Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “Christianity and culture”

Evangelism, or cultural imperialism

Since the US invasion of Iraq, Western-style Protestant evangelical Christianity has begun to appear in that country. It is not, however, converting Muslims to the Christian faith, but proselytising among other Christians.

Evangelicals Building a Base in Iraq – washingtonpost.com:

The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq’s long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

The evangelicals’ numbers are not large — perhaps a few thousand — in the context of Iraq’s estimated 800,000 Christians. But they are emerging at a time when the country’s traditional churches have lost their privileged Hussein-era status and have experienced massive depletions of their flocks because of decades-long emigration. Now, traditional church leaders see the new evangelical churches filling up, not so much with Muslim converts but with Christians like Tawfik seeking a new kind of worship experience.

There is much talk in Western Christian missiological circles about inculturation and contextualisation, and the need for Christianity, when it enters a society of a different culture, to become part of that culture.

But this seems, on the face of it, to be the opposite: taking already indigenous Christians, and converting them to an exotic culture.

On the other hand, globalisation is such that exotic cultures often seem attracive. Some traditional Christians in countries like Iraq achieve their desire to identify with exotic cultures by emigrating. Others, perhaps those who can’t afford to emigrate, do so by joining exotic churches, like Western Baptists, and enjoy the foreign cultural ambiance.

So is it evangelisation, proselytisation, or disinculturation (or could one say “exculturation”? Is that a word?)

You might be an American Evangelical if…

You might be an American Evangelical if:

10. T-shirts with Christian catch-phrases are a part of your evangelism strategy.

9. Your car is equipped with the ever-popular license plate frame that reads, “In case of rapture, the car is yours!”

8. You’re convinced Jesus was a Republican.

7. Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind book series is gospel truth.

6. Your favorite authors are Stormie Omartian and Joel Osteen.

5. Anyone who disagrees with you has taken the wide path.

4. You’re convinced Sarah Palin has a bright future as a political candidate.

3. Your notion of God’s purpose for your life happens to correspond nicely with upper middle-class suburban life.

2. You can’t fit anymore music on your ipod because it’s full of songs by John Tesh and Michael W. Smith.

1. You feel this post is alienating and abrasive, and your first inclination is to unsubscribe from this blog.

With acknowledgements to Christians in Context: from orthodoxy to orthopraxy.: Top Ten Marks of a Mainline Evangelical.

Synchroblog on Syncretism

There is a synchroblog on syncretism this month. Syncretism is mixing up two (or more) religions to make another religion that is different from those that went to make it up. It is not quite the same as borrowing elements from other religions, and nor is it quite the same as what the Russians call dvoeverie — practising two or more religions side-by-side. But actually the synchroblog posts deal with all three.

You may find the posts here:

And then there is this post The Deacon’s Bench: Buying into the “Prosperity Gospel”, which seems not unrelated.

Hope Transfigured: Crusading Koreans?

Hope Transfigured: Crusading Koreans?:

With Korea now sending more cross-cultural missionaries than any other country outside the US (so Julie claimed) their missiology and methodology must be significant. I was struck by how many times Julie spoke of the Korean mindset as ‘crusading’ – ouch!! – but she’s right in many respects. Another colleague later talked of Korean missionaries as being ‘modern’ (rational, linear, success oriented, goal setting) and therefore finding it difficult to address pre- and post-modern mission contexts.

When I read this paragraph in Mark Oxbrow’s blog (I met Mark at the conference of the International Association of Mission Studies – IAMS – at Hammanskraal in 2000) I briefly wondered what might have caused Korean missionaries to become “modern”, and then I remembered the Haggai Institute.

I attended a mission training course at the Haggai Institute in Singapore in May 1985. It lasted a month, and there were people there from nineteen different countries, including four South Africans. The aim was to train third-world leaders in mission methods in such a way that they could return to their own countries and train others. And one of the things that characterised the traning was that it was modern — rational, linear, success-oriented, goal setting. I found the training quite useful, though some parts were more useful than others.

The teaching was done by various people, from different backgrounds. Some of was informational — for example on religions like Islam and Hinduism. Some was academic — a sociology lecturer from the University of Singapore taught several classes. Some were practical “how to” lessons — one taught about writing, preparing manuscripts for publication, using audiovisual media (especially where there was no mains electricity) and so on. Some were more theological — on the Biblical basis and theology of missions. And some were a bit like motivational speakers, and the modernity was especially apparent in what they said.

