God's Word for today

Thursday, 10 February 2011

So heaven now belongs to the ANC?

During our 2010 course at SMMS, "Leading the Congregation", our lecturer Ross Olivier was explaining how we as future ministers can help a congregation develop a vision for its mission.  Using the words of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (my emphasis), he suggested that the primary mission of the church is "to bring heaven in and get the hell out!"

After the raucous laughter had died down, Ross iterated that "getting the hell out" does not mean that the Church should run at the first sign on adversity.  Rather, the Church should be at the forefront as agents of God in making these words of the Lord's Prayer a reality.

Examples of "hell" on earth include abusive relationships, unemployment, poverty, spiritual dryness - and bringing in "heaven" could include practical interventions such as support, marriage counselling, skills development, poverty relief, fellowship groups / cells / classes (pick any name you like - they all mean the same thing anyway!) - in short, the kinds of things that Jesus did in His earthly ministry.

Sitting in this class caused me to broaden my thinking somewhat - and I can certainly buy these concepts of "heaven" and "hell" in an earthly sense.  But never in my wildest dreams did I ever equate these two concepts with the box on the election ballot in which I would insert my cross.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC), however, has a different idea.  According to our President last week, a vote for the ANC is equated with "heaven", while voting for anyone else is "hell".

Now one might dismiss such remarks with the contempt they deserve, deciding not to dignify them with a response.  Certainly, they are offensive to many Christians (myself included), and a cheap and tacky election trick if ever I saw them.  However, one of my colleagues in the Methodist Church sees it differently, according to this press release taken from the ANC's website:

ANC Chaplain-General in defence of President Zuma

7 February 2011

Amid the reigning debate sparked by remarks made by African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma over the weekend, the ANC Office of the Chaplain-General would like to give clarity on the Biblical and theological context in the use of the words "heaven" and "hell".

We also fully share the ANC view that the expression used by the President was figurative - similar to other popular phrases like "marriage made in heaven", "heavenly voices" and "sweets from heaven" "and also find it important that we further explain the Biblical context.

While the popular Christian understanding of heaven is equated to a physical place, theologically heaven can also mean the presence of God.

When the President urged citizens to vote for the ANC, equating that with heaven, he meant that voters - theologically may miss the opportunity of being in the presence of God if they do not vote for the ANC. The alarm and the hullabaloo by African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader, Kenneth Meshoe, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille and others over the President`s metaphoric expression, should be viewed as nothing else but lack of broad understanding of the concept of heaven.

In using the word "hell," the President did not mean eternal damnation of anybody, but missing an opportunity of being in heaven in a theological sense. The ANC - as a movement that was born on the alter - respects all forms of religion, and its President has not and will never insult such an important social force of our people.

Issued by:
Rev Dr Vukile Mehana
African National Congress

Well, Rev Mehana, I hate to burst your bubble, but if your idea of "being in heaven" is a vote for a political party - ANY political party - then you have a very narrow view of heaven.  One that I, for one, want no part of.  If that means that I also "lack a broad understanding of the concept of heaven", then so be it.

Source: Madam & Eve on-line (www.madamandeve.co.za)
And while I'm on my soapbox, last time I looked at my Laws and Disciplines, Paragraph 4.92 states that "[a] Minister who takes up a party-political post or any other appointment that Conference or the connexional Executive considers will compromise the necessary independence of the Church in its witness to the Gospel in society, shall resign from the ministry failing which shall be deemed to have resigned".  This was the reason why Rev Mvume Dandala resigned from the MCSA when taking up a party-political post with The Congress of the People (COPE).  Rev Dandala only returned to the ministry once he had relinquished his post as COPE leader.

Rev Mehana may well argue that many Methodist ministers hold chaplaincy appointments.  The difference in this case is that this particular chaplaincy is to a political party.  In my eyes, his statement issued on behalf of the "ANC Office of the Chaplain-General" would certainly "compromise the necessary independence of the Church in its witness to the Gospel in society" in many people's eyes - mine included.

While I consider it my civic duty to exercise my freedom to vote for the party of my choice, and would certainly encourage others to exercise this hard fought-for right that all South Africans of voting age now enjoy, I have never been a card-carrying member of any political party, and as a minister of the Gospel, I will never do so.  When I stand up in front of a congregation one day, I want to be able to look each and every member in the eye and ensure that they know that I am there to serve all of them, regardless of their political affiliation.

Whether Rev Mehana will be able to have the same relationship with his congregants who choose to vote for parties other than the ANC is debatable.  Or will he simply tell them that they are all in "hell"?

No comments: