A Public Covenant for Life Giving Democracy: A Call to the People of South Africa.
The South African Council of Churches Public Covenant underscores the importance of long-term, public commitment. It urges churches and all others to use the criteria of this document to engage those who stand for election. This Public Covenant testifies to the level, mode, nature, manner, and purpose of Christian involvement in politics
Prof Tinyiko Sam Maluleke,
President of the South African Council of Churches
The relevance of politics for religion, specifically for Christians, is no longer debatable. Nor do Christians still debate much the need for them to be involved in politics. Early church history teaches us that the church was born into a very political environment of the Graeco Roman world. Indeed the ‘founder’ of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ, was not only born into a politically charged context, he was killed for a ‘crime’ that was essentially and decidedly political – high treason. Jesus was not a politician, but there is sufficient biblical evidence indicating that he was awake to and not indifferent to political issues. His very mission (Luke 4) was replete with political undertones and overtones.
This has led some to suggest that it is very difficult to be a follower of Jesus without running the risk of registering some political impact. Indeed, some have argued that to be human is almost by definition to be political. Even the actions of those persons – Christian and not, religious and not – who prefer a-political and nonpolitical modes of engagement, have political significance.
What remains debatable, even in our day, is the level, mode, nature, manner, and purpose of Christian involvement in politics. The South African Council of Churches has a long history of engagement and involvement in politics. Indeed, the history of the South African struggle against apartheid cannot be told without reference to the South African Council of Churches. Though involved in politics in general, and although the SACC itself eschews taking a stance along party political lines, it appreciates the value of party politics in a democracy. For that reason, among others, the SACC encourages all to participate in the elections and to make sure that they vote for the party of their choice.
Without seeking to ‘kill’ the necessary debate that must continue on the nature of Christian involvement in politics, the SACC has a historic responsibility and a divine calling to engage with politics in general. This stems not only from the burden of the SACC’s own history, but also from the SACC’s theological position. In terms of that position, politics are recognized as an important (though not the only) tool in the ordering of social and economic arrangements. Such ordering has in turn a great influence on the quality and to some extent on the purpose and meaning of life. Believing as we do, that Christ came so that all may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10), politics is too important a tool to be left only to politicians.
The SACC is in the business of life in all its quality and abundance. Our member churches all believe in Jesus’ teachings about the path to and the value of eternal life. We also believe that eternal life starts this side of the grave and not after death.
Our engagement with elections and election matters stem from our history and theology as explained above. Indeed, democracy, like politics is not a perfect system. But politics and democracy are some of the best tools humans have devised for the ordering of social arrangements, at least. While elections are not all there is to democracy, elections are nevertheless a very important aspect of democracy. Indeed elections are not only the best way in which citizens enter into contract with one another, but they enter into contract with those who offer to serve in positions of leadership.
But from our perspective, elections are about more than mere human contracts. In and through elections the entire nation enters into a prayerful long-term contract with God. Through this election covenant the SACC wishes to underscore the importance of long- term public commitment between humans and between humans and their maker. We also wish to emphasize service as the cornerstone of all election contracts. We therefore urge members of our churches in particular and South Africans in general, to take full advantage of the tool of democracy by participating in elections. We do not urge them to vote for any specific party. We urge them to vote for the party of their choice.
Above all we urge them to vigorously engage those who solicit their votes – and to do so using some of the criteria contained in this document.
A Public Covenant for Life Giving Democracy: A Call to the People of South Africa.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”
(John 10:10): Life-giving Democracy
We, the members of the South African Council of Churches, a fellowship of churches and ecumenical institutions, inspired and united by our faith in the Triune God, hereby make a call to all the people of South Africa to participate in life giving democracy. We understand democracy to include a promise of a fuller and more abundant life for South African citizens. Although democracy alone cannot make this promise good, when democracy is fully practiced, it provides the best possible means of creating the conditions necessary for people to live their lives abundantly, fully, at peace with one another and in harmony with the rest of creation. We believe that the political promises of our democracy should not be separated from God’s promises of life in abundance in the Reign of God through Jesus Christ. We believe that as Christ taught us to pray for our daily bread here and now, democracy should not be separated from issues of our daily bread.
