#SAElection2021: How will Christian involvement make a difference?
By Cheryllyn Dudley, Member of Parliament in South Africa (June 1999 to May 2019) and currently serving as Political Analyst at dia-LOGOS
As South Africans, we will all face local elections at the end of October this year and National elections in 2024. Many who place their hope in individuals, political parties, money, popularity etc may see some limited success but will, again and again, face huge disappointment. We should not undervalue the privilege we have as Christians, ‘NOT to be dismayed’ no matter what the circumstances. The privilege of NOT having to place our trust in fallen man and a fallen world.
Having said this, none of us can avoid politics (activities aimed at increasing status and power) which is at work in all spheres of society, in the arena of civil governance but also church and family governance. Right now however our attention will be drawn to the activities of political parties who are wanting to gain and/or retain power. In many ways how things play out will affect us whether we get involved or try to ignore it.
Christians have always been involved in civil governance, rightly, in my view, believing they have a duty to serve in this area of life just as in all others. The contribution of Christians in the formation and endeavours of the ANC and other parties are of course notable in South Africa, and in recent times parties like the ACDP have expressed their concerns, through collective more exclusive platforms of believers.
The 2021 election will see more of these exclusive Christian groupings popping up, partly headed by those who were themselves unable to work as a collective within the ACDP and partly, in my view, because ACDP leaders have been unable to inspire unity of purpose among a majority of Christians. (Christians as a group, being a majority themselves in the South African context). This is a great pity as much could be gained from a greater humility on all sides, a greater effort to resist the human tendency to be in control, and a greater effort to encourage unity within the body of Christ.
The leader of a country in today’s world has the impossible task of inspiring unity of purpose across great divides. Christian leaders should realise that if we cannot do this among even ourselves how on earth do we hope to do it without great armies, firearms, and prisons!?
This makes me think of the times I heard ANC members challenge Hamas leaders who were praising Madiba. They would say that it makes no sense to praise Madiba for his commitment to negotiations, compromise, and ‘one united South Africa’ when Hamas would not even commit to negotiations to find ‘one Palestine’ let alone negotiations to find peaceful solutions with Israel. And these members were not pro-Israel!
One of the many initiatives by Christians that will be an option at this election will be the opportunity to stand as a collective of independents. In an attempt to be much broader and more cognisant of the independent nature of much of our Christianity today (our inability to work as a collective, not in itself a good thing) is in the process of forming an umbrella body for independent candidates to stand on their own terms but feel supported by each other. This is a grand and commendable 21st-century vision and excellent efforts have gone into educating Christians, especially young, energetic, and enthusiastic potential candidates for civil government. This movement will however also find itself operating as a political party in that it will want to pool its votes to allow proportional candidates to get seats and this will necessitate listing and ranking these independent-minded candidates. As I said, politics can not be avoided. Practicing behaving as Christians when we confront politics is therefore in my view a worthwhile exercise.
Landa Cope, author of God and Political Justice had a profound impact on my work, “as God’s people”, she has said “we are called into civil governance for the glory of God and the good of the people. Our goal is not to perfect the world or nation, but to offer God’s perspective, a better way, and allow society a choice.”
When I took office as an MP in the National Assembly in 1999, five years after the dawn of democracy in South Africa, I did so with the conviction that South Africa needed a Godly government and I was sold out to the idea of influencing legislation in line with my understanding of Biblical principles. More and more, however, I found the practical expression or application of this understanding of Biblical principles did not produce anything that resembled the God we wanted to emulate and please. It was disturbing to me that I, and my colleagues in the party, were sounding legalistic, judgemental and frankly, irrelevant in today’s world.
This observation became the motivation for my ongoing scrutiny of all things pertaining to our work as Christian democrats. The need to radically change our approach to our work was clear to me and the increased clarity regarding what was, and what was not, our job as Christian politicians had helped me move from closing people’s ears with my words, to being listened to and actually achieving results.”
I share this here because this clarity helped me to operate more intentionally in the ‘here and now’ while constantly placing the ‘here and now’ in the context of the bigger picture – of being part of the human race as a whole and of eternity. These things not only kept me grounded enough to be relevant and useful but – seeing things in perspective – reduced any human tendency to panic or become fearful, overly partisan and against people who did not yet have the same understanding.
The much needed reminder that we are not here to ‘perfect’ fallen humans or this fallen world, relieved me of a judgmental attitude I had unwittingly acquired. Immediately my focus changed to wanting to help people and policy move in a direction that was closer to God’s ways I was filled with a hope that motivated me to achieve what would otherwise never have been possible. Ensuring our words inspire hope and are conveying what we mean to convey is crucial.
Inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s reminder that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” my unsolicited advice to all these new initiatives is to avoid at all costs the trap of becoming ‘fear-mongers’ who stir up animosity and selfish ambitions.
In South Africa we have witnessed the best and worst in our leaders and each other, we have experienced generosity, forgiveness and a unified effort across society at times and selfish ambition, protectionism, hardened hearts and retaliation at its worst. These things are not new, the best and the worst of mankind will be with us no matter which party calls the shots. This however does not excuse us from standing in the gap and doing our best to inspire the best and not the worst from each other.
How we face what we face is more important than what we face – ‘overcomers’ will find life is full of opportunities to overcome. We are not called to wave ‘magic wands’ but to face many challenges, to be courageous as we dare to love our neighbours and our enemies.
In my view, when significant numbers in our country, both leaders and people in general, are committed to making a shared, prosperous future a reality for all who live here we will be on the right track. Beware of political parties that create an ‘us and them’ mentality in us.
“I have high hopes for South Africa and am proud of this country with its courageous and passionate people. Even our idealism, which sometimes sadly manifests as pessimism, has the potential to set us apart and attain excellence, if only we can look up long enough to notice what we have achieved…
I have witnessed transformation in many, from activists to statesmen and women, maturing and looking to ensure sustainable development and opportunities that will improve the standard of living of all who live and work in South Africa… When irrational rhetoric abounds at election time, I remind myself that rational thinking has, in the past, returned to the corridors of Parliament after elections. Admittedly, this took a little longer after the 2014 elections! I have watched as leaders have gained the confidence to resist the temptation to be defensive and to face, head-on, the scourge of corruption, its impact on our economy, and so much more.”
From: Through My Eyes: Life Politics, Religion by Cheryllyn Dudley
When we choose our local government leaders at election time, I hope we will have the courage of our convictions but that those convictions will honestly represent the one who died not just for us but all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Vote for those who value what you value but will serve unreservedly without fear or favour ALL the people of South Africa