I wouldn’t knock that either, however. I found it useful, not so much for setting goals myself (I tend not to work like that) but for questioning the goals of activities proposed by others and even me. Step-by-step goal-setting and working everything out on paper beforehand just isn’t my style, but it can be useful when someone comes up with an idea that sounds impressive until one tries to determine the goal behind it, and then suddenly it become clear that there are many better ways of reaching that goal, and that the activity proposed might actually be counterproductive in reaching the stated goal. And if people persist in pursuing the proposed couse of action, one then needs to look for an UNstated goal. An example (with which most people are no doubt familiar) is the US invasion of Iraq. What was it intended to achieve? What did the initiators SAY it was intended to achieve? Was it the best way of achieving what they SAID they wanted to achieve? And with hindsight, what did it actually achieve.

That may seem remote from a mission goal, but remember that at one point George Bush said “mission accomplished” — so what was the mission, and was it accomplished?

But that is an illustration. The questions about it are rhetorical, so please don’t try to answer them in comments!

The point here is that goal-setting is part of the modern approach that characterises Korean missionaries. And a bit strange, that, too, talking of “Korean missionaries”. Because they are all, I am fairly sure, SOUTH Korean missionaries. I have my doubts that NORTH Korean missionaries, if any, take that approach.

When I was at the Haggai Institute there was one person there from South Korea, Byung Jae Jeong. We were the 85th and 86th session, so if there was an average of one South Korean for every two sessions, by that stage the Haggai Institute would have trained about 43 from South Korea. Each of them was supposed to train 100 others, so that would be about 4300 South Koreans trained in modern methods.

I don’t think that the Haggai Institute was alone in training people from Asian, African and South American countries in the use of modern methods, but it can illustrate the way in which others may have offered similar training.

In this, perhaps one can see Christianity as acting as a kind of agent of modernity in South Korea, and perhaps other Asian countries, and possibly in Africa and Latin America as well.

And using the training in goal setting I received from the Haggai Institute, I ask: what are the intended and unintended consequences of this?

Unfavourable opinions of religions

In my previous post I commented on a survey that asked whether people had a favourable or unfavourable opinion of a religion (in this case Wicca), and said I would be among those who was neutral or had no opinion.

But the question was raised if the people who practised the religion did things one disapproved of, what then?

I disapprove of some practices of some adherents of some religions, but one can’t blame a religion for the behaviour of its followers.

Where a practice is something I believe to be wrong or immoral and intimately bound up with the practice of the religion, that is something else, and probably deserves a separate discussion, and is not something that can easily be determined by a survey questionnaire.

Let me give an example of practices that I believe to be wrong or immoral, but which are closely bound up with the practice of a religion.

When Protestant missionaries evangelised the Kikuyu (Gikuyu) people of central Kenya, they strongly disapproved of some features of Kikuyu culture, such as polygamy and female circumcision, and urged the British authorities (Kenya was at that time a British colony) to assist them in suppressing them. They demanded that all teachers in church schools (and all schools for Africans in Kenya were church schools) take an oath against female circumcision. As a result two independent school associations were formed, the Kikuyu Karing’a Educational Association and the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association. The former became affiliated with the Orthodox Church, and the latter with the African Independent Pentecostal Church (for more details, see my article on Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).

Female circumcision (female genital mutilation) was an integral part of Kikuyu religion and culture, but Christianity generally opposes bodily mutilation (Protestant missionaries in China, for example, started the Natural Foot Society to counter the Chinese practice of binding the feet of female children to keep them small). So the Protestant approach was to suppress practices that they regarded as immoral, and to seek the aid of the government in doing so, thus linking mission and colonialism.

The Orthodox Church, however, did not begin with moral denunciations of practices it thought immoral. Polygamists could be baptised, but after baptism further marriages were discouraged. Now, after 70 years, polygamy and female circumcision are not practised by Kikuyu people who are Orthodox Christians, but this was not achieved by a direct frontal attack on Kikuyu culture. The Orthodox approach was that people need first to know Christ, to worship the Triune God, and and then gradually be transformed into the image of God, not by human laws and prohibitions and sanctions and punishments, but by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Female circumcision is still practised in some parts of Africa, and some Westerners still make an issue of it, and those who do are not always puritanical Protestant missionaries, but are often quite secular. They regard African cultures that do such things as barbarous, and, like the puritanical Protestant missionaries, campaign for laws to be passed against them, yet their own cultures practise wholesale abortion, which seems equally barbarous to many Africans (and to many Christians outside Africa). What lies behind it, in the case of both the Protestant missionaries and the secular social reformers, is Western cultural imperialism.

