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Archive for the tag “Church and State”

Speaking the truth to power: two Anglican archbishops

A few days ago the synod of the Church of England failed to approve a measure that would allow women to become bishops, and that has led to a lot of comment in the blogosphere, on social networks, and no doubt elsewhere.

Like Antioch Abouna, I have no wish to comment on the internal affairs of another Christian body. What the Church of England decides about who to have as its bishops does not affect me. Sixty years ago Anglican ecclesiology was perhaps a bit closer to Orthodox ecclesiology than it is now. Back then, at least some Anglicans believed that apostolic succession was important; it strongly affected their relationship with the African Orthodox Church and the Order of Ethiopia, for example. Now, I think hardly any Anglicans regard apostolic succession as important, and the model for episcopacy is perhaps more akin to that of a branch manager of a supermarket chain, and the criteria for selection are probably similar — can they perform the management task adequately? Of course the analogy is not complete; a supermarket manager is not expected to be pastor pastorum to the other members of staff, and I believe there is still that expectation of Anglican bishops. As Antioch Abouna has noted, the discussion has been almost entirely in secular tems, and based on secular criteria. So it is up to Anglicans to decide on the criteria for the selection of their bishops in accordance with their current understanding of what bishops are. It is not for Orthodox, who have a different understanding of bishops, to approve or disapprove of whatever they decide.

But an Orthodox Facebook friend also commented “Orthodox Christians who delight in knocking Anglicans (esp. Rowan Williams) very distasteful. Don’t they have anything better to do?” and cited this post Women Bishops and an Archbishop Agonistes | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:

Well, it seems that the lame duck Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has decided to take his episcopal duty of admonition with some seriousness this week…

Now there may be a cultural difference here. It is possible that the term “lame duck” is inoffensive or neutral to people in the USA, because of their political system, but to people outside the USA it sounds very offensive indeed, and quite uncalled-for.

But, personal insults aside, what Archbishop Rowan Williams said (as opposed to what he is) does seem to be worth commenting on. Church of England in crisis: Archbishop of Canterbury attacks members for voting against women bishops – The Independent:

Speaking in the aftermath of that decision this morning, Dr Williams said the church risked being seen as “willfully blind” to the demands from wider British society that it must do away with institutional and theological sexism.

“We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do,” he told the General Synod. “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.”

He added: ”We have some explaining to do, we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society.“

Perhaps he was speaking as the leader of the Established Church, and believes that the church needs to shape its own priorities according to the trends, priorities and demands of that society.

But if so, I think that reflects the dangers of Establishment. And I cannot help comparing it to another Anglican archbishop, facing a synod, at another place, another time.

The archbishop was Bill Burnett, then the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and the occasion was the 1979 meeting of the provincial synod of the Church of the Province of South Africa (now known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa).

There was a rather dull motion being debated, proposed by a Canon Albertyn of Cape Town, asking that the synod set up a commission to look into and report on all the permits the church was required to apply for in terms of the then-current apartheid legislation. Bill Burnett intervened from the chair, and said that in his position as Archbishop he was often called on to apply for permits for various things, and he disliked doing so. He did it because he thought it was expected of him as part of his role, and that it was expected of him to try to preserve the church as an institution, but that it was a role he disliked, and he disliked having to apply for permits, and was prepared not to do so, if that was what synod wanted. He warned that it could mean the end of the church as an institution. Its property could be confiscated by the government, and worse, but he was prepared to do that if it was what synod wanted. “Is that what you want?” he asked.

There was dead silence.

The moment passed, and the synod went back to its ordinary dull business (you can read more about that here Trapped in apartheid – South African churches | Notes from underground.)

But there you have two Anglican archbishops, more than thirty years apart. One is saying that the church must conform to the demands of the wider society, and the other announcing that he was prepared to resist the demands of society, no matter what it cost.

The martyrs of Epinga

Persecution and the suffering church –

Ovamboland, Namibia

On Sunday 30 January 1972 the congregation of St Luke’s Anglican Church, Epinga, was coming out of church after Mass. Epinga is about 30 miles east of Odibo, where the main Anglican Church in Ovamboland is situated. While going from the church, members of the congregation were accosted by a police patrol, and were told they were not to attend any meetings. They scattered into the bush, and then when the police vehicles had departed, they came back together again asking what it was all about when police on foot surrounded them.