The delivery of concrete life expectations for ordinary and poor South Africans is urgent. The issues of ‘daily bread’ are of utmost importance for the success of our democratic polity and the sustenance of our hard won struggle of liberation in South Africa. God’s covenant with the people of South Africa during elections is a revitalization and re-affirmation of a promise of life in abundance for all. The Church of Jesus Christ, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, is now urgently called to constructively and critically engage in public life for the enhancement of our democracy, the eradication of poverty and the restoration of the dignity of the poor. Our public covenant for life-giving democracy is a call for the stewardship of our resources, service delivery, and a public commitment to covenant on Poverty Eradication, Healing and Reconciliation, Moferefere (lack of Social Cohesion) and the Enhancement of our Constitutional Democracy for Life.
It is a call for deliverance from:
- Poverty that is dehumanising.
- Our brokenness and pain that threaten our healing and reconciliation.
- Spiritual malaise manifesting itself in a lack of social cohesion.
- Threats to our constitutional democracy.
The call for a public covenant for life-giving democracy is inspired by an alluring vision of an alternative community and newness of life founded upon the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is a call inspired by a vision of life in abundance already fulfilled for us and with us, not ‘by bread alone’ and yet to be fulfilled in eternal glory at the end of times.
1. Why a Covenant?
The Biblical covenant comprises, inter alia, the following components of God’s household:
Christian Scriptures provide a basis for our understanding of elections e.g. Acts 2:15-26. The concept of a covenant offers a paradigm of our scriptural understanding of elections. In the unfolding drama of God’s dealings with people, the Scriptures testify that God elected and covenanted with a particular people, the Israelites, to achieve the purpose of redemption and salvation in the world. The story as narrated in the Old and New Testament of Christian Scriptures is a drama that unfolds from a series of covenants between God and people, culminating in the new covenant between God and people sealed in Jesus Christ.
Throughout this drama of covenant and broken covenants, there have been identifiable components or elements of the covenantal relationship between God and people, ultimately restored through and in Jesus for all peoples and the whole of creation. At a deeper level covenant points to the bonds that hold together all these components that constitute God’s household. Faith is that power that integrally holds these components and thus, the relationship of spheres in public life together. In this regard we are bounded to all life and its differentiated spheres through our faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In our faithful understanding, our nation is founded upon a covenant that seeks to affirm life for all. Political parties often use election manifestos as contracts between themselves and the voters. Electioneering is often an emotive discourse accompanied by an intense contest of political self-interests detracting our nation from our covenantal foundations. Covenant is a promise between God and God’s people to integrally hold and bond in harmony all the components of covenant. Covenant is more comprehensive than contract. For this reason, elections cannot be reduced to a contract only, but should point to a comprehensive covenantal vision of the integrity of life and the harmony of all spheres of life.
Accordingly, our understanding entails that God is present in the election of rulers through an assembly of people (res publica) for a specific task and purpose. God’s presence in the election of rulers simultaneously legitimizes and limits the authority of elected rulers, for election is for a specific task purposed by God. God elected both a people as a whole and leaders for purposes of God’s salvific mission in the world. In the New Testament the teaching of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ is an illuminating entry point to signify the democratization of God’s election of people to participate in God’s mission and God’s Reign. Therefore, all those who believe are ‘priests,’ equally elected and equally called and chosen to share in the establishment of God’s Reign in the world.
Election encompasses more than just a contractual mandate. It is a covenant between the elector and the elected for a specific task and purpose. Election as in the case of servant-hood in the Scriptures is about service and life. It is about a re-establishment and a renewal of a community bonded to all life in faithfulness to God. Elections are about being ‘chosen and called’ and being ‘called and chosen’ to serve the goals of God’s mission of salvation in this world. Contract as distinct from covenant does not embrace the full components of covenant. Often emphasised as the central relation between the elected and the elector it is flawed as contract often excludes and fragments other components of covenant to the detriment of life. Contract is legal, covenant is both legal and symbolic: it is holistic.
