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A Christian Pastoral Response to SA Violence

“When the foundations are being destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”

Psalm 11:3

My wife and I are part of Freedom House Church in Salt Rock, South Africa. It’s in the province that was hardest hit by the violence this past week. I drafted the following statement with the church leaders. The purpose is to pastor our people, and whoever wants to listen, by giving perspective and guidance on how to respond to what has happened. It was, clearly, an orchestrated attempt to divide and destabilise the nation in reaction to our previous President Jacob Zuma’s arrest, for the purposes of shifting power to his faction.

The images of wholesale looting by thousands of people, burning buildings and ransacking infrastructure, have been seen internationally on TV and social media. One watches with utter and total dismay, with tears of lament. The death toll stands at 117 (today, 16 July), with damage estimated at 16 billion rands (over $1bn). And it is still not fully under control, though the army has been deployed in the last two days. Deeply traumatic for all South Africans. No need to go further into the details, they can be read in the news media. What do we do?

First, we encourage you to pray David’s words in Psalm 11:1-7, phrase by phrase, to process your feelings and perceptions – to pray our response as the people of God. After 10 years of corrupt rule, our nation seriously weakened by state capture and economic rape under Jacob Zuma’s rule, and with the devastation of Corona and lockdown, and now this week of devastation. What do the righteous do when the foundations of society, of our nation, are being destroyed?

We don’t panic! We do not listen to the inner and outer voices of fear that suggest all sorts of things (“flee to the mountains”, vv.1-2). We look up to Yahweh. God is on his throne, still in charge! God sees everything. He empowers the response of the righteous. He will judge those who love violence (vv.4-7). The alternate Hebrew phrase is, “What is the Righteous One doing?” For those who have eyes of faith, God is working in this to unmask, judge and defeat the evil that uses poor, desperate, hungry, angry communities, as expendable means for their purposes of power. Let us work with God, “who loves justice”, to defeat that evil.

What does this mean? From a Biblical worldview of God’s Kingship, it means

We do not minimise or deny reality (what’s really going on) by escaping into super-spiritual warfare unrelated to reality – a triumphalism over emphasising ‘Kingdom now’.

Nor do we succumb to it in fatal acceptance and fear, or glorify it in reactionary comments, anger, racism, or retaliatory violence – a humanism of over emphasising ‘Kingdom not yet’.

Rather, we face reality honestly with God, humbling ourselves, learning to lament by praying psalms – to lament the pain and injustice of all who suffer. Yet, at the same time, we engage reality in faith and hope of Greater Reality – God’s Kingship – breaking through for human good.

Therefore, we call on you to…

Intercede for leaders, national and local (1 Timothy 2:1-5), for good governance, for “the foundations” of ethical values to build an equitable, just and caring society, that all “may live peaceful and quiet lives”, which is “good and pleases God”. I.e. God’s will is ethical governance for the good of human society. We are not powerless!

Prayer is our primary weapon because principalities and powers work in and through leaders. The powers behind the happenings in South Africa must be defeated, both spiritually and politically – the reign of corruption and state capture. Our nation will NOT be offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of the politics of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Our nation is NOT at the mercy of a life and death battle within the ANC, but at the mercy of God. God is King! Pray God’s Government intervenes through courageous, wise, decisive leadership in President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team.

Not only pray, but presence yourself in community action to intercede and intervene for the good of society. God wills good society. Your prayers have authority by your presence on the ground, in the street, in self-sacrificial service to your neighbour, “doing good works”, that your “light shines before people” (Matthew 5:16). An amazing outcome of this week’s evil work is the community mobilisation, sacrifice and care, we are witnessing. The response of communities is inspiring and hopeful. Followers of Jesus should be involved as examples of such activism, especially in protecting the vulnerable, feeding the hungry, working for justice, job creation, empowering the poor, and loving the ‘enemy’.

By your presence, proclaim the good news of God’s government that does not fail. Your presence in service gives you authority to speak about the reason for your faith in God. It’s interesting volunteering with the guys doing roadblocks, listening to the talk, their anger, cursing, even racism. Guard your heart and mind, and mouth, in terms of what you think and say. You can further fill the air with fear and anger, or you can gently share your response to the situation in South Africa from the hope of God’s Kingdom, from the viewpoint of faith, reconciliation, healing, truth, justice.

Go beyond proclaiming to pastor people, by following up those who respond, who are open to God’s government in King Jesus. People are desperate for hope, disillusioned with human government, which will always fail us, one way or another. God’s government will never fail. We pastor by walking with people through what’s happening in their lives, in their families, in the nation – in their fear, confusion, insecurity, etc – by patiently answering questions, teaching them to live in and from God’s Rule and Reign. We pastor people by giving godly perspective through prayer, presence, proclamation and provision of God’s love and care.

As we did during lockdown, we encourage you to pastor one another in the Freedom House family via regular contact and connect groups. We encourage you to break bread and share the blood of Jesus with each other. Especially with the vulnerable, the elderly and lonely. We encourage parents to sit regularly with their children and pray with them. And explain – at age-appropriate levels – what is going on, giving the perspective of God’s Kingship and our security in him: “In the LORD I take refuge… for the LORD is righteous, he loves justice, the upright will see his face ” (Psalm 11:1,7).

May God have mercy on South Africa

May God defeat the evil powers bent on destruction

May God intervene for truth and justice

For the poor and suffering

May God heal our nation

Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika!Woza Moya, woza!

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