They were searched for weapons and one young boy aged about 18 was carrying a walking stick. The chief of the police began poking a stick into his face and shouting at him. The boy lifted up his arms to ward off the blow, whereupon the policeman shot him through the head. The whole patrol then opened fire, and shot at him until his skull was a bloody pulp. Seeing this the congregation fled, and several of them were shot as well. Four died instantly, and another is said to have died later in hospital.

Those who died are: Thomas Mueshihange, Benjamin Herman, Lukas Veiko, Mathias Ohainenga. The wounded were Seimba Musika, Phillipus Katilipa and Kakaimbe Hidunua. The parish priest still had some fragments of the skull of the boy who was first shot in the vestry of the church. In the early church too, it was the custom to bury the bones of the martyrs who had died for Christ under the altar of the church, and to erect churches on the tombs of the martyrs.

At the inquest into the deaths, the police said they had been attacked by a group of 100 Ovambo armed with axes, pangas, bows and arrows (the Rector of the parish said they were armed with Bibles, prayer books and hymn books). The police also said that after making “exhaustive inquiries” they had been unable to identify any of the dead except Benjamin Herman. Almost all the affidavits at the inquest were from the police, and those of non-police witnesses (who were wounded) attest to the fact that the congregation was not armed. The inquest magistrate found that the police had opened fire “in the execution of their duty”.

The Archdeacon of Ovamboland compiled a list of the names of the dead and wounded, together with their next-of-kin (the spelling of the names above may not be correct, as they were transmitted orally, by telephone).

The circumstances

The Rector of St Luke’s, Epinga was the Revd Stephen Shimbode The Archdeacon of Odibo was the Ven Philip Shilongo, of St Mary’s, Odibo. The Archdeacon of Ovamboland was the Ven Lazarus Haukongo, who had been Rector of the Parish of Holy Cross, Onamunama, which was close to Epinga. Most of the Anglican parishes in Ovamboland were among Kwanyama-speaking people, and were stretched out eastwards from Odibo along the border with Anglola, at intervals of about 10 kilometres.

Kwanyama-speaking people lived on both sides of the border, and many Anglicans lived to the north, in Angola, and until this time the crossed the border to attend church services. Most of the church buildings were no more than half a kilometre from the border fence.

A short time before this incident the South African government had declared a state of emergency in Ovamboland, which prohibited meetings. There was no time for news of this proclamation to have reached ordinary churchgoers in Ovamboland, so the members of the
congregation were almost certainly not aware of it.

There are various possible conclusions that one can draw from the inquest.

One is that the magistrate was either under the control of, or intimidated by the police, and saw it as his duty to exonerate them no matter what, and that he therefore either did not either ask for or consider evidence from all sides, and that the verdict was therefore a cover-up.

Another is that the magistrate was aware of what had happened, and that he considered that it was the duty of the police to shoot church congregations.

The brief report above was one that I compiled shortly after the events described, which were one of my closest encounters with persecution in which people were actually killed. A month after that I was deported from Namibia, along with the bishop, Colin Winter, the diocesan secretary, David de Beer, and a teacher, Toni Halberstadt.

No, it didn't quite happen like this in Ovamboland, this picture was taken in Mexico. But the circumstances are similar. If the people who died at Epinga had not gone to Mass, they might still be alive today. For the Mexican story, read "The power and the Glory" by Graham Greene.

No, it didn’t quite happen like this in Ovamboland, this picture was taken in Mexico. But the circumstances are similar. If the people who died at Epinga had not gone to Mass, they might still be alive today. For the Mexican story, read “The power and the Glory” by Graham Greene.

I thought the story of the Epinga martyrs deserved to be told, but the Anglican Church in Southern Africa was strangely reluctant to hear the story of its own martyrs. It honoured contemporary martyrs in Uganda, such as Yona Kanamuzeyi, in the church calendar, but not its own martys in Epinga. It dishonoured those who were imprisoned for their faith in South Africa and Namibia and other places by removing the feast of St Peter’s Chains (August 1) from the church calendar. So I thought I should tell their story here.

