A war for justice and truth

This is the second of three posts from Dr. B. Dlamini extracted from a presentation he gave at the 2016 CIHA Blog Conference on Religion, Governance and Humanitarianism in Africa. Read yesterday’s part one and come back to the blog tomorrow for part three.

By Dr B. Dlamini, Siyakhana – Ecumenical Community of the Paraclete

Generosity and mercy are the marks of the disciples of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples will not unreasonably condemn or judge, since they are governed and guided by the mind of Christ as encapsulated in the ‘golden rule.’ This determines and dictates the type of war that can legitimately be fought in his name.

The type of war that Jesus points his followers to is also alluded to in the Hebrew Testament. There are some Hebrew Testament texts which caution against harming the neighbour. This harming of the neighbour can take various forms: acts of injustice, spreading lies and untruth, discrediting, slandering, and reproaching the neighbour. Psalm 15 is clear in this caution.

There is clearly no fairness in the manner queer people are dealt with. There is a lot of untruth circulated about queer individuals. There is a lot of slandering of queer people. They are wronged and robbed almost daily. They are actually not considered to have any reputation, let alone a thought about what harm may be caused to it.

There are numerous text in the Bible that capture the pain akin to that experienced by queer people. Psalm 41 is one, and so is Proverbs 3: 27-34. Psalm 41highlights the blessings apportioned to and inherited by those who care and are concerned for the lowly, the poor, and the weak. And yet how much betrayal, disloyalty, empty words, lies, malice, mischief, rebelliousness, spite and suspicion are the order of the day. These are ills of society. These happen to even drown efforts by the LGBTIQ in their attempt to form friendships. Proverbs 3:27-34 cautions against these ills and the resultant pain inflicted upon the unsuspecting LGBTIQ people who are forced to endure it all. The text even cautions that “the wilful wrong-doer is abhorrent to the Lord, who confides only in honest men.”

Many remember that ‘lying with a man as with a woman’ is abhorrent to the Lord. Few, however, would recall that ‘wilful wrong-doing’ to the neighbour is abhorrent to the Lord. Jesus concerned himself with the latter.

Jesus was concerned with the wrongs done to others. When different schools of scribes were squabbling about which was the greatest commandment of the Law, Jesus affirmed (Mk. 12:29-31) that the first was to love God, and the second to love our neighbour. He added that there was no greater commandment than these two. He himself taught, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you should love one another. By this love you have for one another, all will know that you are my disciples” (Jn. 13:34-35). He further emphasises this law as the very life of God in chapter 15, when saying, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). This love refers to what is actually done to show it. It is not enough to say, “Lord, Lord,” the will of the Father must be done (Mat. 7:21), and humans will be judged on what they have done or neglected to do to their neighbour (Mat. 25).

Who is My Neighbour?

Many wonder who one’s neighbour actually is. While it can be said that ‘fate’ determines whom one comes into contact with, Christians in South Africa often go further and maintain that our neighbour is the person whom we accidentally meet, De Fleuriot (1981) asserts. And yet all too often, one finds that such an assertion merely disguised our choice of neighbour, a choice which is made in accordance with our taste, culture, and socio-economic background. An example of this selection process is the archaic and now defunct, Group Areas Act which has seen to it that our neighbours have the same skin-colour and the same cultural background as we. Under these conditions, to love one’s neighbour is hardly a challenge. Actually the Gospel shows a different picture. When asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus illustrated his reply with a story in which the neighbour was a despised stranger, who had been robbed, stripped naked and beaten (Lk. 10:29-37). Three people came across this man by accident, a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. But only the Samaritan chose this victimised man as a neighbour. In the same way we are called in to choose our neighbour. But our choice must be that of the Gospel.

My Neighbour has Aspirations and Needs

God has put in the heart of humans aspirations and needs. Humans feel the need to feed themselves, clothe themselves, find shelter, to rejoice, relax, to communicate, and the aspire to better themselves and their life styles. In mysterious wisdom, God distributed talents unevenly so that humans should help their fellow humans to fulfil mutual needs and aspirations.

In this endeavour, two goals are sought: human’s needs must be fulfilled and the human race must be linked together. In God’s plan the best in humans is brought about as each grows in unselfish love for one’s neighbour. This is made obvious in time of calamity, but the reality is much the same whenever Christians help their fellow humans.

