Dion's random ramblings: A reflection on a great blessing. The Mighty men of God conference.
It was a great weekend at the Mighty men of God conference - I could have done with a few more 'home comforts', but then again, I am a city boy! Seriously though, being on crutches is not very comfortable in the middle of the mealies, and it got a little less comfortable when it started raining last night. But, heck, that's all part of the experience!
The conference was great. I didn't learn anything new, and I guess that the intent of the conference was not to teach new things, but rather to remind us to do things that we should be doing anyway!
Thanks to wireless networking Dion has kept us updated on what has been going on at this conference, though I wonder how he managed to charge his laptop computer while he was there -- or did he take a couple of spare batteries?
What I'm more curious about, however, is how such an event managed to pass almost completely under the radar, until Rapport put it on the front page as it was ending. There have been bigger Christian gatherings in South Africa -- the Zion Christian Church manages to get a million or more at its annual Easter gatherings. But that is a single denomination, and they presumably have internal communication networks, and anyway since those gatherings happen every year the members know what to expect.
But here was this event, apparently organised by one bloke, with little advance publicity, and 60000 people (apparently all male) turn up.
I first became aware of it when David MacGregor blogged about it here, and the next thing was Dion's reports from the conference itself.
What is so amazing about this (to me at any rate) is that an event like SACLA (South African Christian Leadership Assembly) in 1979, with a great deal of advance publicity, only managed to attract 5000 people. And the follow up, SACLA II, in 2003, only managed to attract 3000.
Actually, it's not only amazing; I find it rather disturbing.
Yes, it's nice that 60000 people turn up to a Christian event that hasn't been publicised much, or at least seems to have been publicised mainly by word of mouth. One feels a bit like Elijah when he was told that there were 7000 in the land who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The very hiddenness is rather encouraging.
But where were these 60000 males when SACLA II was on?
And if the other half had been there, there should have been 120000.
I've read Dion's reports, and it all seems a little bit, well, self-indulgent.
I may be wrong, but it seemed a bit too much like the Christian equivalent of motivational speakers and self-help books (my son, who works in a book shop, tells me that the bestseller at the moment is The secret).
At the risk of appearing to contradict what I wrote in the recent Synchroblog on Social Justice, where I stressed the importance of being rather than doing, there is still a disturbing sense that Christianity in post-apartheid South Africa has lost its way, which came out at SACLA II, and also, apparently, at this Mighty Males conference. As I wrote a few months ago in Notes from underground: Postcolonial Christianity in Africa:
Five years ago we had SACLA II, the Southern African Christian Leadership Assembly, but where did it get us? We were supposed to face up to the 'giants' that threatened our society, which included unemployment, poverty, crime and violence. But there seemed to be a reluctance to face up to the giants behind the giants -- America, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, structural adjustment programmes and the ideology of neoliberalism that they have been peddling to African governments. My recollection of SACLA II was that some American came round and gave out free copies of a rather kitschy book called The prayer of Jabez, which seemed to be a good example of what Karl Marx described as 'the opium of the people.'
SACLA I was tremendously important for South Africa. I believe it was one of the things that helped to turn South Africa around, away from apartheid. Like Gideon's 300, the 5000 "mighty men" (in that case, male and female) at SACLA went back to their home congregations with a new vision for a new South Africa, a vision which they shared with others. The full story of that has yet to be written. But after 1994 Christians seem to have sat back, and waited for others to realise the vision.