In this regard, to be elected into public office requires upholding the covenant and its values of justice, kindness, righteousness, compassion, honesty, and care for the poor. Chosen and called leaders in this framework must therefore be God fearing people of impeccable moral integrity. The ‘chosen and called’ leaders will among others exhibit these traits:
- Rule with righteousness
- Judge with righteousness
- Bring prosperity to the nation
- Defend the afflicted among the people
- Save the children of the needy and the vulnerable in society
- Crush oppression
- Deliver the needy and rescue them from oppression
Equally, the electors should be faithfully bound to the values of covenant. Their inspiration to participate in the choice and the calling of leaders should distinguish between the task prescribed by God’s mission and the positions into which leaders are elected, for electors as people are not sovereign in themselves. As people, electors are capable to say “Come, make us gods who will go before us” (Exodus 32: 1).
2. Covenanting Pillars for Life giving Democracy
For these coming elections and for the duration of the term of government, subject to review, the South African Council of Churches identifies four broad pillars on which its public witness and engagement will be based. While this distinction is made for purposes of clarity and our praxis in public life, no rigid demarcation between the pillars of this covenant is envisaged, as they are mutually related to one another.
2.1. Poverty Eradication
Poverty destroys people’s dignity. Poverty inhibits people’s participation in our democracy. Poverty destroys the people’s soul and thus the soul of our nation. It is not so much poverty that has become worrisome in our land, but the impoverishment of the millions of our people who are sacrificed by the gods of gold and greed that has become our challenge.
The Plight of the Poor
The SACC remains committed to its theological stance to take a preferential option for the poor and marginalized in the outlook, approach and method of carrying out its mission, both in the church and in public life. Poverty should not be viewed as a state of helplessness that can only be transformed by the grace of the powerful. Poor people have their agency and a God-given potential to participate in the transformation of public life. The Programmes and Key Performance Areas of the SACC in the provinces and nationally will continue to be mediated and shaped by the cries and the aspirations of the poor and the marginalized.
The SACC will reinvigorate its contribution toward the search for justice, reconciliation and healing, harmony (social cohesion) and democratization for life through its Programmes:
- Poverty Eradication
- Justice, Reconciliation and Healing
The South African Council of Churches, through its Parliamentary Office will step up its advocacy and support for policies that are pro-poor and are oriented for transformation in South Africa such as the Basic Income Grant and the People’s Budget Campaign.
South Africa is a better nation than what it was during apartheid rule in many ways. The achievement of political emancipation in South Africa is a great milestone we shall continue to graciously celebrate. South Africans today potentially have a right to speak freely and organize without fear of torture or prosecution. South Africans today are respected on the global stage and have also made invaluable contributions to the fate and numerous challenges that bedevil the African continent. South Africa has enjoyed the longest stable economy. However, all these gains need to urgently translate into the realization of abundant life especially among the:
- Unemployed and under-employed
- Women and youth
- People infected and affected by HIV and AIDS
- The hungry
- The homeless and the landless
- The socially deprived
The promise of the delivery of services should not be divorced from our covenantal understanding of delivery as servant-hood purposed for salvation. The promise to deliver services, especially to the poor, should be understood as ultimately leading to the deliverance of God’s covenantal promises and thus the promise of life in Jesus Christ: I have come that they may have life and have it in full.
Our participation as people of faith in economic matters is based on and informed by the gospel injunction that God desires that all should have life, and life in abundance as it is written in the gospel of John 10:10b. This involvement requires a steadfast resolve to side with the marginalised and the poor whenever systems of the world visit exploitation and abuse upon them. We recognise that the struggle for economic emancipation is a monumental challenge against the powerful systems that dominate almost all spheres of life. In our days, the continuing levels of poverty and increasing economic inequalities between the rich and the poor are a clear manifestation of economic injustice.
Against this injustice, we are called to take a stand, like the prophets of old and declare:
They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed
– Amos 2:6b-7a
We shall prophetically engage in the struggle for economic emancipation by, among others:
- Participating in the formulation of economic policies whose action plans clearly favour the poor.
- Telling the stories of the poor with the poor.
- Challenging false faith to the detriment of the poor and God’s creation in the systems of economy.
2.2. Healing and Reconciliation
The brokenness of our past
South Africa has a painful past. In dealing with the vestiges of our past we need true healing and reconciliation. The alarming and shocking trends of violence in our country are a manifestation of a violent history we are called to genuinely confront. The connection between high levels of crime and poverty can no longer be discounted. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened during our democratic dispensation and the poor are becoming poorer. By the same token, the connection between crime and greed needs our fervent attention for the healing of our nation.
