Thirty-six years ago, in 1968, “Black Power” was the talk of the day; and -- despite the preaching of the Rev’d. Dr Martin Luther King (the martyred prophet of liberation through gospel-based, non-violent strategies) – anger expressed through “any means necessary” was the main mood of the hour. For, all over the world, the shackles of generations-long prejudice, racism, exploitation and colonial oppression, and unjust laws backed up by abusive police forces and murderous armies were being directly confronted. Thankfully, by 1994, the last bastion of racist oppression of the black man had fallen, and Nelson Mandela, a heroic figure, became the first President of a truly free South Africa.
But, sadly, paradise did not arrive with majority rule in Africa, nor with Independence in the Caribbean. Instead, we have in the main had a generation of missed opportunities and frustrations; so that there has been a backwash of disappointment and in some cases even of self-induced economic, political and social disasters. For instance, Jamaica has somehow managed to move from being a fairly orderly and quiet (but quite unjust) society to one that (though it is far more egalitarian) has ruined its economy and has a murder rate of about 1,000 per year – many tied to corrupt politics, or to gangs ruthlessly fighting over the illicit drugs trade or control of communities and associated protection rackets. Similarly, mineral-wealthy, agriculturally rich Zimbabwe is on the verge of starvation; and, for all its mineral and industrial wealth, South Africa is so crime-riddled that even Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the South African hero, was recently tried for complicity in corruption, kidnapping and murder. In short, economic stagnation and social instability in the face of a high-tech, global age are now major interacting challenges in the motherland as well as in our region.
What went wrong? How can we correct the problem?
The full answer would take a massive book, but its heart lies in the main point we discussed last week: we cannot sustainably achieve good ends by doing evil, as evil is deceptively attractive, but in fact is ruinously addictive, fast spreading, corrupting and destructive. So, the true way forward for individuals, families and communities lies through several often overlooked – but powerful -- gospel principles that lead us to a better path: repentance, mutual reconciliation and God-blessed reformation and community transformation:
1. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” [Ps. 127:1.]
2. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure . . . I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct.” [Jer. 17:9 – 10.]
3. “[S]eek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and [your material needs: i.e. food, drink and clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well . . .” [Matt 6:33.]
4. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” [Matt. 7:3 – 5.]
5. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from that Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people . . .” [Gal. 6:8 – 10a.]
6. “[E]ach of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully . . . He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . ” [Eph. 4:25 – 5:2.]
In short, in our justifiable rage at oppression and injustice, we all too easily forgot that we too are just as fallen and prone to evil as those who had long lorded it over us. Thus, true liberation must build on a solid spiritual foundation: repentance, reconciliation and mutual building up -- rather than bitterness, hate and violence. But, in too many cases, we failed to build with God, and we therefore built in vain – for, corrupt colonial elites were simply replaced by sweet-talking would-be political messiahs who then became the new lords of the same old plantation great houses. Even with sincere liberation leaders who did not give in to the temptations of power, there was often a want of sound knowledge and skill to build a prosperous, orderly, just community under God. Consequently, we usually followed after ruinous political and economic myths that ignored or derided the need to be productive, earning and paying our way in the world. But, thankfully, there are some partial success stories that can point a way forward, such as Barbados and Singapore. From such successes, partial though they are, and the above gospel principles, we have much to learn. So, now, let’s talk . . . AMEN