Strong weapons, strong minds and soft hearts: A response to 2016 student protests

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[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]As predicted, our university campuses are the scene of numerous protest actions, picking up from where they left off in 2015. Except that in 2016, the dominant focal point of these protests have not been the State, but our age-old issue of the race divide and how this is played out on campus. What are we as Christians to do? I believe our response must involve taking up some strong weapons, developing a strong mind, and acting from a soft heart.

The Strong Weapon of Prayer
Let me be so bold as to unashamedly begin by saying that it is encouraging to see the open air prayer meetings springing up on campuses around the country. For those Christians (yes, I am addressing Christians who don’t think we should pray about this) who criticise it as being superficial and glossing over deep seated issues, I say this. To be sure, we cannot just pray, but we cannot not pray. In fact, we dare not pray. Not to pray is the ultimate form of pride, because it assumes that we have the power within our own human ability to change situations that require nothing less than the total transformation of the human heart (see my Frank Chikane quote later). Social and political forces, no matter how radical they sound, are woefully inadequate to do that. And without a radical change of the human heart, let’s not kid ourselves, we will continue to see the strife ridden episodes we have witnessed this year. Theologian J I Packer describes the prayer of a Christian as “a humble acknowledgment of helpnessness and dependence.” Thanks to twitter, someone else I read described prayer as the following: “Prayer is what we do when the illusion of (our) control has been removed.” If you haven’t noticed, we have challenges that no human being can resolve amicably. We must not only pray, but we dare not pray.

The Strong Weapon of Preaching the Gospel
Taking our cue from the apostle Paul, as believers in our nation we ought to say: Woe to us and our nation if we do not preach the gospel. Yes, we must live it too, but without the preaching of the gospel, the human heart remains unconverted, and where the human heart is unconverted, hatred, bitterness, racism and apathy dominate the heart unopposed. In 1993 Charl and Letlapa Mphahlele, were on opposite sides of the St James Massacre. Since then, and through the power of the gospel, Charl van Wyk and Letlapa Mphahlele, the APLA Commander who ordered the attack, have shared speaking platforms, including where Charl was invited by Letlapa to speak at his homecoming celebration in Limpopo Province. Charl publicly presented Letlapa with a personally signed Bible in Sesotho as an act of reconciliation at the meeting, where he also shared a message on ‘Jesus the revolutionary’. No politician, no constitution and no human individual can do that, and that is why, for these and other reasons, we dare not not preach the gospel. The cross is indeed the only solution for this nation and the nations of the world. Former Cabinet minister and current AFM leader Frank Chikane was indeed correct when he said the following: “There is no way you can be born white and think differently unless by grace, and there is no way you can be born black and think differently except by grace.” Preaching the gospel must involve both vertical and horizontal aspects of being reconciled to God and reconciled to man. The German reformer Martin Luther said in his typically straightforward style: If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Now is as good a time as any to ask the question: am I professing Christ by doing all I can to reconcile myself with others that I would naturally be in opposition with?

Reconciliation has another long term benefit. As Martin Luther King declared: we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. This is true on our campuses and in our nation as a whole. An atmosphere of reconciliation provides a platform for a crucial conversation we need to have on this issue: how can we reform our campuses so that everyone can make a significant contribution and call their campus home? The alternatives of apathy and indifference or violence and a single dominant hegemony will ultimately defeat us all, no matter who gains a temporary victory.

Preaching the Gospel leads to another vital possibility for the future of our nation. When the human heart is truly surrendered to God, our primary loyalty becomes the Kingdom of God. Before national, ethnic and other loyalties, our first and most important allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. We are to seek first the Kingdom (Matt 6:33). Anything that is contrary to the Kingdom should be contrary to us. As Joshua discovered, God has not come to take sides, he has come to take over: Joshua 5:13-14 13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Such an individual is also convinced that only through the ways of the Kingdom will real change come. As Paul the apostle declared: 2 Cor 10:4-5(TLB) 4 I use God’s mighty weapons, not those made by men, to knock down the devil’s strongholds. 5 These weapons can break down every proud argument against God and every wall that can be built to keep men from finding him. With these weapons I can capture rebels and bring them back to God and change them into men whose hearts’ desire is obedience to Christ. Critics may turn around and say: “but there are so many hypocrites in the church.” True. Nevertheless, my response is that what they and we all need is not a retreat from the gospel, but a going deeper into the gospel.

Developing a Strong Mind
It is not only the heart, but the mind of a truly converted believer that is of crucial importance. If I could, I would take every single Christian first year student I could find, and alert them to the ideas that will vie for their hearts and minds, and point them as best I can (weak as I am) to the critical importance of developing a Biblical worldview. Why?! Because they run the very real risk of scoring an own goal as they naively imbibe ideas on the university campus that are in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God. What is of vital importance is that in every arena including social justice, the role of the state, the racial divide and more, the ideas on how to address these issues are coming from some worldview, some philosophy, some agenda, and that the source of these ideas will lead to radically different consequences. Rosa Parks, the hero of the Montgomery Bus boycott, sparked a boycott to address an issue of social injustice. She inspired others to boycott the bus, not burn the bus. This was no accident. Same issue, but two or more possible ways of dealing with the issue, depending on your worldview. Another case in point was the totally different responses of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It is no coincidence that Martin believed in non-violence. Dude was a preacher, and he took his worldview from the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the gospel. Malcolm X espoused a totally different approach with a totally different end goal. All of these ideas come from the dominant worldview that captures our hearts and shapes our mind. More than ever therefore, we need strong minds, especially on the campus, that refuse to think and behave contrary to the worldview of Christ. Strong minds, that know what we believe and why, and what we do not believe and why. Strong minds atht are consciously and intellectually Christian, deliberately creating a Christian framework to the causes, methods and solutions to every human problem. As Paul exhorted the church: Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

A Soft Heart
Our nation’s challenges not only call for strong weapons and strong minds, but a soft heart as well. Our social media platforms are filled with cynicism, apathy, pride, hatred and hardness of heart (don’t spend your time reading them, just take my word for it). It is so easy get bitter and apathetic, folding our arms or shaking our fists as we say “…look at these young people…or look at this ethnic group…” It is tempting to think we are much better than the people we disagree with, and that if they only listened to us, the problems would disappear. Jesus challenged the smug Pharisee who asked the following question: ‘who is my neighbour’? Jesus revealed through this story that if we truly love the Lord, that love will extend to everyone, including those of another ethnicity and those with whom we disagree with on virtually every issue. Moreover, to people who would call themselves believers, and particularly people like myself in church leadership, we cannot hide behind pious answers and not engage in pious action. True, this is inconvenient and will probably result in us being criticised for various reasons. I am reminded of the story of Desmond Tutu who, in the height of apartheid in the 80’s, rescued a black ‘necklacee’ from an angry black group who wanted to perform mob justice on the sellout. I imagine that he was criticised for saving him and not being radical enough by some, and criticised for getting too involved in the struggle by others. The point is that he got his hands dirty in an inconvenient and messy situation and took compassionate action, regardless of how he was seen by others who disagreed. May the church on our university campuses and elsewhere in our nation emerge from its slumber, take up some strong weapons of prayer and the gospel, develop a strong mind, and act out of a soft heart when exactly the opposite is going on all around us.

2 Comments

  1. I agree. This is a spiritual war in the spiritual realm. That’s why prayer and fasting is needed.

  2. Thank, Tendai, you are on target when you describe our individual world-views as the source of our racial attitudes. Developing a Christian world-view is of high importance. We pray and act towards this end.