James 1:20 says, “For a man’s anger does not lead to action which God regards as righteous.” This Scripture came to mind this week when I considered the debate around colonial era statues. Anger is an emotion that is prone to lead people along a destructive path where they do actions that they end up regretting later. Consider for instance people who allow their anger to lead them to destroy public property and sabotage government services that are meant to uplift them.
Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness and all passionate feeling, all anger and loud insulting language, be unknown among you — and also every kind of malice.”Malice is the desire or intention to harm another human being but the Merriam Webster’s online dictionary also adds that malice is “an intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse.” Does this not explain the actions of those who have defaced and vandalised what they consider to be offensive statues?
They might claim that the end justifies the means but that argument is morally bankrupt and legally unjustifiable. It is this sort of argument that is behind the flareups of violent attacks against foreign nationals from other African countries and fits in very well with the modus operandi of the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) in the campaign to illegally occupy vacant government land. The issue is not just about statues of Cecil John Rhodes, Paul Kruger, etc. but about civil disobedience and lawlessness which are the very things Christians cannot support.
The claim is that the statues represent the offensive and repressive system of apartheid and indeed we should have a conversation around issues of injustice and notions of racial superiority but the conversation should not be at the behest of people with a narrow political agenda. Some of these people erroneously believe that they have hegemony over the idea of “blackness” and that to be black and proud a person must throw in their lot with them and their political ideals.
If I read the Bible correctly I do not see how a Christian can justify being in cahoots with groups that are bent on creating anarchy and chaos. Our mandate is that of being bridge-builders and peacemakers and we cannot allow ourselves to be seduced into trading our identity at the altar of political expediency. Someone told me that the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue at the University of Cape Town represents a psychological victory for the students.
But I keep asking myself, what happens after the statue has been removed? Will its removal help to heal past hurts and contribute to social cohesion? It seems to me that we are sacrificing long term gains for short term victories. More importantly, if these statues are so offensive then why were they not dealt with as part of the political settlement entered into between different political parties during the CODESA negotiations? Is this an oversight on the part of our democratic founding fathers or do we now have a generation that has just decided that it is time to be angry against something?
How do you pass a concrete block for decades and then decide to agitate for its removal and are unwilling to even follow due process in having it removed? Perhaps the issue is a deep seated anger caused by various factors and the statues happen to bear the brunt of it. How does the church respond to this? We pray and keep level heads. We seek to hear God’s voice because He always has a plan. We refuse to be polarised along racial lines and to be derailed from our task of nation building.