O Prophet, O Church, awake from your slumber…Where art thou?
By Gregory Smuts*
Last week Fr Russell Pollitt SJ wrote an article: “Our dysfunctional state: why are we silent?” It really resonated with me.
Two things happened to me in the 80’s: 1) I became involved in and an active member of the Church; 2) I became involved in the struggle against apartheid and, as traumatic as those times were, my faith and the Church were my comfort and strength.
Our role models were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Frank Chikane and Dr Allan Boesak. In my own context, as a Catholic, there was the SACBC, Archbishop Stephen Naidoo, Archbishop Dennis Hurley and Fr Peter-John Pearson. As different as we were in our beliefs and worldviews, it was the common enemy of apartheid that united us against the injustice and evil that dehumanised our people.
The Church was not a passive onlooker, but an active participant in the fight against the evil of apartheid. I remember various occasions when the Sunday homily was set aside because there was a letter from the bishops.
After 1994 it has become noticeable how the voice of the Church has grown fainter and fainter. The Church seems to have become comfortable with the ANC in power and the status quo. Other evils have raised their head: corruption, gender-based violence, poverty, gangsterism and crime. The dehumanisation of our people continues: O Prophet, O Church, Where art thou?
In my own community churches come together and arrange marches against gangsterism. They help foster peace initiatives with gangs, albeit of short duration. However, the local Catholic Church is absent from these initiatives. Why? What of ecumenism? Is it merely lip service? Sometimes common ground can be found, first of all, through what we are all struggling against in our communities before we look at sensitive doctrinal issues that divide us.
We often hear that the Church must not get involved in politics. I agree, not in party politics. However, with and through the Holy Spirit, the Church should be prophetic, speaking and acting on behalf of God’s people against the evils of corruption, poverty, gender-based violence, gangsterism and all the other injustices we now suffer. If we don’t hear about these issues in our homilies or by communication from our bishops, then, for many people, it seems like the Church doesn’t really care about their daily struggles.
The one thing we seem to forget is that the person who struggles and suffers from these injustices is the very person who sits in our pews on a Sunday. They come on a Sunday for hope, strength and comfort. They want to be assured in the knowledge that they are not alone, that our Church is with them.
The majority party, our government, is racked with corruption and no one seems immune, not even the President. Not one opposition party is of enough quality to be an alternative possibility for good in the country.
It is into this vacuum that the Church should, again, through the Holy Spirit, speak and act and hold those accountable for the rot in the country. The Church should also raise up those who truly hold the good of the country at heart; remind us again that our God is a God of justice, love and peace. These values are, surely, worth fighting for… again.
O prophet, O Church, awake from your slumber… Where art thou?
*Greg Smuts is a parishioner at Holy Trinity in Matroosfontein, Cape Town.