This morning tbV and i went to the Warehouse in Wetton for an informal talk and conversation with Ron Sider [ah, you see what i did there, you should apologise for thinking bad thoughts about my spelling prowess!] who is the author of, among other things, ‘Rich Christians in an age of hunger’ which is completely the sound of a book title that needs to be in my queue.

Anyways we had a most excellent time as he looked some issues regarding to Christians and Social Justice from a theological [but seriously not boring and completely relevant and hands on] point of view. He will be doing another session there tonight [12 Plantation Road at 7pm, rsvp] and if you can make it, you really should try and come.

But i thought i’d share some thoughts in the form of one liners and sound bytes that i was able to furiously scribble down [cos seriously, who writes these days? You take your finger muscles completely by hysterical surprise any time you try to] during the speak and Q & A that followed. This is obviously not as helpful as if you’d been there [come tonight!] but hopefully there are some moments of lightbulb that you can take away from this:

Firstly, Ron Sider is a 75 year old Jewish man who converted to becoming a follower of Jesus and then got completely dissatisfied at their response to issues of poverty and social justice until he researched a little more and saw that Jesus and the whole bible was actually all over that stuff:

One of the things Craig [who MC’d the vibe] mentioned was that when he was a frustrated Christ follower during his varsity days because of the disparity between the politics of the land and the actions of the church, that reading Ron’s book gave him permission to have an authentic faith that caused him to engage with the politics of the land. [Too many of us were shut down by the ‘You can’t mix the church and politics’ narrative when we were growing up and yet if God is a part of every part of your life then surely He needs to be in your politics?]

# Maybe the statement i liked best out of the whole morning was another one Craig said while speaking about Ron’s stance from his book which was ‘I’m not a social activist, i’m a disciple of Jesus.’ That is just s beautifully true. These are not the acts of a social activist specifically or separate to them being the acts of someone who genuinely follows Jesus and tries to live up to His teaching and example.

# From a conversation Ron had with a jewish student one day who was attracted to the passion of the christians in terms of meeting together and so ended up at one of their conferences, but then ended up in long conversation with Ron saying, ‘I don’t want to be like these white christians who sing about heaven and talk about Jesus but don’t care about justice in South Africa.’

# Referred to the book of Amos and how this prophet tackled both the sexual injustice that existed in the present time BUT ALSO the structural and economic injustices that were rife. How often we as the church have picked and emphasised the first almost at the complete expense of the latter.

# The importance for both evangelism [ we need ‘good people’ so people who have been transformed by God] and structural change.

# That the Gospel is NOT purely forgiveness of sin, but the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus formed a new community when He came, who lived out His message and challenged the status quo in many ways:

– Jesus and the lepers and blind people was Jesus connecting with groups of people who had been completely alienated and shut outside of the city

– Jesus and His attention and focus on women was radical for that time period where they were considered not just not equal to men, but as animals in some cases – the one quote Ron read was that a jewish saying at the time was that it was better to burn the Torah [the first 5 books of our bible] than to teach it to a woman [we’re talking hectically radical in approach of both teaching and living.

So both the forgiveness of sin and the formation of a new Messianic community where justice and peace break in.

# Also Ron mentioned, like in the Acts 2 and 4 pictures of the church, that a huge evangelistic tool that the early church had was the way in which they lived this teaching out, like in areas of social justice – looking after widows and orphans and the poor.

# Ron shared about how in Romans 8 it talks of the groaning creation that will be liberated. In Revelation 21 and 22 it talks of the glory of the nations being taken up into the New Jerusalem and then later about the healing of the nations. And then referred to the N.T.Wright book ‘Surprised by Hope’ where one of the conclusions is that we don’t try to escape the world [christians with a heaven only point of view] but we try to change it.

# An important mindset to cultivate is that God is obviously on the side of the poor [hundreds of verses throughout the bible back this up] but that God loves both the oppressed AND the oppressor and is wanting both sides to be liberated.

# Ron said that he thought many people misunderstood the Acts 2 and 4 passages as indicating that the early church had a common purse [shared money that belonged to everyone]  – the form of the Greek verbs gives the translation to be more like ‘In the habit of’ when it comes to giving so it was not an obligation but something that seemed to come naturally to them because of their changed dispositions.

They were so committed to each other that they went to dramatic extents.

In Deuteronomy 15 vs 3-4 it says ‘If you live this way there will be no poor among you’ [echoes of Acts 2] but then a few verses later it says there will always be poor among you. [As if it’s a wink from God saying because I know you].

One part of what it means to be the church = dramatic and significant economic sharing.

And a quote from i forget where, ‘As long as some christians are trapped in poverty, the eucharistic celebration is imperfect.’ 

One of Ron’s last points was almost like a prophetic declaration, saying that, ‘It would be an incredible thing if the whole church of South Africa would get the economic call of the bible and start living it out. This would be the hugest witness to the world – it would involve costly redistribution..

And then during the questions, a comment that my friend Rene made, was ‘The church doesn’t see itself as the empire’ and there is much to be discussed around that and i think it touches on the whole race/reconciliation/privilege conversation as well. It’s not me – it must be someone else.

But all in all a really great session – hope there was a morsel in there for you to grab hold of and if you are in Cape Town and can possibly make yourself free for tonight – this does feel like it will be a significant meeting time.