My Neighbour is Important

My neighbour is a human being created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. In the eyes of God my neighbour is not important because she or he is rich, powerful, learned, good looking, or because she or he is a politician, an ominous policeman or a great leader. Whether he is black, white, yellow, Catholic, dirty or virtuous does not matter. My neighbour is important because he or she is Son or Daughter of God.

Therefore, this odd looking teenage black knocking on my door looking for work is a Son of God… This arrogant white, protected by his official desk, is a Son of God… This tramp begging for food… all Sons and Daughters of God, belonging to one family with one Father.

My Neighbour has Rights

My neighbour has a right to be fully human. This is what he is called to be by God who wants people to be perfect (Mat. 5:48). Thus humans have a right to find shelter, a right to assistance in time of sickness, accident and old age. These, and a few more, are fundamental rights. Nobody, neither Church nor State, has the power to alienate any of these rights. When my neighbour’s rights are alienated, an injustice is committed. Many, in the workshops conducted in Sankontshe, had an opinion that it is proper to speak of LGBTI rights in political discussions, but not in church, as Christians.

Christian vs Injustice

A Christian cannot ignore injustice, nor can he remain indifferent and pass the situation by, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Should he do so, argues De Flueriot (1981), he renounces his standing as a follower of Christ. On judgement day, he will risk eternal punishment because he neglected to help the least among the children of God. This, therefore, is a clear renunciation of standing as a follower of Christ, being involved in same-sex relationship is not.

This need to fight for justice has been emphasises by most Christian Churches. The Catholic Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome in 1971 proclaimed:

Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world, appears to us as an essential dimension in the preaching of the Gospel. Or, in other words, an essential dimension of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation … The Church firmly believes that the promotion of human rights is a requirement of the Gospel and as such must occupy a special position in its ministry (Justice in the World, 6).

To Fight Injustice – A Christian Challenge

Injustice is brought about when some people ignore the rights of others. It is brought by greed, by selfishness of individuals, of classes. As Christians, we are all challenged by these injustices. The call now is to fight the injustices that we have created. This needs that we open our eyes and hearts to the sufferings of others. Those on the receiving end of injustice have a duty to organise themselves to eradicate its causes. None is called by God to suffer injustice. We are rather called by Jesus to “hunger and thirst for justice” and we shall then be satisfied (Mat. 5:6).

All Christians are called by Christ to work for justice and truth. And all have a duty to answer that call. The same is a call to compassion.

A call to compassion

One remarkable day a male student came to my office at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In the course of the discussion I happened to say something about ‘compassion.’ At the mention of the word, this young man stared at me and remarked, “I never knew that men can be compassionate. In the township where I come from, a man is supposed to demonstrate manhood by uncaring and toughness. Now you talk to me about compassion. Is it for males as well?”

There was not much time to give the student a well-reasoned answer. It was a bit of a shock to hear him say that. Upon reflection, however, I realised what could have been of much assistance to the young man. In the Bible there is just so much a depiction of God as male. The same male God is equally depicted as compassionate, particularly in the Hebrew Testament’s patriarchal system. There is no scarcity of texts to demonstrate this. Merciful and compassionate is the Lord, God (2 Chr. 30:9; Deut. 13:17/18; Ps. 78:38; Ps. 86:15; Ps. 111:4; Ps. 112:4; Ps. 145:8-9; Mat. 9:36; Mat. 14:14; Mk. 6:34; Mat. 18:33 and Mk. 1:41).

Taking their cue from the Master, the apostles and disciples also talked about and taught this compassion, as 1 Pet.3:8 and 1 Jn.3:17 demonstrate.

Compassion, justice, love, and truth seem essential depictions of the male God of the Old Testament. This loving God is clearly depicted where God is portrayed as welcoming all people (Religions for Peace, 2013).

God is a fetcher. Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy states that God is always ready to welcome all people – a welcoming God is she: “Then the Lord, your God will change your lot; and taking pity on you … Though you may have been driven to the farthest corner of the world, even from there will the Lord you God, gather you; even from there will he bring you back” is the rendering of the African Bible. The Jerusalem Bible reads, “He will have pity on you and gather once again out of all the peoples… Had you wondered to the ends of the heavens, Yahweh your God would gather you even from there, would come there to reclaim you.” The Oxford Bible has, “Have compassion upon you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will fetch you” (v4). Not just a welcoming, but a compassionately fetching God is she. Is God compassionately fetching and welcoming, without calling to repentance, people in same-sex relationships?