This has been a sad week for me. I might have a white skin, a Scandinavian last name, having spoken European languages since my birth, but I find it hard associating myself with “the West” anymore. “We” are not doing the world any much good. This past week the general synod of the church denomination of my upbringing approved same-sex marriage and the ordination of pastors married to someone of the same gender. A committee was even assigned to draw up a liturgical-form for officiating at such “weddings”. Imagine, these folks’ forebears long ago brought Christianity to Africa, with all the shortcomings that cleaved to them. What are they doing now?
This news came in the wake of learning that the very congregation of my dear wife’s youth recently got a new youth pastor who is married to a man. Most members of this denomination – the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa – would in their hearts never approve any of this. And yet, almost all of them will with time comply. Most Western Christians, I am afraid to say, have lost their spines. They are “men without chests”, as CS Lewis once said. We want no confrontation with our culture and that’s why we are dying. (I so wish and pray that I will be proved wrong, that many will make a strong stand)
Forsaking our friends and His lambs
But then later in the same week I read that President Donald Trump abruptly decided (after a phone call with the Turkish leader Erdogan) to withdraw a few hundred American troops from northern Syria, for all practical purposes giving the Turkish leader the green light he was waiting for to invade that country. For the umpteenth time America betrayed the Kurds, but what is more, it will not only be the Kurds, but peaceful Christian communities in northern Syria who will be in Erdogan’s lenses. With this Turkish invasion only in its third day, Christian communities in northern Syria are already being bombed, uprooted and scattered to flee. The same invasion is also causing high-security camps – keeping Isis family members away from society – to break open, which will almost certainly assist the grisly terror organization to regroup under its ugly black flag again.
Meanwhile, back in Kenya in July, I attended a conference addressed by an expert on religious freedom, Islamic Dawa and counter-terrorism, for four days. I was so proud that the conference was organized by folks of the same denomination of my upbringing mentioned above, to equip and strengthen African church leaders. Many of these African brothers have experienced Islamic terror in their “own backyards” and most of them felt that the enemy is nearing the gates. And yet in spite of all our speaker Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo told us, and of what we heard from these amazing brave men on the front-line, a white Westerner stood up, suggesting we should invite Muslim imams to our church pulpits as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. I sat and listened to him in stunned silence as our speaker gently tried to persuade him that such a move is not so smart. By all means befriend Muslims, but don’t do that.
The person making these remarks was a former moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. He defended his remarks in the light of the senseless terror attack on a mosque in Christchurch a year or so ago. I listened as our speaker and the DRC clergyman exchanged remarks until I could hide no longer. I emphasized how the idea of meeting with Muslims is excellent but explained why letting imams speak on our pulpits is wholly inappropriate and entirely counter-intuitive. It will not only further fragment the church but also strengthen Islam in its aim of world domination. What’s more, did Jesus not drive the money-changers from the temple square because they abused that sacred space for an activity that did not belong there, but which was perfectly fine somewhere else? My comments brought the debate on the floor to an merciful end. Afterwards several brothers thanked me for my remarks, including some DRC folk from South Africa.
The famed Malcolm Muggeridge would have said that we have now finally embarked on a course of cultural and religious suicide. Meeting with Chinese and Korean Christians fresh from the Orient regularly here in Canada, I get the sense that they too are shocked at what they observe. They are sad that we are willing to throw everything away like we do, and that the church by and large seems so powerless to confront the trend. Everything is going downhill. Where is it going to end?
