SA church leaders add their voice to ‘black lives matter’ conversation

By Heartlines

“Imagine a South Africa where, instead of creating more negative stereotypes about others, we start getting to know each other better by sharing our stories …”

The start to an ongoing series of online conversations and training sessions for Christian leaders, presented by Heartlines, was a discussion, titled: “Black lives matter. All lives matter. The debate” and was hosted by The South African Christian Leadership Initiative (SACLI).

“We would love to model what a robust conversation can look like when people listen, and hear, each other,” said co-anchor and SACLI member Peter Tarantal.

Rev Moss Ntlha, the co-chairman of SACLI, opened the discussion by emphasising the importance of the black lives matter movement, and was careful to distinguish it from the US-based organisation with the same name.

“As Christians, we should be able to look past the institutionalisation of a very important statement”, he said. Instead, he said, upholding the value of black lives matter could be seen as “an affirmation of black suffering”.

He added that it would be remiss of a pastor to take the stance that all lives matter while knowing that certain of their congregants were experiencing greater suffering.

Economist, author and speaker, Dr Arno van Niekerk said that the Church had missed the opportunity to reshape the “Black Lives Matter” discussion to be less focused on political aspects, and more focused on the humanity of people.

“What was missed, and unheard, was the cry from the black community – the cry of continued suppression”, he added. He encouraged the Church to seize the opportunity to focus on the root issues brought to light by the black lives matter narrative.

Van Niekerk also spoke about how hearing each other’s stories and perspectives was a powerful way to catalyse a paradigm shift on such matters.

“There is a time and place in history and you work with God in placing a priority on certain things,” said co-chairman of SACLI, Alexander Venter when explaining his view on why the Church needs to support and take seriously the general black lives matter movement.

He pointed out that although apartheid was delegislated in 1994, the spirit and mindset thereof is still in the hearts of many. He also emphasised that while certain ideological components of the Black Lives Matter organisation cannot be supported in terms of Christian ethics, Christians need to take their biblical mandate as peacemakers and proponents of justice seriously.

Drawing from Micah 6:8, Venter emphasised the need for Christians –- especially those who had experienced privilege due to their race -– to walk humbly before God and the nation.

Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, explored which aspects of the idea that all lives matter held value for application in society.

He emphasised the need to look forward, rather than perpetually backwards, in order to not miss opportunities for growth and advancement.

“The Church is called to the ministry of reconciliation,” he said.

“We’re very polite in Church, and sometimes the truths are not spoken”, observed co-anchor and SACLI member Kudzai Mqingwana.

Venter said that when having difficult conversations about racism as a Church, we need to avoid becoming defensive and allow lots of grace.

In line with this, Pastor Libuseng Tshabalala, also a Heartlines
“What’s Your Story?” facilitator, shared how the “What’s Your Story?” programme equips people to share stories to build a bridge of understanding.

“The heart of “What’s Your Story?” is to love others as Christ has loved you; it is to make others feel heard and understood,” she said.

If this has inspired you to start having conversations to build bridges and understanding in your own circles, there are a few steps you can take:

● Explore the range of free What’s Your Story resources available for download on our website: https://projects.heartlines.org.za/wys/church/home

● Join us for our next free webinar on using “What’s Your Story?” as a way of strengthening connections in a post-Covid world: https://bit.ly/33iqx3k