And since a blog is a journal of sorts, I reproduce my journal for 28 February 1972, which was the day on which I first heard of the events at Epinga a month earlier. It was my last official duty in the Anglican Diocese of Damaraland (as the Diocese of Namibia was then known) — to represent the Anglican bishop, Colin Winter, at the uniting synod of two Lutheran Churches in Namibia — the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambokavango Church. We had received our deportation orders over the weekend, so the bishop was unable to attend himself. And deportation was itself persecution of a sort.

Monday, 28 February 1972

Early in the morning I went to the bishop’s house to fetch Philip Shilongo and Erica Murray to go to the Lutheran Synod at Otjimbingue. Erica came out alone, and said Fr Philip had not returned home last night, and said she thought he had been going round Katutura getting up a petition for the removal of the dean. We drove past Katutura to go to Abraham Hangula’s new house, but we found Fr Philip walking down the road, and he got in the car and came with us.

We were driving in the blue Combi, and refuelled at Okahandja, and got some road maps for Erica so she could see where we were going. We arrived about 10:00, and went and talked to Pastor Wessler. The bishop wanted us to discuss the whole situation in Ovamboland with the aim of issuing a joint statement on it, as Nangutuuala had asked him to do. Unfortunately the Ovambo delegates to the synod had not yet arrived, so we could only meet with the Evangelical Lutheran Church people.

Fr Philip told us what had happened at Epinga on January 30th at Fr Shimbode’s church, St Luke’s. He said that after Mass that Sunday, at about 1:00 in the afternoon, the congregation was coming out of the church, and a patrol, whether of police or army he could not find out, told the people coming out of church that they were not to hold any meetings. The congregation scattered into the bush, and when the lorries had driven off, they came together and began to discuss the incident, and asked each other what it was all about. Then the patrol surrounded them, and searched them for weapons. One boy, aged about 18, had a walking stick, and the leader of the patrol began shouting at him, and poked a stick in his face. The boy lifted his arms to ward off the stick, and the captain shot him with his revolver. Then the whole patrol opened fire, and shot his head to pieces. The congregation scattered again, and three of them were shot dead, and two or three more seriously wounded. One of the injured ones died later in hospital. One of the others had serious brain injuries, and they did not expect him to recover. Fr Shimbode still had some of the bones from the shattered skull of the boy who was shot first in the vestry of the church.

So lie in honour the bones of the martyrs who by the blood of their necks have borne
witness to Jesus, and to their faith in the kingdom of God; they shall shine like stars and move like sparks through the stubble, and their Lord will receive them with honour in his kingdom.

Some of the Paulinum students, who had worked at the Oshakati hospital during the vac, testified to the admission of people from that area who had been shot, and the numbers tallied. They also knew of others who had been shot on other occasions, but we did not know why, or the circumstances of the shootings.

We had lunch with the students and I met Miss Voipio, who wrote the booklet about the contract system. After lunch we returned for more discussions, and then had tea with Pastor Sundermeier and Pastor Kaipianen and Miss Voipio. Dr Sundermeier was now teaching at Mphumulo in South Africa, but had come up for the synod where the two Lutheran churches were uniting. After tea I phoned the Daily Mail, and had great difficulty in getting through, the dictate typist told me to hang on, and then cut me off, and then after three minutes I began to dictate the story, what Fr Philip had told us. I had just got to the part where I said “four people were shot dead” when we were cut off. I rang the operator at Karibib, and she said Windhoek had cut us off — there was a strict limit on trunk calls of six minutes, and there was nothing she could do about it. I had visions of what might happen with half a story like that going around, and told her it was a very important call, and did an excited Smitty act with her, but it made no difference. Later I talked to Father Kangootui, who had also come for the synod, and told him about our deportation.

The synod followed, and the opening session was a service, with a sermon preached by Habelgaarn, the guy from the Lutheran Church in South Africa. Bishop Auala presided over the first session of the synod then, which was greetings from other bodies and churches, and I represented the bishop in bringing the greetings of the Anglican Church.