So there are two things here.

One is the behaviour of some adherents of a religion. Is that adequate cause for indicating disapproval of a religion?

Some people cite the Inquisition and the Crusades as examples to show that Christianity is an evil religion that one should disapprove of. But I think it is silly to blame a religion for the behaviour of some of its followers. The Crusades and the Inquisition were products of certain periods of human history, and show that Christians, like other people, sometimes succumb to social forces and sometimes even mistakenly identify these with mandates of their religions. One can say the same of suicide bombings and pogroms and various other things.

In the case of Wicca, it is clear that some Wiccans have created a myth of “the Burning Times”, which they have quite deliberately and consciously used to fan the flames of hatred against Christians. Should I therefore disapprove of Wicca? No, because not all Wiccans do this, and some have spoken quite strongly against it. One cannot blame a religion for the behaviour of its followers, unless that behaviour is an integral part of following the religion.

And that brings us back to the second thing. Female circumcision was an integral part of Kikuyu traditional religion and culture, which is why the attack on it by Protestant missionaries was seen as a direct attack on Kikuyu culture and part of a scheme by the colonial government to deprive the Kikuyu people of their land. The Protestant missionaries demanded oaths against female circumcision, and, almost as a counter to that, the Mau Mau movement began demanding oaths to recover the land, and suddenly the Kenya colonial government began denouncing “oath-taking” as the greatest evil of all, and to punish people for doing that, and detaining them if they were even suspected of it.

And this is a point at which I follow the Orthodox missionary tradition, which is not to denounce the religions and cultures of others. All human religion and all human culture is fallen, including my own, and needs to be transformed by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. This can be seen in the missionary instructions of St Innocent of Alaska

On no account show open contempt for their manner of living, customs, etc., however these may appear deserving of it, for nothing insults and irritates savages so much as showing them open contempt and making fun of them and anything belonging to them.

Even if one disagrees with their culture and customs, one can show respect for people. One can disagree with their theology, and can say why one does. as St John of Damascus did in pointing out where Islamic theology differed from Orthodox theology (he regarded Islam as a Christian heresy). But it should be done in an atmosphere of respect. It is fashionable nowadays in some Western to belittle the notion of respect, and to despise it as mere “political correctness”, and that is something I think worthy of disapproval!

St Innocent of Alaska also disapproved of the linking of mission and colonialism, when he said,

2. On arriving in some settlement of savages, thou shall on no account say that thou art sent by any government, or give thyself out for some kind of official functionary, but appear disguise of poor wanderer, a sincere well-wisher to his fellow-men, who has come for a single purpose of showing them the means to attain prosperity and, as far as possible, guiding them to their quest

and

12. Ancient customs, so long as they are not contrary to Christianity, need not to be too abruptly broken up; but it should be explained to converts that they are merely tolerated.

So tolerance is an Orthodox missionary principle. Some things cannot be tolerated, as contrary to Christianity, such as human sacrifice. In this, I think Fr Thomas Hopko’s account of tolerance is worth repeating:

Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God’s creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence.

So generally my attitude towards religions other than my own is one of tolerance. I neither approve nor disapprove of them. I may approve of some of their beliefs or practices, and disapprove of others, but recognise that if these are integral parts of the religion that they cannot be abruptly separated without destroying the whole, therefore I cannot either approve or disapprove of the whole, unless the whole thing is evil or based on evil, and such religions are rare.

I disapprove of the Hindu caste system and sutti, I don’t disapprove of Hinduism. I disapprove of Jewish support for Zionism, but don’t disapprove of Judaism, and recognise that Zionism is a secular movement, and is no more necessarily tied to Judaism than crusades and crusading and pogroms are tied to Christianity.

There are also some aspects of these and other religions that I might approve of, though that does not necessarily mean that I approve of the religion per se, nor that it would be right for me as an Orthodox Christian to believe and practise them. I used to think, and to some extent still do, that Jack Kerouac’s Zen Catholicism was quite cool, but Orthodox Christianity has different, and I believe better, ways of achieving similar ends.

