Yes, I am that mom. The one who discusses current affairs with her kids and who listens to the news, allot. And with #FeesMustFall being a leading story for months on end, this was bound to turn into a conversation, or two with the 10 year old and the 7 year old. And yes, as South Africans, issues of privelage, race, democracy and protest all have to become part of my children’s context and understanding. And I have found especially lately, that framing these issues to reflect a Christian worldview has become a parenting challenge that I never bargained on and often feel ill equipped for. How do I raise these boys to be sensitive to injustice, play their roles in society as activist, act like responsible citizens all the while living out Kingdom principles that brings light to where it’s so desperately needed? I dunno. But so far I just take it one issue at a time, and on the issue of students demanding free tertiary education this is what I’ve told my boys:
We live in a world where things are not as they should be: In South Africa, there is a massive gap between the rich and the poor. Thankfully my kids go to a school where this is evident and not some abstract idea. This inequality means that the proper channels (of which Tertiary Education is but one) for the mining of the potential of our youth is not available to everyone. Because of that we all suffer and if left unaddressed, everyone, including my boys and their future, will be worse off.
But there is a difference between justice and fairness: Issues such as free tertiary education I believe should not be seen in the light of “what is fair”. Please, don’t get me wrong, get that it’s not fair that some people get to go to University and some don’t. But life is not fair. God is not even fair. If He was He would treat us as our sins deserve and praise Him He doesn’t. But, and this is a BIG but, issues that arise because of inequality are issues of justice, not fairness. And God is supremely just. And He wants believers and the church to play their part in the pursuits of justice on this earth, and lend our voices, our actions and that which is most precious to us (our time and our money) to that end.
True victory is not seeing agendas promoted, but is seeing God’s Kingdom more and more restored, in me and in my world.
I have tried to show the boys how issues such as addressing imbalances in access to education is primarily an issue of injustice and not about what is fair or not fair.
There is no authority except that which God has established: I cringe as I write this, because this is a direct quote from the Bible but at the same time sad display of leadership here in SA and abroad makes me hold my heart and question my God. But Rom 13 v 1-7 is clear on this. As a South African I always remind my boys, our faith is a walk before God and a walk before man, and if I call myself a Christian I pay my taxes (yes, that includes etolls) and I pray for my leaders (urrggg and yes that includes you know who!), even in the light of daft decisions, lacking wisdom and the substantial argument I could make that would justify me not having to any of the above. Ultimately our ability to submit even to the most lacking leadership is a declaration of faith even much more so then to submit to a worthy leader. It speaks of a worldview that holds these tenants as true: God loves me, He sees me, He controls everything and I can trust Him, even if I find myself under untrustworthy leadership.
But then what about protest? Is there a place for protest when God wants my heart to be submitted? Absolutely! Protest played a significant role in moving our country from apartheid to democracy! That is just one example of how protest can be vital. But protest cannot be seen as a vehicle for change, as it has no capacity in itself to affect the issues at hand. We live in a democracy. Therefore the role of protest should always only be to bring attention to an issue so that reasonable and appropriate means such as dialogue, communication and mediation can be applied as the vehicle to drive change. As God’s agents on earth, the Bible is full of examples of people who raised their voices against injustice, who stood up against the leaders of the day and resisted authority for the greater good. Some of the earliest social activist, such as Esther, used cunning, planning and her personal position and God given gifts and talents to bring about change for the greater good. But protest can never be at the expense of others, and never with wanton destruction and irrational mob like violence.
We live in an age of rage: What started off as a noble cause has descended into chaos and tragedy, the effects of which we will all likely continue to suffer for years to come. In a country where our democratic right to peaceful protest is safely enshrined in our constitution, but where violence and anger is almost second nature, it’s hard to see what impact protest can have without it making headlines for all the wrong reasons. But I believe that violence, disruption and borderline criminality is at the order of the day because in the generations since our democracy we have not bothered to appropriately contextualize current issues for our kids, have not modeled and shared God honoring methods of engagement, and have instead fueled a culture of rage where our rights and the fight for them selfishly reigns supreme over our responsibility to one another and to where God has placed us. This culture of rage serves a political agenda that aims to keep people uninformed and in the dark and uses them as pawns in a game.
But true activism is forward thinking and unselfish: Activism honours the idea that there are 2 sides to every story and that sometimes we only hear the one side, and activists endevour to bring to the forefront the “other side” of the story. But the vigorous nature of activism does not mean it must be violent, and it’s sad that in South Africa so many people feel that those in authority only understand the language of violence. Activism desires improvement (i.e it’s a positive force) and therefore must be forward thinking and also have an agenda for collective good. In the case of #feesmustfall that was probably initially the case but it clearly no longer is. There seems to be nothing forward thinking about the approach that some students have taken to make themselves heard, and it seems that very little of it has to do with the greater good. But I want my boys to know that there are lots of ways to get people to listen to you that does not involve burning down buildings or throwing stones. Hopefully when they get to Varsity (If?) they will be able to discern the difference and side on the side of activism that retains it’s noble tenants .
There are 2 sides to every story: My boys would do well in ANY argument in their life to extend themselves to understand what the other side is convinced of, in as much as they have a firm grasp on their own convictions. This attitude creates room for dialogue, which should lead to understanding, which should lead to progress. In a culture of outrage that we live in today, it seems that anyone who represents the other side of an argument, or who is just trying to understand both sides, suddenly is considered your opposition. This is a sadly immature notion that seems to apply to the #feesmustfall movement and have stalemated progress and placed thousands of students’ academic year at risk. And if my boys can learn to listen to understand not just to respond, to desire progress more than to be right, this is a skill they could apply to any relationship, friendship and one day marriage.
Remember that in everything our hearts are revealed: more than what it says about or convictions, our background, our politics or our passions, our actions reveal our hearts.
“What the heart trusts, the mind justifies, the emotions desire and the will carries out. Everything follows the heart.” (Tim Keller)
I have chatted with my boys about what the last 3 years of violent protests of every kind reveals about the heart of our nation. We’ve explored together what the deep motivations and desires might be behind some of the most irrational actions we read about in the news in as much as we talk at home about what our own actions reveal about what we truly believe and desire.
Because as the human race, we all desire the same things on a heart level, but we all constantly run the risk of trying to obtain those legitimate things in an illegitimate way. This is persistently an exercise that highlights for us our need for the Gospel and draws us to Christ like nothing else.
And when we look at our world, it compels us to pray. We are called to pray for our world, a process that at the same time softens our own hearts. I want my boys to hear Murray and I talk about the issues of the day, crime, the exchange rate, our poor minister of Finance, not with the desperate tone of frustration that often permeates the conversations of the likes of us when it comes to these topics, but with the hopeful acknowledgement that we serve a great God who hears us when we call on Him and who has a part for each of us to play in the story.