Afterwards I met the combined church board with Fr Philip, and told them again what we knew of the situation in Ovamboland, but the Ovamboland people — bishop Auala and company, were stalling. They were sympathetic, but not interested. We went on till after 11:00, and there was no conclusion. Afterwards Pastor Maasdorp and Pastor Rieh came and apologised to me for the meeting, and both seemed terribly embarrassed by the prevarication of the delegates from the Ovambokavango Church. They felt they had let us down, but it wasn’t their fault at all. Then Pastor Diehl also came and apologised, and he too was embarrased by it all. Two delegates from the German Lutheran Church had earlier expressed support for us in the action we were taking against Dahlmann. We drove back to Windhoek, and after we reached the tar at Wilhelmstal, I stopped to let Erica take over. I went to sleep in the back, and Fr Philip acted as kudu observer, and there were many kudus on the road, all bent on suicide. We got back to Windhoek after 2:00 am, and I drove the Combi back to the hostel, feeling dead beat.

Some explanatory notes:

  • Daily Mail – I was a stringer (correspondent) for the South African Morning Group of Newspapers, and so regularly sent news reports to them. But the story of the Epinga martyrs was never published, except for the distorted account of the inquest. That is one reason why I thought it should be told here.
  • Smitty – was J.M. Smith, one of the craziest journalists in Namibia, whose legendary encounters with the Namibian telephone system were repeated years afterwards.
  • Dahlmann – another journalist, Kurt Dahlmann, editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung, who had been a Luftwaffe pilot in World War II. The Allgemine Zeitung under his editorship was an ultra-rightwing, almost neo-Nazi paper, which had recently published several slanders against Christian leaders in Namibia.

This post is part of a , in which several bloggers blog on the same topic on the same day. In this case the topic is “Persecution and the suffering church”. Below are links to the other blogs with posts on this topic.

Archbishop Ncube ‘ready to face bullets’

Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube called for street protests against human rights abuses by the government of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and said he was prepared to face bullets if necessary

read more | digg story

We have found the enemy and he is…

I was surfing the Web this morning, and came across an announcement that the Institute for Progressive Christianity his holding a symposium on The Fight against Fundamentalism. (sorry, link no longer works)

It struck me as rather odd, and indeed likely to be counterproductive. There are surely more important issues to engage the attention of Christians in the world, whether they call themselves “Progressive” or “Fundamentalist” or “Emerging” or “Mainstream” or “Evangelical” or even “Orthodox” — issues like climate change, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, trade imbalance, health and many more.

Why Fundamentalism?

Many years ago I was at a student gathering to discuss ecumenical cooperation among Christian students in South Africa, which was under threat from the Dutch Reformed Churches, who were advocating the splitting of the Students Christian Association into four separate ethnic bodies.

There was a visitor from overseas, Albert van den Heuvel. and in referring to the Gereformeerde Kerk, commonly known as the Doppers, the most conservative and fundamentalist of the three Dutch Reformed Churches, he said that Karl Barth had once said of the Doppers that one should not worry too much about them, because they believed that the Bible was the Word of God, and so one day God would speak to them through the Bible. And it was interesting that it was when South Africa had a Dopper president, F.W. de Klerk, that the opposition parties were unbanned, and negotiations begun that led to the first democratic elections in 1994.

Now historians may argue about whether that was caused by F.W. de Klerk’s Dopper conscience, or simply his political savvy, but the fact remains that it was a Dopper president.

Now some Fundamentalists may have strange and very unChristian political and social ideas, but the point remains — they believe the Bible is the word of God, and so some day God will speak to them through the Bible, and they will realise the error of their ways. Treating “Fundamentalism” as the enemy is really not likely to help in the process.

St Constantine, Scapegoat of the West

For the last 30 years or so I have read that the greatest villain, the one responsible for most of the ills of Christianity, was the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. I’ve read it in academic texts, in undergraduate essays I’ve marked, in journal articles. I’ve read it in postings in electronic forums like BBS echoes, mailing lists and newsgroups. I’ve read it in numerous blogs and online journals, and in works of popular fiction like The da Vinci code.

This notion has become a myth, a legend, an unexamined assumption of stupendous proportions. People see no need to to substantiate the assertion, because “everyone knows” that it is true. And the number of things attributed to Constantine grows and grows. We are told that he censored the Bible, reducing the number of books in the New Testament to a mere 27, and that he ensured the dominance of Christianity in the world for the next 1500 years.