Sanity in East Africa
This deep sense that we have lost our minds in the West came upon me as I interacted with my African brothers and sisters in East Africa earlier this year. My students were very grateful when I began teaching “worldviews”, addressing the “clash of civilizations” that we are all facing. It seemed to me that they could not afford living their Christian lives in an isolated bubble, as we have done for so long. They want their faith to be squarely rooted in this world, not shrinking back from whatever it may throw at us. That was certainly refreshing to me. Our Western (and may I dare to add our Caucasian) and Protestant experiment of spiritualizing and individualizing the Biblical message (making sure we stay clear from the troubled waters of history, politics, and culture) have come to cost us dearly. We do not really comprehend how far we have drifted downstream… Let me explain with a few concrete examples:
While I was over there in Africa a court-battle in the US reached the headlines: Can a federal American census-form ask any resident in the US whether it is indeed a legal citizen of the country? The court said “no” and the liberals rejoiced. I asked my African friends what they thought of it. They shook their heads in utter disbelief: “Of course the government can ask you whether you are a citizen or not!”
I spoke to my friends about the Anglo-Atlantic slave trade and the ghastly atrocities I just recently read about in a new biography on John Newton. “Yes…” said my Kenyan brother in Nairobi “it was very bad, but that is the human condition. It is depraved. It has nothing to do with black or white, it is our rotten human nature. We can’t blame Christianity for it either, even though they sailed under a Christian banner. Those countries were Christian only in name for the most part”. “Oh…” I gulped again. I have not come across such sobriety in a long time where I come from. For there we are made to believe that all of Africa points the finger squarely at Western Christianity for all its miseries, and that we must all walk with our heads in shame now. In fact in Mwanza my host took me to the place where Muslims shackled and whipped their African slaves into submission for centuries. But nobody talks about that. Neither have the Muslims ever repudiated it, even though millions of young Africans died along the way to Arabia, often due to the blood loss caused by castrating these poor slaves along the way.
So we also talked about all the patronizing of the colonial era, something that was prevalent in all the European colonies. The kind of condescending approach of the civilized masters towards their “backward” servants. My Kenyan friend Joe – who impressed me with his insights into current world affairs – asked If I thought Africans would have done any better, had the roles been reversed? “The Europeans also brought us the Gospel, and many other blessings of a Christian civilization” he added. “Okay…” I thought “that’s a fresh new perspective” and so my male, white, Christian self-image took a sigh of relief. I should spend more time in Africa I thought.
Apartheid and more
Another example. My wonderful host in Nairobi told me one night that he had read somewhere on a popular Christian website that white American Christians must now confess to the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King junior in the sixties. “What is going on with these guys?” he asked. “King was probably killed by some unregenerate hoodlums. What does that have to do with the church? And why is everyone guilty now? What will happen…” he asked “if we must start making confessions here in Kenya about our many tribal wars? Will we heal anything? No we will only succeed in ripping open old wounds and plunge the country into chaos”.
I agreed to a point, but told him that there are times when collective repentance is in place, like we see in Daniel 9 or Nehemiah 8. I have no problem to believe that whites in general, and Afrikaners in particular were responsible for apartheid. So coming to apartheid, I mentioned to them that it was a government policy of separate development based on the Dutch Reformed Church’s official mission policy of 1935 (aside from the earlier British colonial legacy of racial segregation of course). In that mission policy the DRC thought it was best for each group and culture to worship God in its own tongue. Hence you got four DRC sister denominations for four different racial groups inside South Africa.
So those were the building blocks of apartheid. In such a segregated culture and climate it was easy for racism to flourish, even though crude racism itself was never officially promoted (as is now happening in that same country from the radical left). There was nothing in the founding documents of apartheid reminiscent of the racist ideology of Germany in the 1930’s or the Old South in America. And yet it was all a very big mistake and injustice! And so my Kenyan friends responded that they had only a vague idea what apartheid was all about, or that so relatively few people died under white rule from 1910 -1990. They even asked me who Mandela really was. I was surprised how soon history was slipping away from us.
This is when another friend, Andrew, responded. “Did I know that membership of a very large Kenyan Presbyterian denomination was for the longest time the exclusive privilege of people from a certain majority tribe? Even when this denomination moved into the cities, it preferred to use its tribal language – and not Swahili or English – to uphold the tribal barrier between itself and other Kenyans, and to keep unwanted Christians out. In fact they are struggling to overcome these barriers even today”.