Christ and culture

A very interesting post by Fr Gregory Jensen Koinonia: Orthodox Christian Faith in the Public Square:

Having spent more than a little time with the recent sociological studies that examine the attitudes of Orthodox Christians, I can confirm that for a significant percentage—and in some cases, a majority—of Orthodox Christians draw their understanding of morality not from Holy Tradition but popular American culture.

As with our brothers and sisters in western Christian traditions, many, even most, Orthodox Christians too ‘have uncritically accepted the dichotomy between public and private, between fact and value, between knowledge and meaning.’ For all that we might imagine that we are preserving Hellenism or the ‘other worldliness’ of monastic life, we live lives structured on the same ‘dichotomies [that] are deeply entrenched in American religion and culture and are closely associated with what is often described, and frequently decried, as American individualism.’

Christ and culture

A very interesting post by Fr Gregory Jensen Koinonia: Orthodox Christian Faith in the Public Square:

Having spent more than a little time with the recent sociological studies that examine the attitudes of Orthodox Christians, I can confirm that for a significant percentage—and in some cases, a majority—of Orthodox Christians draw their understanding of morality not from Holy Tradition but popular American culture.

As with our brothers and sisters in western Christian traditions, many, even most, Orthodox Christians too ‘have uncritically accepted the dichotomy between public and private, between fact and value, between knowledge and meaning.’ For all that we might imagine that we are preserving Hellenism or the ‘other worldliness’ of monastic life, we live lives structured on the same ‘dichotomies [that] are deeply entrenched in American religion and culture and are closely associated with what is often described, and frequently decried, as American individualism.’

Reviving the Russian Soul

One of the most popular recent films in Russia is Ostrov (The Island) which indicates that despite the dominance of the communist and capitalist visions of materialism, interest in spiritual life continues to grow. As the authors of this review point out, “Ostrov’s story of repentance and faith in God hardly seems to be the stuff that blockbusters are made of” — at least not in the West. I noted my own response to the film here, but this article describes the effect on Russian culture, and the response of the actor who played the protagonist is also interesting, since he is apparently a hermit in real life.

Reviving the Russian Soul, by Mike Kauschke and Elizabeth Debold.:

The story of the film’s principal actor Pyotr Mamonov may offer some explanation. Back in the eighties and nineties, Mamonov was the lead singer in an avant garde Russian rock band that reached cult status. But these days, he lives as a religious hermit near Moscow, and apparently it took a great deal of effort to get him to commit to make the film. Ostrov director Pavel Lungin says: “In a certain sense, this is also a movie about Mamonov’s life. He transformed from being a rock star embroiled in scandals into a deeply religious man.” Lungin realizes that both Mamonov’s life and the life of the monk he plays are resonant for Russians today. “The times of perestroika are over and we need to think about things like eternity, sin, and conscience,” he observes. “These have disappeared from our lives in the rat race for success and money. But people can’t just live for material things alone.”

Tim’s Blog: "Better than Church?"

Tim Norwood (a Church of England vicar) asks if blogging is better than church.

Tim’s Blog: “Better than Church?”:

A friend of mine (who is probably reading this) also commented that reading the blog was ‘better than going to church’ – which I do take as a compliment, but it does raise some interesting questions. To what extent can the blogsphere provide opportunities to ‘be’ church?

A few years ago, I was quite interested in the idea of on-line church and a few of us began to think about how to do it. We started with cell church methodology and looked at ways to do this. I even bought the ‘cybercell’ url (and still own it). When the diocese put money into cutting edge ministries and launched iChurch I was seriously tempted to apply for the job (which unfortunatley was part-time). It’s been interesting to watch iChurch develop in similar directions to CyberCell – which never got off the ground because I didn’t have enough time to invest in it…

And he has some quite interesting thoughts on the topic.

Some of his comments made sense to me. Among other things he said that reading his bishop’s blog made him feel closer to his bishop. And yes, blogging is a way of sharing thoughts with people one doesn’t see every day, and allows one to communicate with people who are geographically out of reach.