There are at least two historical phenomena that need to be examined. One is the question of St Constantine himself, and his alleged legacy, in the 4th-7th centuries. The other is the scapegoating of Constantine in Western culture in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

There isn’t space in a blog post to deal adequately with either. It would take several books to refute all the assertions that have been made. My aim in this essay is more modest — to question some of the unquestioned assumptions, to point out some of the contradictions, in the hope that some church historians will take up the task. Actually it’s more than just church history. The assumptions are widespread, not just among Western Christians and Western theologians, but among neopagans and in secular circles as well.

I first really began paying attention to this when I was marking undergraduate assignments in Missiology at the University of South Africa. If there was one fact that almost all of them mentioned, and remembered, it was the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312. Whether it was relevant or not, it was a Fact, and therefore to be mentioned. None of them, however, knew anything about Christian mission between that date and Roman Pope Alexander VI who divided most of the world into Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence in the 15th century.

The general Western belief seems to be that Constantine imposed an official belief on the Christian Church at the Council of Nicaea, which made the Christian Church dominant in Society for the next 15 centuries or more. This is repeated again and again, as if it were a simple, unquestionable and authoritative fact. Christians lived in a society in which they were the top dogs, and, for the most part, the only dogs.

But this view is rooted in Western chauvinism, ethnocentrism, and assumptions of cultural superiority. Western missiologists have tried to get away from the ideas of Western imperialism. They have recognised that there was something wrong with the association of mission and Western colonialism, mission and Western imperialism, mission and Western capitalism in the 19th century. And one way they have tried to do this is by making Constantine the scapegoat for all these things.

Unfortunately in doing this they have tended to ignore or downplay some of the historical facts about Constantine and his legacy. It is commonly asserted in Western culture that Constantine imposed his version of doctrinal orthodoxy on the Church at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and that thereafter the Church was obedient and subservient to the Roman state, a condition which, according to the common Western view, is adequately summarised by the adjective “Constantinian”.

What this ignores, however, is the fact that, far from imposing Nicene orthodoxy on the Church, Constantine and his immediate successors supported the anti-Nicene faction, and opposed the views of the Church expressed at the Council of Nicaea. St Athanasius, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, was sent into exile five times during this period for his defence of Nicene orthodoxy which he, far more than Constantine, had helped to shape.

Constantine’s sin (in the eyes of the West) was that he proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire in the Edict of Milan in AD 313. It is strange, in the light of this, that one of the things the West thinks important in constitutions of states is a guarantee of religious freedom. For Christians in Constantine’s time, he was the Liberator. He was like Simon Bolivar in South America in the 19th century, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa in the 20th century. When Mandela became President of South Africa in 1994, an era of constitutional freedom of religion began. All Christians were now free to preach the gospel, and not just the government-approved varieties, the Dutch Reformed Churches and (later) the Apostolic Faith Mission. I wonder whether, 15 centuries from now, missiologists will be telling their students about the evils of the Mandelan era.

Perhaps the most revealing assumption of all is the one that the “Constantinian era” lasted for 15 centuries. For the majority of Christians in the Roman Empire it lasted a little more than three centuries. In the seventh century most Christians became a minority group, and were treated as second-class citizens from then until now. But it appears that to Western scholars they do not count at all, and are not worth mentioning, because they are “non-Europeans”. Thus in speaking of “the Constantinian era” Western scholars display the very ethnocentrism, chauvinism and racism they are trying to distance themselves from by blaming it on Constantine.

For a good corrective to this, I recommend the book

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of ByzantiumFrom the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium by William Dalrymple

It is not a heavy treatise on church history, but more of a travel book, where the author retraces the travels of two monks in the twilight of the “Constantinian era”, just before it ended for the Christians in the lands where they travelled. Dalrymple is also not a propagandist or apologist for Orthodox Christianity. He writes from a Western secular/Protestant point of view.

