Time for Christians to steady the ship again
Twenty-five years ago today (February 11, 2015), Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in the Western Cape after 27 years of imprisonment.
South Africa and the world watched as he took his first steps of freedom and towards building a legacy which inspired many because it was marked by a theme of forgiveness.
And therein lies the secret of success for the transformation of an embattled country into the new South Africa. But there is a great danger that the present regime, sucked into the secular agenda of much of the West, will lose its moorings as it sails on hell-bent on uprooting itself from its Christian heritage.
That the late Mr Mandela was a great statesman there can be no doubt – he was a man of his time who helped to free his nation. But many among his fans, particularly from the liberal left, seem conveniently to forget, or ignore, the key ingredient that helped to form the man.
For his forgiving nature is not something that developed alone from his own will. Of course he will have allowed it to impact his character, and he chose to forgive his enemies, but there is this tendency to fawn over great men as if their greatness is self-made.
Gospel of a forgiving God
But in fact the young Nelson was educated by Methodist missionaries who soon recognised his abilities and did everything to encourage the development of his career. He learnt from them the Gospel of a forgiving God whose Son cried out in agony on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And he learnt it well. So much so that as he spent 27 long years incarcerated on Robben Island and other prisons in the Cape Town area for his leadership of what became the banned African National Congress, he refused to let his soul become embittered. He continued to forgive and, when he was finally released as an elderly man following years of worldwide pressure, he strode to freedom with a generous smile on his face. And with that forgiving spirit, he led South Africa through a peaceful transition to black majority rule.
Many of his colleagues who had been imprisoned with him had also been taught to forgive by Christian missionaries. And we should not forget the part played by the Afrikaner political leaders of the apartheid era who had to humble themselves and repent of their former sins in order to pave the way for reconciliation.
And so the whole nation – black, white and mixed race – benefited from the Gospel of Christ which had given new hope through the power of the cross.
Most pundits had long predicted a bloodbath and, when the Zulu-led Inkatha Freedom Party threatened to pull out of the multi-racial elections of 1994, it seemed their worst fears would be realised.
But once again Christian leaders saved the day as they encouraged people to pray at the same time as facilitating last minute talks that brought the country back from the abyss.
Then there was the unprecedented Truth and Reconciliation Commission, again a Christian idea with former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu to the fore. It proved an amnesty for many who had committed ghastly crimes in the name of apartheid, and it proved a healing for the nation as they were met with forgiveness from their victims.
My concern is that Nelson Mandela’s lasting legacy will be lost in what appears to be a continuing downward spiral towards secularism and syncretism in that lovely land. Government’s failure to value and defend its Christian heritage is playing into the hands of anti-Christian activists who want to eliminate the influence of Christianity from every sphere of society. Christians of all colours need to make their voices heard in a bid to steady the ship of state away from the rocks of confusion towards the path of truth and freedom won at such great cost by Mandela himself, and the Man whose teachings underpinned his character.