As a young, educated, black male living in Cape Town – and actively involved in the church – I feel moved to address what is currently a heated subject in our country. I’d also like to act as a voice piece on behalf of some of the students at our campuses. My hope is that what I share here will challenge the views you hold and influence your thinking.
What is my personal reality? I’m a young black figure in the creative public eye – something that was near unheard of 25 years ago. This fact alone shines a spotlight on how far we have come as a country since 1994. However, I write this in the company of my two beautiful younger sisters, who are both under the age of twenty, yet who have both been exposed to the injustices of the past. Even though this is a past they have only ever heard and read about.
WHILE OPPRESSION IS NO LONGER LEGISLATED IN SOUTH AFRICA, IS IT STILL ACTIVE IN PRACTICE?
What recent times have shown is that racism, anger, bitterness and every feeling and effect entrenched by decades of oppression has not simply disappeared from the minds and realities of people… Over the past year, it is the pressing issue of challenging all oppressive norms which was most important.” - Anonymous Student
If there is any group who I believe should demonstrate the appropriate thoughts and attitudes towards acts of oppression, it’s the church (1 Corinthians 14:26). But more often than not the church sadly gets this wrong. The message the church is called to communicate is not only one of supporting justice, but also that God loves all of his creation. He graciously died for a fallen humanity (every ethnicity, class and gender) for the sake of our salvation. However, the church can (and often does) become little more than a club for specific cultures, at the exclusion of others.
As the church we are to address racism, because racism is a sin. I worry when churches don’t openly acknowledge such pressing issues. If we, as the church, are the light of the world, and if we embody the hope of Heaven on Earth, then we should represent all races.
SHOULD WHITE PEOPLE DEDICATE THEIR EFFORTS TOWARD SOLVING OPPRESSION AND RACE RELATED PROBLEMS?
“White people will NEVER understand black pain. No matter how many conversations are held, and no matter how many protest actions take place. White people will never know what it feels like to be a marginalised social class who remain stuck in cycles of poverty due to oppressive power regimes and unjust Apartheid land distribution that still exist today. Black people are exasperated by having to try to build bridges and are tired of the forced and shallow white outreaches towards black pain in an attempt to fill their ‘hero’ boxes. We do not need the help of other social classes to fight our battles. Black is strong and black is beautiful; independent and isolated.”- Anonymous Student
The reason we must fight for justice is because God calls us to do this. Remember the words of James: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17 ESV).
This is a gospel-response, not relevant to a specific race or culture, but relevant to everyone. We need to be radical about this because we have been radically saved. We need to be different because we are chosen for God’s glory, not chosen for the sake of being accepted.
I agree that often white people are perceived as “saviors” and “heroes” both by and for people of colour. Providing financial handouts or running small programs that don’t fundamentally involve relationships, is useless. White people are not our heroes, and should never strive to be. This ambition ultimately does more damage than good. I agree with the comment above that black people are beautiful and strong and that we can achieve things without help. However, a gospel-response is that we should all be able to give and receive help from everyone. So, I’d like to challenge white Christians to help black people where they can – not in a hero-victim manner, but rather as brothers and sisters help one another. We need each other. A cautionary note: if you are white, I’d also encourage you to avoid highlighting your privilege in front of those who are less fortunate than you are. This is because at the end of the day, you are not our validation; you are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
White people will likely never fully understand our pain as black people, but it’s good for those who are white to be informed. Why? Because it was the ancestors of white South Africans who are responsible for this pain, the consequences of which still affect people of colour today. This is not a theory, it’s a reality. I would go so far as to encourage those who are white to openly discuss this matter with their white friends who may not be aware of this reality. These ideas arguably ring louder and clearer when coming from those associated with the perpetrators and who by default enjoy a position of privilege, rather than those associated with the victims, or even the victims themselves.
HOW SHOULD WE MOVE FORWARD?
As a country, we need to move forward, and there is only one thing that can perfectly motivate us to do so: the gospel. And so, as people chosen by God should reflect him, we should be on the front lines – reflecting who he is – and not simply praying from the sidelines. If the Gospel is for the masses, we should be where the masses are.
One of the problems we face in the church is that many members hold preconceived ideas about different social classes, but have no interest to engage. Christ-followers are to be led by scripture and informed by the context. This means that the loudest voice in our ever-changing environment needs to be God’s word. When we put His Word first, we see things as they are, as He does, and we turn to Him to rid us of our sin. This is ultimately what will allow us to move towards others as we invest in inter-racial relationships and cultural integration.
We may not be politicians, but as Christ-followers we are ministers of the Gospel. We are not trying to set up a new constitution, but trying to reconcile our broken humanity to our King! As people fight for injustices outside of the Church, they should believe that no matter who they are, they will enter the Church and be unconditionally embraced.
When listening to and engaging with various social movements, Christ-followers must remember that they are not trying to please men, but rather, to please God (Galatians 1:10). We are not here to follow trends, but to follow God’s word. This is what should have the final command over our emotions and thoughts. At the end of the day, God’s design is the best design (Revelations 4:11). As our culture changes, may we not change our fundamental God-given values and beliefs, because the Bible has not changed (Hebrews 13:8), and neither has the character of our eternal God.