Thursday, October 2, 2008

greater things than these

I met a man the other day who, in the process of introducing himself to me, eventually got around to speaking of his highly-successful, professional daughter who had passed away from AIDS in 2000.

"We have such things in the 'New' South Africa," he commented.

He continued, "This is not the freedom for which I went to jail [in the days of apartheid]."

He had one further comment. "Still, I will never leave the ANC [African National Congress, the current ruling party and the party of struggle against apartheid ]."

At the moment I am also reading Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog, an account of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the author's own coverage of it (the TRC was set up by the ANC government in the mid-late nineties as an attempt to heal the wounds of the past by giving voice to those whose stories of loss had been suppressed). I am at a point now where the author is recounting how the ANC counseled individual members not to apply for amnesty for abuses they had committed in retaliation for apartheid, even though personal amnesty was the only kind of amnesty the TRC would hear. Rather, a certain ANC leader had told the author that the ANC would apply for "collective amnesty"--not even an option according to the TRC. The ANC was pursuing this course of action in order that individual members might have one another's back, shielding one another from the shame of disclosing participation in abuses, however retaliatory or "defensible" in light of a supposed "just war". Such a stance, then, in effect, amounted to a continuation of suppression of stories for "innocent" victims caught in the midst of violent acts--the very thing the ANC had hoped to ameliorate in creating the TRC. The author reports that the ANC had thus chosen party unity over truth, or party unity over the overall healing of the country--for all its citizens, regardless of party.

At the time, the Commission chair, Archbishop Tutu, was incensed by the ANC course for the very reason relayed above. In the events of the last two weeks, with the forced resignation of national President Thabo Mbeki by his political rivals, led by current ANC president Jacob Zuma, Tutu declared that "the way of retaliation leads to a banana republic." Obviously, he interpreted the ousting of Mbeki as payback for Mbeki's alleged meddling in the revelation of evidence upon which to try and convict Zuma--a threat to Mbeki's power atop the ANC and country--on charges of corruption.

In my limited understanding, Tutu was/is right. Though it seems highly likely, despite Mbeki's ardent denials, that he and/or his political allies overstepped the bounds of power in building a case against Zuma, the Zuma camp's return in kind is to be condemned. At some point, retaliation must stop. Or as the title of one of the archbishop's books puts it, there is no future without forgiveness, without the willingness not to do as others have done to you.

In the end, Mbeki attributed his own step-down to party loyalty.

"I have always been a loyal son of the ANC, and I remain so today." Since the ANC leadership had called him--or forced as may be the case--to resign the presidency of the country, Mbeki would fall obediently in line. Although the "willing" stepping-down of a politician on the African continent is to be applauded wherever such a thing may occur, I still find pause in Mbeki's reasoning: loyalty to party.

For those who participated in the struggle against apartheid and indeed colonialism throughout the continent, a brotherhood, a party, was formed that can never be broken. Loyalty to fellow strugglers is the highest good (on the other hand, is it not then ironic that one ANC member, Mbeki, appeared so embarrassingly desperate to keep another ANC member, Zuma, down--if in fact they are truly brothers--or are other conflicting loyalties also at play here?). Such loyalty is also why Mbeki was willing to stand by Mugabe in Zimbabwe despite every reason to denounce the character of his rule.

"Still, I will never leave the ANC." Still, even though the party should fail, forfeiting its moral integrity, I will remain loyal. So some say.

Never were Jesus' words about willing to lose one's life in order to save it more true than for institutions, parties, collectives, as well, of course, as for individuals. For institutions die hard. But eventually they will die, despite every last-ditch effort. Only those who remain within the life of the one who gave up his every earthly hope for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth for the sake of preserving his own moral integrity, will live. Only institutions who do so--who are willing to forfeit a cherished name or structure or way of operating--will live. And even then, that living will be in another form, even as the moral continuity--that which enabled it to face death in the first place--remains into the new.

So it is with our risen Lord. We recognize him for his moral integrity, symbolized by the visible scars of crucifixion, the willingness to die in love for enemies rather than vanquish them in the pursuit of justice, yet perceive that he is new, something more than he was before God intervened to raise him from the dead. We see the Jesus who transcends earthly bounds, who "passes through walls while the doors are locked", in order to lead us to "even greater things."

Things greater than party. Or nation. Or a mission agency. Perhaps even than the church. Or at least the church as it commonly proceeds.

-Joe

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