By: Arthur J. Van Nel
For centuries, since the Nicaea Conference especially, the Gospel became instrumentalised by narrow, neo-liberal and imperial agendas. Those with a lust for power and it’s attendant ability to drive accumulation, even of ill-gotten gain, understood that you can do so easily and with less scrutiny if you can partner with the church in such abhorrent behaviour. In other words, just like the media and the judiciary, the church was never immune to capture and contamination by those who needed her prophetic voice silenced and redirected away from plunder.
The proximity of the Roman Empire and the British Throne to respectively the Catholic and Anglican Churches did not stop either from colonizing the world, engaging in illegal and immoral wars and plundering of sovereign resources of foreign states and peoples. So close were both churches to that immoral power that it could neither alter its destructive colonial ambitions nor condemn its pursuit as against scriptures. This allowed Christians to kill, invade, steal and colonise in full view of a silent church, as long as the church was funded for missionary work. It’s understood call to win souls became mutually exclusive to its call to defend the voiceless, oppressed and global poor against exploitation and injustice.
The church was thus fully captured, co-opted, embedded and repurposed to lend legitimacy and theological cover to sectarian interests. Because the church didn’t condemn slavery, slavery couldn’t be construed for thé inhumane and sinful atrocity it was. The church could in fact use some of these slaves in erecting places of worship and preach from those pulpits equality, justice and God’s love for mankind.
This capture of the church was perfected even in excusing and turning a blind eye to world wars, occupation, land grabs, minerals theft, sexism, systemic inequality and for the full array of Apartheid atrocities, that were never understood as sin and that it’s practitioners needed Jesus.
These entanglements and perversion have not even been acknowledged, let alone confessed and corrected. We are yet to have a globalised, deeply self-critical reflective discussion on how the Gospel was auctioned to the highest bidder to stand not where God stood but where those guilty of crimes against humanity stood. As long as we preached the petty sins and condemned individuals, we left oppressive empires and corrupt systems intact, of course, in the process operating diametrically opposed to the foundational social justice ministry of Jesus.
Jesus dealt graciously and lovingly with individuals in sin but was ruthless with establishment orders and systems of oppression and exclusion.
Multinationals, now more powerful and wealthy than the nation state, accumulated immoral wealth from wars, colonial exploits and environmental degradation. All on the watch and under the remit of a compliant, bought and silenced church. We went after the individual who dared falling pregnant out of wedlock while Anglo Saxon corporations appropriated minerals, natural resources and – yes – national sovereignty. And always killing and impoverishing millions.
Engen, BP, Anglo American and many others are better than an individual struggling with a nicotine addiction, at least to the church’s perverted understanding of wrong and right.
This is where Jesus was explicit in articulating the construct of “weightier matters of the law” in Matt 23. Though the whole Bible is inspired and acceptable, some things do outweigh others: love, peace, care for the poor, human dignity, equality, access and justice outweigh other matters.
Mandela handsomely benefitted from this uncritical, embedded church. She never held him accountable for selling an empty reconciliation, devoid of justice and restitution – both weightier biblical constructs. Till today, you are frowned upon when you dare any critical analysis of the incumbency of our first democratic president. A voiceless church whose wrath is reserved for thé less than weightier matters.
Zuma relied on sections of the church to cover him during a rape trial, even culminating in his ordination as a bishop at that time.
Likewise, vast intercessory networks – interestingly well funded – prostitute intercession in favour of narrow capitalist and crude capital fears, subtly revolting against real restitution and justice as a requirement for reconciliation of substance and casting aspersions on the democratic order. Most of these intersessor networks and their funders – or shall I say handlers – had nothing to say when PW Botha authorized Vlakplaas, intermittent states of emergency, unleashed a brutal army on its own populace and repurposed the state as a vigilante to unjustly imprison, rape, bomb and disappear it’s own citizens. They sang Beulah Land, preached the rapture and dreamt of the new Jerusalem when what we needed was open condemnation, fervent prayer and public prayer meetings in stadiums demonstrating solidarity with the poor, oppressed and chained.
Both the Democrats and Republicans’ primary interests are their own funders and their vested interests in geopolitical oppression and exploitation. They go about it different and stage manage the optics, but the policy regime and trajectory are fightingly similar. None of these two parties – at its core – pursue a future of a more egalitarian world order, where designed hunger and disease, inequality, war and climate change are alleviated and eventually defeated. Both pay lip service to the ideals found in our Kingdom message – the weightier matters – and exist solely to advance their own and their funders’ interests. Regardless of incumbency, the USA was never an ally of the poor or oppressed and both Democrats and Republicans were in bed with Pretoria during Apartheid.
To be fair, Trump is not the embodiment of all that’s wrong with the USA and neither did it’s immoral and unjust foreign and domestic policy started with him. To quote Dr Boesak, “he’s merely a product of the 400 years of hell that America has been to its own, but also to billions the world over.”
My critique is that the emergence of embedded church to postulate the Republicans as divine and holy – merely because of where they stand on abortion – is to be naive about the white nationalist agenda at the foundation of this grouping. It simply fails as concerning the weightier matters test.
He’s quiet on justice, equality and a reconfigured egalitarian geopolitical world order, including the UN. He, neither the conservative ultra-right church they bought and is serviced by, have articulated why Trump is our man to advance Kingdom ideals. And when one asks, one is viewed as the forerunner for the anti-Christ.
Yes, Trump wants Bible study back in school. But he withdrew the USA from the Paris Climate Accord with untold, unmitigated consequences for billions and especially the poor. What are we teach in those schools concerning Adam’s instruction to care for the environment?
Yes, Trump talks the right talk of values like the role of the church. But during COVID he withdrew $400 million from the WHO, dumping it into a fiscal crisis during contemporary history’s greatest crisis. We are still to quantify the impact of that recklessness.
How is he our man? Where does church affirmation for him come from? Why is the Kingdom agenda safe in his presidency? And how did a supremest campaign find traction amongst New Testament believing believers? Is what the Cross birthed no longer the scorecard?
Is our bar that low? Not that Biden is better. Not even close.
To define an election as the choice between the divine and the evil – while both are intrinsically evil, unjust and instruments for narrow interests, is what I struggle with. Would Apostle Paul have been for sale for the advancement of party political interests, especially for an indefensible candidate with such a deplorable record?
Or is the global church so inherently confidence-deprived that we must find a worthy cause and rejuvenation in an election, no longer the restoration of all things that I believe to be God’s vision for creation as found in Acts?
Where is this passion and intercession for millions without sanitation, clean water, reliable energy, quality education and the means to gain equal access to everything needed to advance one’s life?
*Arthur J. Van Nel
Pastor and Businessman