In response to recent upheavals on university campuses around the country, the Common Good Foundation interviewed a diverse group of students to better understand their varied perspectives, beliefs and feelings about current events in South Africa’s tertiary education space. As a Common Ground Church students’ ministry leader, and someone who spends a lot of time on campus, I was asked to comment on some of the statements that emerged from the survey. I have picked one that stood out to me and will discuss over the course of two blog posts how we can form a biblical, gospel-centred response to these issues.
Before I dive in, let me first say that I’m not an expert. I’m not an expert in understanding suffering and injustice. I’m not an expert in understanding education and systemic injustice, nor am I an expert in the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements. I’m not an expert at handling the Word of God. I’m not even an expert at being a South African because I only moved here when I was 19. But I have prayerfully considered what I have to say on this subject and you are welcome to agree, to disagree, to praise my thoughts or lob e-bombs at me. Let’s get going shall we.
QUESTION: In what ways have the actions of the youth over the past year bothered you, as well as inspired?
ANSWER: Fees must fall movements around the nation have inspired me. While I feel the protests sometimes went too far, I agree with the goal and I am happy that a nation of students could stand together to achieve it. However, the protests that occurred after these movements, especially those like at Stellenbosch, have bothered me. I am not sure how justified these students are in their goals, and I often wonder how many are protesting for the availability of their cultural language to be increased or how many are arguing for the fall of Afrikaans out of hatred.
Firstly, this person has been inspired by the Fees Must Fall movement which is a great thing. From my limited perspective, a large part of the Fees Must Fall movement is needed and overdue. I chatted to many people involved and my perspective shifted greatly as I came to a better understanding of the economic challenges and barriers to education facing the majority of the country. So I, along with the person who answered this question, applaud much of what was achieved and is being achieved by the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements.
God is just, and therefore to walk in his footsteps is a Godly thing. To do justice and to love mercy, as the book of Micah tells us, is what God wants for us – even requires of us. (Micah 6v8). But this verse does have one extra line that sometimes gets overlooked in our day and age: to walk humbly with your God. I love this line, and it is deeply challenging for me every day because if I do not walk humbly with my God I will veer off into all sorts of error. Divorced from humility, even my best intentions can lead me astray. My words and my actions could lead others astray too. Humility requires us to pray before we act. Humility requires us to think before we speak. Humility reminds us that we will one day see God face to face and be called to account. Humility sends us to the Scriptures to understand the whole counsel of God.
Fees Must Fall, as a movement, will not answer to the Lord and Judge of all Creation on the last day. Individuals will. Your school or your social justice initiative will not answer to the risen Christ on that last day. You will. Coupled with humility (or in fact part of humility), is a good, healthy fear of the Lord. It keeps you from arrogantly making certain claims or accusations. It steadies your hand from going out and performing rash actions. The eye of the Lord is constantly on us, at all times and in all places. This should cause us comfort when we are in a state of fear and it should cause us fear when we are in a state of foolishness.
Why do I bring up all this humility and fear talk? When we are thinking about, commenting on, or participating in things like protests, marches and movements we must remember that we are responsible to a Holy God for every single thing we do and say. Just because a large part of a movement is good, holy and filled with justice and love, does not mean that everything is. Not all the actions of all the individuals are things that God approves of. I dare not give examples here – I’d rather let you weigh things up in your own mind. The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t think you have to agree and cheer on every aspect of a movement, and at the same time you don’t need to condemn an entire movement because of some of its actions. I sat in a room not so long ago where someone said, “God is with the poor and the oppressed, therefore we must put the stones and guns in their hands to help them.” I reject this. God’s heart is definitely for the poor, the marginalized and the broken, but I don’t know if in trying to help, you should set them up to do things that they will have to give an account for. This is such a tricky topic because the pain, the hurt and the frustration is so real. There are layers and layers of generational pain in our country, multiple perspectives, multiple world views, widespread blindness to the plights of certain people, as well as misconceptions about the words we use to try and make sense of it all. But to encourage hate, violence, death and revenge is simply not what Christ has called us to.
I encourage you to think and pray on this, to be continually searching the scriptures for answers and guidance on how you engage with these issues. In my next blog post I’ll pick up where I left off and look at this topic from another angle.
Photo Credit: AfrikaReporter.com