or criticism at all. Phrases like “Can’t we just focus on the positives?” and “How can people praying with a bad thing?” do not seem to give any time at all to, “Should we take a moment to weigh up any negatives there might be?” and waiting around to hear the answer to “How can people praying be a bad thing?”
People who thought this was an amazing event need to really listen to those who didn’t, especially many who felt hurt by aspects of this event. People who thought this was not a great idea need to really listen to those who attended and thought it was great and try to really hear and see the positives they felt and experienced. And then we reform our opinions. Maybe in some cases it was a BOTH/AND as opposed to an either/or. Maybe it was in some ways a bad idea and yet a whole lot of good still came from it. Maybe there were some problematic statements made before the event and even during the event but at the same time there was a call to repentance and maybe that will stick. Maybe it was an amazing time of God’s people gathering together but we can realise that a lot of people were excluded from getting there with money and time being factors and maybe we can think more deeply through that. Maybe we can all acknowledge that even the polarisation around various comments and opinions with regards to this event shows us that it is definitely WAY BEYOND TIME.
And let’s look forward to the fruit…
Seriously, just go read Lorenzo’s article though:
Jesus encountered about four or five wealthy men (yep, it had to be men) according to the Gospel records.
On another day I will write in detail about what those encounters reveal about radical economic transformation. Because radical economic transformation is actually a Biblical concept.
The rich man who wanted to inherit eternal life had to give half of his possessions to the poor. That’s radical economic transformation.
The rich man who threw scraps at the poor man Lazarus ended up in hell for his treatment of the poor man. That’s radical economic transformation.
The rich man who proudly gave some money to the temple and felt quite proud about his gift vs the value of the gift given by the poor woman, was pointed out as one who is giving way too little. That’s radical economic transformation.
One of the other famous rich man encounters is with a wealthy Jewish tax collector who was a self-confessed crook on a Gupta-like self-enrichment scheme. He benefitted extra-ordinarily from a system where he charged a basic tax as per his Roman employers criteria and then was free to add on any additional sums for anything he wished to make off that. At random. His exploitation knew no bounds and was legendary. When he encounters the forgiveness of Jesus – in fact, the full embrace of acceptance of his humanity by Jesus – he does what the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid had failed to do: He says: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Talk about Radical Economic Transformation!