Church must not ignore any injustices

The church is an important segment of society as are all other faith-based formations. During the difficult days of the liberation struggle and unjust apartheid rule and misgovernance, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) played an active role to help defeat apartheid and its attendant demons, working hand in glove with the ANC and other political parties.

The argument in some church circles that religion and politics should not mix must be rejected as misplaced. This thinking is archaic and has long been discredited and requires no further rebuttal.

The church is about communities; it ought to be the voice of God through the people – vox Dei vox populi – an allusion to the reality that the voice of the people is the voice of God. So, the people are the main ingredient in all human dialogues.

If governments are corrupt and misrepresent the wishes of the people, communities should speak up, and protest any form of injustice.

And so, in the end, the argument that the church should be apolitical must fail as it has no logical or plausible basis for its sustenance.

When the church is at odds with the principles of justice, and colludes with evil, it must be challenged.

Politics affects all sectors of society; it affects economies. Bad governments are a hindrance to development, and the church, with other sectors of society, must stand up against them.

The church polity has from the beginning been governed by the ideal of the creation of “a new world” – a new order and better world free of oppression.

But the church in SA, as in other parts of the world, has had its blind spots and failures – for decades it has supported colonialism and apar heid, among other evils, in the mistaken belief that justice for all humanity will prevail at end time.


This is a mistake that should not be countenanced.

Despite missionary schools having brought light and education to various parts of the world, this should not gainsay or excuse the role they played in colluding with oppressive regimes and colonisers. That reality must be confronted without batting an eyelid. 

Yes, the missionary schools were some of the best in the country, with Saint Peter’s College in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, producing some of the top-class students, including ANC icon Oliver Tambo, who matriculated first class, and subsequently, after graduating with a BSc degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Fort Hare, returned to his Anglican-based alma mater as maths and science teacher.

But the question remains: can the church, Pilate-style, wash its hands of the atrocities of injustice, discrimination, and all forms of inhumanity, committed against citizens of the country, in its name?

In El Salvador, Central America, in 1980, senior cleric of the church and Archbishop of the Catholic church in that country, the Most Reverend Oscar Romero, was assassinated – a massacre allegedly spearheaded and associated with the CIA and the US during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.


What was his crime?

Let the voice of the people of El Salvador speak: “The motive was clear. Romero was the outspoken voice against the death squad [representing CIA and the US] slaughter gathering steam in the US backyard. The ranks of El Salvador’s left-wing rebels were being swelled by priests who preached that the poor should seek justice in this world, not to wait for the next. Romero was the voice of those without a voice, telling soldiers not to kill the innocent people.”

The motive was clear. He was the most outspoken voice against injustices perpetrated to deny the people of El Salvador their human rights.

In 1988, Khotso House, which housed the SACC, and was a refuge to the country’s anti-apartheid activists committed to the destruction of injustice in the country, was bombed by the apartheid state, following instruction from the then minister of police, Adriaan Vlok.

General secretary of the SACC, the Reverend Frank Chikane, in later years after the death of his tormentor, Vlok, said: “Vlok presided over the security apparatus of a violent, repressive regime and caused enormous pain and suffering to many during the worst time of our struggle for liberation.

We end with the words of Romero: “A church that does not provoke any crisis, a gospel that does not unsettle, a word of God that does not get under the skin, what kind of gospel is that? Preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed do not light up the world.”

It is the church of Romero and Chikane the world requires to fight injustice.

• Mdhlela is a freelance journalist, an Anglican priest, ex-trade unionist and former editor of SA Human Rights Commission journals


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