“No I did not know it!” I replied. Yet I could recall – from reading his Long Walk to Freedom – how a young Nelson Mandela was afraid to date a Swazi girl in fear of what his Xhosa family might say. In fact, the same young Mandela was at one stage excited about the National Party’s policy of separate development, according to the respected historian Hermann Giliomee.
My wonderful African friends felt deeply sorry for us Biblical Christians in the West, since we can scarcely open our mouths these days without been called “racist” for some or other reason. And yet, neither can they comprehend how a head of state – of the most powerful state for that matter – can start his day firing off childish tweets to anyone who dares to criticize him. They can only shake their heads. They call Mr. Trump a modern-day Samson. He might be fighting on the right side most of the time, but not exactly so that anyone wants to imitate him!
Just one last example to prove that we simply don’t get here in the West. The US recently approved selling arms worth of 8.2 billion dollars to Saudi Arabia. The US president said it is good for business! It provides jobs for the US economy. But does Mr. Trump not realize that the Saudi’s – not the Iranians – are aggressively seeking to Islamise Africa, pouring millions of dollars into building mosques, also where hardly any Muslims are found? Does he not know that they are sponsoring Wahhabi terror on the large continent and elsewhere? Not to mention the atrocious war against Yemen. It’s good for the US economy? Wow, so must we live in comfort, so that our brothers and sisters can be slaughtered. Or will it be better if those weapons are used to start World War III across the Persian Gulf with the Islamic Republic of Iran?
From Nairobi to Canada
I could continue on this theme for a while. As I walked through the busy streets of Nairobi, where I did not see a single white face for an entire week, I often wondered: “Why have I not seen anyone lying around begging, high on drugs? Why have I have not heard anyone say: ‘O my God’ for four weeks in Africa now? Why don’t I see billboards advertising ridiculous affluence or half naked girls (like also in South Africa)? Why don’t I see people walking around in worn-out pajamas or in bodies covered with tattoos from head to toe?”
Parents over there don’t stress about the gender of their three-year-old toddlers. Nor would any pastor have any fears telling his young parishioners to cherish the bodies God had designed for them, or to leave sex until marriage. Over there pastors can still preach the truth. They are expected to do so. In fact, when a good man from Wales, who led a congregation in Nairobi for four decades, went back to the UK, he related to his Kenyan friend how much he was longing for East Africa, because there he could speak the truth without walking on egg-shells all the time.
I knew that I was back in Canada when I sat in the doctor’s rooms, soon after arrival, hearing for the first time in six weeks the awful exclamation: “O my God!” The culprit was a poor kid whose toy had fallen from his chair onto the carpet. His mommy was quick to comfort him. I also realized that I was back home when I drove across the sky-bridge near my home and saw the warning: “Don’t drive when you are high”. Did our own president Trudeau then not fight his last election campaign on the issue of legalizing marijuana? Why warning us against it now?
Dear friends, like the prophets of old, we must put on sackcloth and ashes and weep for our culture. When will we return to Him who alone can save and heal our hearts and lands? Yes we have lost our minds, but the Lord is able to give it back to us as soon as we learn to stop calling evil good and good evil, or darkness light, and light darkness, or bitter sweet and sweet bitter. He who could deliver the “demoniac” and make him sit at Jesus feet in peace, can do it for us too, when we cease to be wise in our own eyes, and to draw sin closer with cart ropes, and iniquity with cords of falsehood. We will find our way back out our jungle of chaos to divine sanity, once we return to Him who was crucified for our sin and raised in God’s power on the third day, and who has put all these principalities and authorities we fear so much to a public display on the cross, triumphing over them. Yes when we stop acquitting the guilty for a bribe and depriving the innocent of his right a new day will dawn for us in the West. For then we will realize how much we have despised the Lord of hosts and that His anger was kindled against “his people” (see Isaiah 5:17-25).
Picture: The beautiful 19th Century Dutch Reformed Church-building in Robertson, South Africa.