The eruption of racial violence and now recently, violent attacks against foreign nationals all but summon us to an urgent call to address morbid anger and brokenness in our land. The good work accomplished by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is incomplete. The post-amble of the Interim Constitution which enacted the TRC says:
The adoption of this constitution lays the secure foundation for the people of South Africa to transcend the divisions and strife of the past, which generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles in violent conflicts and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge. These can now be addressed on the basis that there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization.
The prevention of the re-enactment of trauma must be prioritised. To prevent the re-enactment of the trauma of violence and the loss of the human spirit, dehumanising features must be eliminated in our public life. This ethical framework lies squarely on what Ubuntu means. A focused approach on the following areas is now urgent:
- Race relations
- Violence in all its forms
2.3. Spiritual Malaise: Moferefere (lack of Social Cohesion)
The current debilitating state of social disintegration where apathy and detachment continue to fragment people from the norms that guide moral and ethical behaviour, is a spiritual challenge that threatens the very foundations of our democracy and life together.
For the cohesion of our nation, the role of leadership is ever important to influence good conduct and moral behaviour. In our evolving public life, it is important for all leaders to acknowledge that dissent is part of our democracy and that people are entitled to different views. The need to tolerate one another in public life is a vital need for the healing, reconciliation and the cohesion of the nation. The South African Council of Churches has taken the position to speak against what it calls the “Politics of Disgrace”. By “Politics of Disgrace”, the SACC is concerned about the disgraceful manner in which public leaders discharge their political responsibilities by both disgracing and discrediting one another in the media and in public.
Owing to our electoral system, political parties in electing and deploying their personnel in government must be cognizant of their responsibility to South Africa as a country and its standing among other peoples and nations of the world. We pray that political parties will do their utmost best in selecting and deploying men and women who will inspire confidence in the citizenry of our country and the world.
The SACC will vehemently challenge intolerance and disgraceful public speech by leaders in public life. The South African Council of Churches will promote and develop theologies of Affirmation to foster ‘politics of affirmation’ and the development of good public leadership.
Ubuntu is about community, interconnectedness, and the place of the human being at the centre of our democracy for life. Ubuntu is about human dignity and the harmony of existence with the whole of creation. Ubuntu offers us a crucial ethical vision of our public scripts for spiritual vibrancy in a democratic South Africa. The South African Council of Churches calls for the restoration of Ubuntu as a vision for the promotion of human rights and human dignity. The health of our society requires urgently a departure from ills of inferiority and superiority in our human relations and the psyche of our nation. The restoration of our lost sense of humanness is an urgent call for the development of a healthy public life of our country.
The inculcation of a humane sense of relations amidst anger, violence and self-hate at all levels of our society, acutely so among the poorest of the poor, is equally socially a challenge that needs to be urgently addressed. Tools, norms, values and symbols emanating from the richness of our diverse cultures need to be harnessed to provide us with moral imperatives and values to integrate our society as one nation with a common destiny and life together.
The importance of education for the provision of knowledge, skills, cultural transmission of values and social integration cannot be overstated. The current state of education in our country is a matter of concern. This includes the state of theological education in our land. The transformation of the education sector within the provisions of our constitution has been rather slow and poses a serious challenge for our spiritual vibrancy and social cohesion. Education was used as a pivotal tool of oppression and became an important site of our struggle for liberation.
The SACC will give focused attention inter alia on:
- The state of our schools to provide support to schools and communities for the development of spiritual, moral and ethical values.
- The development of policies to accomplish the transformation of our educational sector.
- Healing in our schools.
In the quest for social cohesion, the South African Council of Churches believes that we cannot separate our political dreams from our spiritual dreams. Spirituality is an important challenge in the 21st century. The current spiritual malaise of our nation underlies the failure of the human spirit to achieve the goals of our liberation. There is no spirituality without life, therefore all spheres and components of our life together need to be harmonized. Spirituality is holistic life.
The SACC regards a vigorous spiritual revival to entail inter alia the following:
- Challenging the domestication of spiritual symbols for sheer political gains in public life.
