Speak truth to power, or be irrelevant

There is a nostalgia in South Africa for a church that was not afraid to tell off a repressive, racist and extremely violent government. A church that believed it was led to a higher calling and would not allow itself to kowtow to earthly political powers.

The church still needs to say uncomfortable truths and speak truth to power. This time it is not only to those who wield state power. The “invisible hand” that dictates what is socially acceptable – be it in politics, business, the arts and morality – needs to be challenged regardless of how strong the tide seems to be.

As it did during the apartheid era, it must do so in the knowledge that whatever social justice view it commits itself to will not please everyone. Those who benefit from or think they are not affected by social injustice will most likely resist any attempts they see as unnecessarily rocking the boat.

Those who benefit, even if they recognise that they do so unjustly or at a cost to others, might think the movement towards correcting institutional wrongs are “too radical” or “too fast” and thus advocate for a slower and a “reasonable” pace.

Those most affected by the injustices will find the pace too slow, the commitment to change questionable and doubt the sincerity of the leadership.

If the church is to be prophetic, it will require those of us who make up the body of Christ, to start taking little steps to speak truth to power, including inside the church itself.

Not all questions should be or be seen to be about challenging the church’s authority. For example, why should it matter whether or not the congregation holds hands when saying the Lord’s Prayer? What is the orans posture and why is it such a topic of divisive debate in the church today?

Much more critically though, would be to ask how do we embrace our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who have gender identities and whom the church calls “disordered”.

We do not have conversations about the brutal death of a young person, the jailing of people because of their sexual orientation or the unfair dismissal of an employee who identifies as transgender because we fear being labelled as either a “conservative” or “liberal”. If this is the only reason that the topic is not spoken about, we have no legitimacy to speak out against any other social wrong.

The creeds of those who fail to actively stand up for justice ring hollow to those who hear them recited. Christians are called to stand up for the many young (and sometimes not so young) people who are murdered, bullied and dehumanised in their own families, at schools, in their communities and at work every day.

How can it be Christian to pretend that the degradation of their humanity is justifiable just because the church does not recognise their sexuality as valid? In other words, who would survive social injustice if the only time the church felt compelled to defend their God-breathed dignity, is if they live virtuous lives?

By avoiding difficult conversations for fear of being labelled (it does not matter which way), the church becomes irrelevant and reduces faith to a practice of empty rituals that neither move the world nor move with the world. Is this a waste of time?

Mr Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

f.moya@jesuitinstitute.org.za @fikelelom
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