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Ntshala Mahase is a Law student at the University Of the Free State. He is the author of the novel Life Out of the Ordinary. He is a social activist. He writes black consciousness opinions for Outlook magazine.

It’s time the church play a transformation role in the context of new democratic South Africa and the fight for equality

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It’s funny how apathetic the civil society in general is towards human rights issues and equalities. Most people would rather focus on themselves, as long as the concern at hand does not affect them directly, they are most likely to turn a blind eye on such matter. But how different are our institutions, the very same institutions that are supposed to be active in promoting equality. Institutions like our educational institutions as epistemological and knowledge producing institutions and others that has an influence on the society, the so-called “macrocosms” of our society. Supposedly there is a point we seem to be missing here, perhaps the most significant one. Has one ever gave a thought what role does our religious institutions play in promoting equality and protecting human rights, most specifically Christianity as a dominant religion in our country, the church as most call it. To what degree does the church go to address injustices of the past and help to bring about the equitable society we envisage? Do they even take any steps?

I suppose, and most will definitely agree with me, that the time has come for the church as a religious institution to commit itself to the struggle of equality. This debate has been going on for a while now, from centuries back. The role this institution plays in the society has always been under scrutiny, perhaps rightly so given the fact that it need to have led by an example. One might not easily exclude the possibilities that this will most probably be the daunting task taking into account the fact that the church itself, from the onset has always been apathetic towards social equality.

What seems to be of a concern, or at least that which need to be on the limelight, throughout the period of prosperity for Christianity as a religion, which is still prevailing even today, is the fact that when the religion came to the fore it opposed quite a significant number of activities they considered wicked or in a more convicting term sinful deeds. Acts like adultery, as much as it was still not encouraged, more emphasis was put on this social issue. Theft, robbery and other acts which are considered sins were condemned by this religion. These so-called wicked acts were all rejected by the religion, strongly so by the Christian community. It placed more emphasis on social constructs like charity, humility, brotherly and sisterly love. But there is one thing that Christianity did not seem inspirited to pay an emphasis on, or rather chose to totally turn a blind eye on, this was slavery. The religion did not seem to oppose slavery, not even by a dime. Well this issue has raised quite a number of eyebrows over the couple of centuries, with most holding on to the belief that perhaps Christianity did play a certain role in enforcing and strengthening slavery.

There is another line of argument just below closely linked to the one stated above. There is enough evidence to prove that everything revolves around the bible, this is where injustices were drawn, pre-meditated, and carried out. The very same issues that are so unjust were firstly perpetuated by the bible itself. From patriarchy, one of the injustices directed to our mothers, sisters and girl children, those who are seen as nothing but property, those who have no say on how things operate, but isn’t it the bible that clearly stated that man was created first and only as an alternative was a woman created, you do not have to agree with this but this is what most perceive the bible to be preaching, patriarchal sovereignty. Consequences of such patriarchal organised system to our beloved civil societies are enormous and dangerous, women are seen as being less capable than men, less competitive, not worthy of holding high managerial positions, only good enough to be house wives. One might even look at the late 1800’s in America, the way the whole concept of whiteness was carried out, whites are more superior to blacks. The very same brutal, unjust Ku Klax Klan which played a violent and atrocious role against African Americans in the South and other parts of the North during the Reconstruction Era of the 1860s used Christianity as a religion to discredit, prejudice and subjugate African Americans. Preaching “One Hundred Percent Americanism” with their white clothes on and fire burning crosses, Christianity was used to transform the oppression of black people, to promote inequalities. “We as the white community are more superior to the rest, I mean even Jesus himself is white,” cynically said one white guy. This is one of the reasons there is so much hatred among the white community towards other races. Well if one was told he or she is made out of the image of white God and therefore Jesus is white, they would most probably believe also that they are more superior to the rest. Which is the reason, among others some people, especially black people, refuse to have the painting or any resemblance of Jesus for that matter, they probably do not want to perpetuate supremacist ideas that only seek to divide humanity and demolish our human relations. This arrangement that Jesus is white is not only deadly hazardous it is also absurd, what are the chances that a guy born in the Middle East at that time would be white. By the way where was the church during the apartheid era, wasn’t it the very same church that helped promote and preserve this brutal system.

I spent most of my childhood life at church. My faith in the Christian family was finally sealed three years back, about the age of 19, when I was baptised. Since then I have forever believed in Christianity as a religion. I now find myself asking the very same community I belong to critical questions like what is its role in the fight for equality. I find myself sceptical of and critiquing the role this very same religion failed to play in fighting oppression and marginalisation. The fact that it has always turned a blind eye on the subjugation and prejudice other groups of people have always been subject to. I have always saw how the very same Christians whom on Sundays at church would stand in front, raise their hands as high as possible, shout in praise as loud as possible and jump as high as possible, these very same Christians who observe the injustices that are happening in the world and choose to ignore them. I am constantly turned angry and furious by the selfishness among our Christians, who are so focused on themselves, not caring about those around them, those who enjoy unearned privileges, knowing how wicked it is but choose, of all options, the holy less of them all, to protect this privileges by all means as possible, I just cannot comprehend. I think the time has now come for the church, as all of our institutions should, to play a transformative role in the context of new democratic South Africa and the fight for equality.

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