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Learning the Anti-Apartheid Movement

South Africa has always held a special place in my heart. I have long appreciated Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, which is a cherished book on my shelf. How could one not be moved by the journey of a leader who endured 27 years in prison, ultimately chose not to be violent, and emerged as the liberator of his people? 

Finally, after many years, I have had the opportunity to visit Johannesburg. I spent hours in the Apartheid Museum learning about the history of apartheid. But after spending only a few days here, I have come to realize that the Western telling of the anti-apartheid movement has been significantly romanticized. My own understanding didn’t fully grasp the horrors of the struggle for black people here in South Africa. 

Archbishop Desmund Tutu is another hero who chose to follow Jesus and won the Nobel Prize for his work against apartheid. He is known for saying, “Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

Apartheid existed as an ugly and evil institutionalized regime. And the remnants of apartheid that continue in South Africa and other parts of the world today - systemic racism, economic oppression, xenophobia, the abuse of power, and other injustices - cannot be ignored. In addition, one of Nelson Mandela’s quotes that is being most lifted up in South Africa today is when he said, “We know all too well, our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Might we reflect on this thought as the ongoing bombing of Rafah and Gaza continues and Israel wages its war against Hamas in response to the horrific attacks of October 7, 2023. 

My ministry life has focused on the teachings of Jesus about biblical justice. We learn in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 4:18-19) how the first sermon of Jesus speaks to the injustices of the day. Jesus said: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 

The Gospel of Jesus is a liberative message that promises the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7) and good news to the poor - both the poor in spirit and those who are economically under-resourced. A key message from this passage includes Jesus’ declaration of freedom to “set the oppressed free.” 

What does it mean for the church to live out the Gospel in light of Jesus's promise to “set the oppressed free?” What might these words mean today, in light of global realities in 2024? Matthew, Chapter 5, talks about the Son of God becoming the Prince of Peace so that we, the children of God, might “become peacemakers” (5:9). 

Jesus calls those who follow him to enter into the places of conflict in the world.

Daily, there are increased deaths in Gaza, with a toll of more than 34,000 people killed, mostly women and children. The devastating effects on civilians in Gaza, as a result of Israel’s campaign against Hamas, and the cutting off of food, gas, and electricity has been identified by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a potential genocide

At Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) our more than 30 member communions agree what is happening in Gaza is nothing less than ethnic cleansing and are collectively calling for a comprehensive ceasefire, immediate and adequate humanitarian assistance into Gaza, the release of Israeli and international hostages still being held in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel without due process, and an end to the decades long occupation of the Palestinian people while addressing core causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Additional wars and conflicts throughout the Middle East include the ongoing civil war in Syria; the economic crisis in Lebanon; the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel at the border between Lebanon and Israel; attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East and U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria; and escalations between the Houthis in Yemen and Western powers. These conflicts don’t include other border crises such as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to war-torn areas of the world such as those affected by Boko Haram’s insurgency, the herder-farmer conflicts in Nigeria, the Ecuadorian conflict, the Myanmar civil war, and the Ethiopian war in Amahara. There is much strife, war, and conflict in the world. 

Where would Jesus be? 

He would be present in the world’s most broken places. He would be with the Jewish mothers and fathers and family members and others who lost loved ones on October 7, as a result of the Hamas attacks that day. He would be in the midst of Gaza - where thousands of people have suffered more than 200 plus days of bombing and inadequate basic needs - like food, water, and electricity. Jesus would be in every place where there is war and conflict.  

My hope and prayer is that we, as the church and followers of Jesus, will take to heart Matthew 5:9 - might we become peacemakers. Might we not ignore the realities of our day. We cannot ignore Rafah. We cannot ignore Gaza. We cannot ignore what is happening in Israel. And we cannot ignore the role that Washington, D.C., and the United States continue to play. Pray for peace. Give and engage in efforts that contribute toward peace. Advocate for solutions that do not support increased weapons, death, and destruction. Call for a comprehensive ceasefire that would demand that all combatant parties lay down their weapons and the fighting would be brought to an end and hostages might be returned home. There is much work to be done. 

Might the church heed the words of Jesus and both pray and work toward peace. 

Photo provided by the author.

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