But there are also limitations in blogging. Comments allow some interaction, but it is not inherently an interactive medium. It is basically a one to many medium. Some have tried to overcome the limitations by having synchroblogs — many people blogging on the same topic at the same time, but it is still a collection of individual viewpoints. Blogging remains communication without community, and therefore cannot be regarded as a form of church, or “fresh expressions” of church, much less a substitute for church. Though I suppose a lot depends on what you regard as church. If your model of church is the Protestant “preacher-congregation” one, then yes, blogging can be much the same thing. If you go to church primarily to hear sermons, then yes, you can just as easily read them on blogs — but is that all that church is about?

Online worship and prayer, however, seem to me to be an impossibility. But again, that may depend on your understanding of worship. It seems to me that some people regard worship as a kind of holy sing song, and “worship leader” means someone who leads singing — a kind of combination of a choir director and a cheer leader. But even if that were one’s understanding of worship, could you do it online?

The computer on which I am writing this has no speakers connected. I don’t listen to podcasts or watch videos, partly because I’m often surfing the web at 3 am and don’t want to wake the family, and partly because I can’t afford the bandwidth. But if I were to join in singing hymns at 3:00 am the family would soon be very annoyed.

Beyond the Boerewors Curtain: Identity and white English South Africans

In his blog Beyond the Boerewors Curtain Roger Saner asks an interesting question about Identity and white English South Africans

What also interests me about Apartheid is the white English role. Most English people in SA seem unaware that the British concentration camps were responsible for the deaths of 26,000 Afrikaner women and children. This is not a legacy to be lightly skipped over, and one that ties directly into one of the most thorny issues for English South Africans: identity. Who are we? We’re not British, although many of us hold British passports (or can get ancestral visas, or flee to the UK when we get the chance). We’re not Afrikaans, so therefore we’re not responsible for Apartheid (so I’ve heard from many English people). ‘Apartheid was something which the Afrikaners were responsible for, not us. We had no say. In all levels of government the only people who were employed were Afrikaans.’ So we withdrew from the public sphere and happily existed in the neutral space between oppression and oppressed, mirroring the behaviour of everyone else.

The last sentence rather begs the question. What do you mean “we”, white man? Just who is “everyone”?

In his book Ah big yaws? Rawbone Malong described the language, pronunciation and usage of White Urban English-speaking South Africans, WUESAs, or Woozers for short.

In a post on my other blog I queried the usage and assumptions of a certain school of church historians who have written about “the English-speaking churches” in South Africa. Is there such a thing as a Woozer identity?

I suppose that in a sense I’m a Woozer. I’m white, speak English as my first language, was born in South Africa and have lived in cities most of my life. But does that define my identity? In the year I was born a man called G.H. Calpin published a book called There are no South Africans. He was a nasty right-wing racist (I was later called upon to review one of this other books, which made that very clear).

I’ve been faced with the question at several significant moments of my life. I’ll describe some of them, going backwards in time

One was 25 years ago, during the referendum of the tri-cameral parliament, in 1983. I was visited by a National Party canvasser, who tried to convince me that the proposed tri-cameral parliament was a good thing. He stayed most of the afternoon. My objections were different from most of those he encountered, and it took most of the afternoon for him to grasp what I was getting at. Most objections he encountered were from people who did not like the idea of having Coloureds and Asians in parliament, even in separate houses. What he found difficult to grasp was that I rejected two principles that he regarded as so axiomatic that he could not conceive of the possibility of anyone questioning them: group rights and “own affairs”. And that related to one of the fundamental contradictions of apartheid.

Afrikaner nationalists liked to point out that nationalism was a good thing, and that it simply meant “love of one’s own” — and that is where “own affairs” came in. The problem for me was, what was my “own”? The “white group”? But what was it? One should have “own affairs” which meant one’s own schools, language, religion, culture and so on. But Nat policy was to have separate English and Afrikaans schools. If the theory of apartheid were to be consistent, then there should have been an “English” homeland, which ran its own affairs. But there wasn’t, of course. If there were, then the “white” group would be split, and could not outnumber the Coloureds and Indians, and the tri-cameral parliament would no longer serve its purpose of maintaining white Afrikaner Nationalist hegemony. For the same reason there could not be a “black” house fo parliament, because that would outnumber the whites, so the blacks had to be divided into Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana etc homelands. It was the old policy of divide and rule. As long as Afrikaner nationalists outnumbered all other whites (English, Portuguese, Greek etc), they could be coopted to boost the numbers of the white parliament, which Afrikaner nationalists would control. The moment one of the black groups outnumbered the white conglomerate, the racial arithmetic no longer worked. Chris Heunis resigned as Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and apartheid’s days were numbered.