If one wishes to talk about links between Church and State, it would be more accurate to speak of the Theodosian era, for it was the Emperor Theodosius who, 60 years after Constantine, made Christianity the official religion of the empire. But right up to the last ecumenical council the interests of Church and State did not always coincide, and often clashed. As Fr Michael Oleksa points out:

The iconoclastic controversy was the last, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt by the Byzantine empire to influence church doctrine as it had often influenced church administration throughout the post-Constantinian period. Their opponents were mostly monastic theologians living beyond the boundaries of the empire where they could preach and write in relative security and peace. They pointed out that whereas in the Old Testament God never assumed visible form and could not be depicted, he had now become flesh, and to forbid ikons of the Saviour was tantamount to denying his humanity. They insisted that Christ not only assumed flesh temporarily, but also ascended in glory as transfigured man, having fully retained his human nature (Oleksa 1992:62).

Saints Constantine and Helen

Saints Constantine and Helen

So one of the divisions between Eastern and Western Christians is the attitude to St Constantine. St Constantine was, and remains, a hero and favourite saint among Orthodox Christians, as can be seen by the number of people bearing the name Costa. St Constantine and his mother St Helen are joint patrons of numerous Orthodox Churches. St Constantine is honoured as the one who ended the persecution of Christians, St Helen as the one who promoted the Christian faith, and paved the way for Christians to return to the Holy Land, from which they had fled at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and she is therefore known as Equal-to-the-Apostles.

At times, indeed, the devotion to St Constantine takes on extreme forms, which do not always meet with the approval of the bishops, such as the Anastenaria or Firewalkers of northern Greece, who walk through fire on St Constantine’s day (May 21), carrying ikons of the saint.

And the contradiction continues. The Western Christians (and non-Christians) who denigrate St Constantine, and seek to blame him for the faults of their own history, actually demonstrate those same faults in their treatment of Eastern Christians. The crusaders of the 11th century and later paid no regard to the local Christians in the lands they “liberated”. They had not liberated them but conquered them. And this can be seen in the neo-Crusaders of the 21st century, whose actions seem calculated to eradicate Christianty from the lands of its birth and early spread.

So my appeal to Western Christians is this: next time you want to attribute something to Constantine, or to use the adjective “Constantinian” to describe something, stop and think what you are doing. Examine your assumptions, and only use the term if you are sure that is historically appropriate. And when you see the term in the writings of others, do not simply accept it uncritically, but question it.

Rulers and authorities, territorial spirits, spiritual warfare

Phil Wyman has blogged quite a bit about spiritual warfare and territorial spirits recently here, and here and here.

I think this might be a good topic to discuss in the Christianity and society discussion forum, and I hope that Phil might write a kick-off article there, but I thought I’d put down some more personal thoughts here.

For me I suppose it started at a Biblical Studies lecture at university, when the lecturer talked about the “principalities and powers” of Ephesians 6 as if they were spiritual forces. I had assumed that “principalities” referred to places like Monaco, and “powers” referred to states like the USA, the USSR and so on. They were called “world powers” in newspapers, and the New Testament Greek kosmokratores seemed to be an exact equivalent. The lecturer exposed the limitations of my view by pointing out that St Paul had said that these powers were “in the heavenlies” and were not just earthly powers. He referred me to a book by G.B. Caird, Principalities and powers, which, he said, would explain all this.

I read Caird’s book, and a couple of others on the topic, which dealt with the connection between Ephesians 6:10-12 and Romans 13:1-2, and began to look at other uses of the words archontes (rulers) and exousia (authority) in the Bible. This led to the Dionysian Nine, and a whole lot of things suddenly fell into place, including Charles Williams’s novel The place of the lion, which I re-read with new eyes.

It also made sense of things like the Roman religion of emperor worship, and why Christian opposed the emperor cult, which was based on the idea that behind human authority was a spiritual authority, which could be recognised by its symbols, for our conflict is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies. A flesh and blood traffic cop who steps into a fast-moving stream of traffic wearing his pyjamas is likely to be ignored or run over. In his uniform, it is a different matter. It is not his flesh and blood that stops the traffic, but his authority. If he tried to stop a 26-wheeler with his flesh and blood, the result would be painful to behold. And the emperor cult did not involve worship of the flesh and blood emperor, but his genius, his authority. A couple of emperors did think they were divine in their flesh and blood, and most of their contemporaries recognised that they were nuts.

