“We are pretty good at voting, praying and protesting, as a nation, but how do we bring about actual change?” Craig Stewart asked this question of a small group from a variety of church movements at a Transformational Advocacy workshop earlier this month.
The challenges facing South Africa are many. Our history is so deeply embedded in our present story that it sometimes feels as if it is too big and entrenched for anything to change. But how does change actually happen? How do we see the structural injustice that continues to hold the present day society ransom become undone?
The South African Church generally has a fairly well developed relief ideology and practice, in that we respond to disasters with generous giving; we are fairly robust in our commitment to voting and the ideals of democracy, and we know how to pray, again, generally. But how about the work of actual structural shifting of unjust systems that still hold people captive today?
This workshop aimed to begin to answer some of that question.
“Most people do not know who their local councillor is,” Craig said, “And even if they do, they don’t know who our provincial government rep is or how things work. We don’t really know how to use our democracy well.”
The Church has a huge, inherent, well-networked, integrated and well-known presence in our communities. Should the Church not be the greatest agent for change? One thing that holds us back is the heresy that many churches inherited that separates the ‘social gospel’ from the ‘gospel’. It is this heresy that allowed the majority of the South African Church to be largely complicit in a legal system that recognised some citizens as superior to others and built a system around that lie that we live with today. “Part of our work is recognising that there is no separation,” said Craig, “God works for justice and righteousness in the world.”
Another reason is simply that we do not know how best to use and tackle the issues in a structural way using our democratic systems and processes. The possibilities are endless with a small group of committed people, but often we do not know how to leverage the changes that are needed at a local level. Many of us have privately held concerns about an injustice, cruelty, unfair practice, how people are treated, education or sanitation, but the angst we feel does not often translate into some form of public action. How do we organise to see transformation? How do we move from frustration and despair to working for actual change?
Transformational Advocacy is the process of challenging ourselves and our leaders to change behaviour, policies and attitudes that perpetuate inequality and deny God’s will for human flourishing.
This workshop challenged participants to think about how we can act together as concerned citizens in church communities across the city. It gave some first steps and how to go about facing an issue, immersing one’s self in the context and problem, discerning God’s time and ‘Kairos moment’, analysing what the actual underlying issue are, finding others to work with, and deciding on who to leverage and which tools to use in order to do so best.
‘If churches moved and worked together for change in a community, our collective influence would be far greater,” said Craig as he encouraged us to use the process to mobilise communities.
We need practical tools to move into this next level of change and as the Church we can lead that. Yes, we must vote. Yes, we must protest. Yes, we must pray. But we must also equip ourselves to move beyond just charity and into the adventure and hard work of seeing structural change come for the good and wellbeing of all Cape Tonians.
By Linda Martindale
Introduction to Transformational Advocacy is one of several of The Warehouse’s workshops which we make available to churches through The Warehouse. Visit https://www.warehouse.org.za/learn-from-us/ to find out more, or get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.