But to the Nat canvasser it was inconceivable that I should not see my identity as primarily white. I didn’t want a tri-cameral parliament, I wanted one parliament, with one man, one vote. He said “But that has never worked anywhere.” I said “Look west”. That required more explanations. On our western border was Botswana, which in 1983 was the most democratic country in Africa. Admittedly it was a much more homogeneous population than South Africa. But I didn’t see why it shouldn’t work in a multicultural country like South Africa, and thought it was a lot better than having people of one culture telling all the others what groups they belonged to and what their culture ought to be. “Own affairs” was a farce, because the attitude of the Nat government was that “you will look after your own affairs, and we will tell you what your own affairs are”.

An earlier defining moment was the publication of A message to the people of South Africa by the South African Council of Churches, in 1968.

In the past various Christian groups had criticised apartheid on the ground of its unjust implementation. The Message, however, attacked not merely the implementation and practice of apartheid, but its theory and ideology. It said that apartheid was far worse than a heresy, it was a pseudogospel.

Apartheid was a false gospel because it encouraged people to find their security in racial identity instead of in Christ, and it was therefore, from a Christian point of view, a form of idolatry. It set up racial identity as an idol. Christians therefore opposed apartheid not merely because it was bad in practice, it was bad in principle. It was based on principles and assumptions that could never be acceptable from a Christian point of view.

For me personally, that was not something new. The Message to the people of South Africa simply articulated something I already knew. It helped to clarify and reinforce things by finding terminology to describe them. Many people had believed that apartheid was a heresy. The Message went further, and said it was a pseudogospel, and explained why. It was a moment like the one when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. It challenged South Africa: if Christ is God, serve him; but don’t pretend to serve him when your real god is the idol of racial identity.

For me personally the defining moment came in 1960/61, when there was another referendum, on whether South Africa should become a “republic”, and did become a republic outside the Commonwealth.

It made me think about what it meant to be a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. The propaganda of the Republicans was that it would “unite South Africa”. They said that the Afrikaners put South Africa first, while the “English” had divided loyalties, with one foot in Britain, which many Woozers still spoke of as “home”, even if their ancestors had lived in Slouth Africa for generations. The Afrikaans word for Woozers was “souties”, derived from “soutpiel” — if one had one foot in South Africa and one in Britain, then another part of the body (in the case of males) must be dangling in the salty waters of the ocean in between.

But all this talk of “uniting” South Africa was going on simultaneously with talk of dividing it up into “homelands”. And what was a homeland? A putative place of origin that black people (but not whites) were told they belonged to, and could be sent “back” to. So what did it mean to be a citizen of the Republic of South Africa? That you should have no other homeland (if you were white), but that you must have another homeland, if you were black. Clearly, the Republic of South Africa was going to be a Mickey Mouse country, with an elastic definition of citizenship that could mean anything but actually meant nothing.

And at the same time I read the New Testament, where St Paul said “our citizenship, our homeland, is in heaven” (Philippians 3:30). So it appeared to me that it was a toss-up between citizenship of the Kingdom of Heaven and citizenship of the Republic of South Africa, and I opted for the former. Baptism, it appeared to me, was a naturalisation ceremony for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

So what the National Party was urging me to do was (in the words of Leon Bloy) the renunciation of my heavenly birthright for the pottage of this sinful world.

Because I was baptised, I had more in common with a baptised black person than with an unbaptised white one. The National Party tried to deny the truth of that, and to say that skin colour was more important than what God had done in baptism, that Babel could not be overruled by Pentecost.

And for the same reason, I couldn’t get particularly particularly excited about being a Woozer, or see that as the core of my identity.

For a while I lived in Namibia, when apartheid was at its height, and many cities in Namibia had black “locations”. In terms of the apartheid ideology blacks had no permanent homes in the cities, and were forced to go and live outside the city, beyond the town limits. Many did not want to move, and in Windhoek the Hereros were told that they could even give the new location a name, if only they could go and live there, and so they called it “Katutura” which means “We don’t live here”. And every new location outside every Namibian town was called Katutura, even if the government called it something else.