- Challenging the rampant separation of spiritual matters from life as a whole.
- Contributing toward the development of a sound spirituality in the church and public life.
- Embedding the promises of democracy in the spiritual life-giving assets of the poor.
The scourge of crime, particularly violent crime, leaves much to be desired. The prevention of crime requires proactive measures to be taken by all stakeholders in public. To this end corruption must be condemned at all costs and at every level of our society.
While matters of health will continue to be of importance and access to health remains a challenge, the SACC views the HIV/AIDS pandemic as one of the greatest challenges of our society that is multi-faceted. The South African Council of Churches will continue its work in this area by focusing on prevention, treatment and care. The South African Council of Churches will endeavour to develop life-giving spiritual assets in the fight against the gruesome challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
2.4. Constitutional Democracy
Why do we need to vote?
The South African Council of Churches calls upon all South African citizens to register and to go to the polls in 2009 because it is their democratic right and responsibility to do so. The right to vote was not cheaply achieved in South Africa! The South African Council of Churches does not equate voting to a ballot paper, but to full participation in the democratization of our society for abundant life. Voting is about our human dignity. Voting is about the quest for substantive promises of life and our God-given right to participate in shaping our destiny and lives together in South Africa.
Participation in Public Life
The South African Council of Churches is committed to the promotion of constitutional democracy guided by the principles of power sharing; and therefore, the separation of powers and mandates, responsiveness and openness. To this end, the South African Council of Churches will assume the position of critical engagement with all sectors in public life, especially the state and the economy. The South African Council of Churches holds that different world views in the interpretation of the Constitution should be accorded equal space, especially those that are geared for the betterment of the lives of the poor in the exercise of the rule of law.
The South African Council of Churches, acting with its member churches, is called by the Triune God to work for moral reconstruction, focusing on justice, reconciliation, integrity of creation and the eradication of poverty for the empowerment of all who are spiritually, socially and economically marginalized. This mission of the South African Council of Churches presupposes that there is no area of life in which the church cannot be involved. Christ is the Lord of all Creation and He came into the world to fulfill God’s mission for the salvation of the whole of creation.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together
– Col 1:15-17
In this regard, the SACC participates in God’s mission by taking a preferential option for the poor and the marginalized in all spheres of life. As a fellowship of churches in the midst of diversity, the SACC envisages through its programmes and proclamation to facilitate a united witness of the church in South Africa in matters of national interest, by speaking truth to power and through the creation of platforms for the poor and the marginalized to express and articulate their aspirations.
The church’s participation in public life is a journey with God that leads to the encounter with strange people, cultures and values. It is a journey that traverses paths of landlessness and landed-ness. In the quest for life in its abundance through our constitutional democracy, openness and hospitality should prevail over closeness, rigidity and hostility.
We need therefore to:
- Live with the strangers and treat them kindly (I Kings 8:41-43).
- To root our constitutional democratic system as a vision for the promise of life for the whole earth, our world and humanity.
Our public engagement through our Key Performance Areas assumes all dimensions of prophetic witness in public life. We shall tell stories mediated through the life experiences of the poor and the marginalized on the four covenantal pillars of poverty eradication, healing and reconciliation, spiritual malaise and the threats to our constitutional democracy. We shall participate in policy formulation and forge partners with players in our determined support for clear, practical and feasible policy actions geared toward improving the lives of the poor. We shall challenge and confess against attitudes, practices and beliefs that deny life for all and cling to the alluring prophetic vision of an alternative world for the promise of abundant life.
The covenantal pillars of this public call envisage a harmony of life bonded by faith in the Triune God. It is a call to a life of prayer, and it is a prayer for life. We pray that government will craft clear policies and plans that will bring hope and commit the nation to a vision of democracy that is life giving. We commend good policies crafted thus far and offer our supplications for an improved, timely and courageous policy implementation in our land. May our prayers – our desires and aspirations – live before God.
May the Lord Almighty guide and influence our leaders.
May God open his heart on the people of this land, especially the poor, and bring us peace, prosperity and abundant life!
South African Council of Churches
62098, Marshalltown 2107
tel: 2711 2417800
Fax 2711 492 1448