Passages like Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82 (LXX 81) suddenly made more sense in the light of this. There are such things as national spirits, and it is possible for a country to become demonised. The political struggle against apartheid was more than just a struggle against flesh and blood rulers. If the struggle were just against a Verwoerd, a Vorster or a Botha, then it should be possible to solve the problem by assassination – tyrannicide. But our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, the authorities…

Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educationist, put a new slant on this in his somewhat turgid book Pedagogy of the oppressed, when he said that oppression makes the oppressed feel less than human, and to the oppressed the oppressor seems more fully human. So the oppressed tends to internalise the spirit of the oppressor. When the oppressed overthrow the oppressors, they tend to become oppressors in turn. What needs to be overthrown is not so much the oppressor as oppression itself.

We saw a paradigm case of this in South Africa in 1976. Seventy years before, after the Anglo-Boer War, Alfred Lord Milner, the instigator of the war, tried to Anglicise the Afrikaners by forcing them to learn through the medium of English. Seventy years later Andries Treurnicht and Ferdi Hartzenberg tried to force black school kids to learn though the medium of Afrikaans. They had internalised the spirit of their ancestral oppressor, Milner. And the result was the Soweto riots, and the massacre of school kids.

What was needed was not so much the overthrow of the flesh and blood oppressors, as the exorcism of oppression. And that, of course, begins with me. It is not just Hartzenberg and Treurnicht who have internalised the spirit of the oppressor, but I have too. That is where the theological concept of nepsis (watchfulness) comes in. Spiritual warfare fought without nepsis and apatheia (dispassion) is apt to lead to prelest (spiritual delusion).

I wasn’t much interested in exorcism of places until there were police riots in the Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town: police chased demonstrating students into the cathedral and beat them up inside. I asked the publications department of the Anglican Church if they had an exorcism service, and they sent me their entire stock, saying there had never been any demand for it. But I was disappointed to see that that service was only for the exorcism of persons, not places. I thought that after the police riots a public exorcism of the Cathedral would have been a good thing.

Are there territorial spirits? Is there a need for exorcism of places? I believe that there certainly has been a need for the exorcism of the White House and the Pentagon since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. There seems to have been no earthly reason for it, only an infernal one. And perhaps going back even further, to the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

Going back further still, the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the wars of the Yugoslav succession, seemed to turn formerly good neighbours into demonised furies from hell.

This post is a bit scrappy and disconnected. It probably needs to be a lot longer to join the dots, but perhaps the last word can be given to G.B. Caird, from his Commentary on the Revelation of St John the Divine (Caird 1966:163-164), when writing about the beast from the abyss in Revelation 12:

But it must not be thought that John is writing off all civil government as an invention of the Devil. Whatever Satan may claim, the truth is that ‘the Most High controls the sovereignty of the world and gives it to whom he wills’ (Dan iv. 17). In the war between God and Satan, between good and evil, the state is one of the defences established by God to contain the powers of evil within bounds, part of the order which God the Creator had established in the midst of chaos (cf. Rom xiii. 1-7). But when men worship the state, according to it the absolute loyalty and obedience that are due not to Caesar but to God, then the state goes over to the Enemy. What Satan calls from the abyss is not government, but that abuse of government, the omnicompetent state. It is thus misleading to say that the monster is Rome, for it is both more and less: more, because Rome is only its latest embodiment; and less, because Rome is also, even among all the corruptions of idolatry, ‘God’s agent of punishment, for retribution on the offender’ (Rom. 13. iv) .


Some of these themes have also been covered here:

Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence (Powers, # 2)Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence by Walter Wink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first glance I thought he had written the book that I always wanted to write, but on closer
examination I saw that he hadn’t. But there is sufficient overlap that most publishers would not be willing to look at another book on the same subject

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Orthodoxy and Liberation Theology

When I posted my response to the quiz on theological worldviews in my LiveJournal, I pointed out that quite a lot of theological worldviews were missing from the list, including Orthodoxy and Liberation theology.

Someone asked for my views on Liberation Theology, and so I decided to put an article I had written on the subject some years ago on the web. If anyone is interested, it is Orthodoxy and Liberation Theology.

Comments are welcome, either on the message forum linked to the article, or here.

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