In Herero, “tura” means to live in a place as a homeland, to have a home in a place. Yet this was a metaphor for the Christian life. Hebrews 13:12-14 shows that Jesus was in Katutura, not Windhoek, because it was to precisely such a place that the world pushed him, and as his followers, that is where we are. We are pariki, the Greek word from which the English word “parishioners” is derived, we live beside the house, not in it. In Afrikaans, we are bywoners, squatters, sojourners. This is not our homeland: katutura, we don’t live here.

Apartheid may be dead in South Africa, but the struggle against the pseudogospel still continues. I joined the Orthodox Church, and in South Africa, as an English-speaking Orthodox Christian, I’m in the minority. Greek-speakers, or people of Greek heritage, are in the majority, and from some of them one sometimes hears the same racist sentiments that we heard so often in the apartheid years. One woman once said, “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.” Non-Greeks are xeni. Hey, ho, I was born in South Africa, but I get called a xenos by a Greek immigrant. That puts me in my place. But actually it causes me to reflect that for both of us we are where we are in the church not because of birth or parentage, language or culture, not because of where we were born, or to whom we were born, but by a second birth of water and the spirit that makes us citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

Yes, racism is alive and well in the Orthodox Church. In 1985, when the first English-speaking priest was ordained in an Orthodox Church in Johannesburg, people came from other parishes, from far and wide, to shout “anaxios” (unworthy) because the Archbishop had dared to ordain a non-Greek, a xenos. Xenophobia rules, but it’s not OK.

Some mouth the racist slogan “Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism”, which is not merely a heresy, but apostasy. The Orthodox Church pronounced apartheid, or racism, to he a heresy back in 1872 (under the Greek name phyletism), but it still persists. Hellenism was anathema to Orthodox Christians from the time of the early church fathers. Hellenism today is the product of the secular nationalism of the 18th and 19th centuries, and is also a term for a neopagan religion. It has never been identified with Orthodoxy.

As an English-speaking Orthodox Christian, I like to worship in English, but I don’t want to see an “English” Orthodox Church, in the sense that there are Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. I want to see a South African Orthodox Church. I do sometimes get a bit annoyed when Greek-speaking clergy insist that I must use bad English translations of liturgical texts, because, being Greek, they know what is good for the English. But I’ve known that sort of thing all my life, when Afrikaner nationalists told me what was my “own” and insisted on giving me an “own affair”. Most Sundays I worship with congregations that speak North Sotho (which seems to be one of the most difficult languages to learn: you can get courses in Greek, Russian, Zulu and Xhosa in bookshops, but not North Sotho). I enjoy the Liturgy in Afrikaans, often even more than in English, because there are not 25 different translations floating about, as there are with English.

But is there an “English-speaking” South African culture, a Woozer culture?

Not really. Not enough to form the basis of a distinct ethnic identity. Language and culture are linked, but English is a multicultural language. It is shared by many cultures throughout the world, and not only in South Africa. There was never enough of a cohesive Woozer culture in South Africa to demand a homeland. There was never enough of a group identity to which “group rights” could be applied. Rather, English-speaking South Africans belong to a whole range of overlapping cultural groups and circles, based on church, school, family, interest. Woozers who live next door to each other can find that they have nothing in common but language and geographical proximity. They have different friends, different interests, and might never meet and greet each other except casually and in passing. Woozers have never been a “volk”.

While some were chauvinist (my Cornish great grandmother insisted on calling her Afrikaans son-in-law Botes “Boats”), and despised Afrikaners and kept aloof from “natives” others were more laid-back about such things and even made up satirical songs about them:

When I’m walking down the street I must be careful not to greet
people of a different pigmentation
Lest the government suspect or the Special Branch detect
a dark affiliation
to a communist organisation.
(sung to the tune of The wayward wind)

Perhaps this Woozer rootlessness made it easier for me to let worldly allegiances sit lightly, as I’ve described above. It may have made it easier for some others, I don’t know. Since I was in my late teens I was aware of being a pilgrim, a stranger, a sojourner in the world, and am still reminded of it every time someone refers to me as a xenos.

And there is still the heresy, the pseudogospel, the apostasy of apartheid, racism, phyletism. A luta continua. Die stryd duur voort. The struggle continues.

Post Navigation