21 April 2008

The Mighty males of God conference -- under the radar

Yesterday I saw a Rapport headline about the gathering of 60000 South African males at a farm near Greytown, KZN. I looked in vain for any reference to it in the Sunday Independent. As far as the "English press" was concerned, it passed right under the radar. I would have known nothing at all about it if Dion Forster had not written about it in his blog.

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.

4 comments:

The Scylding said...

I once met Angus Buchan personally in South Africa. A firebrand, and quite the pentecostal - but his heart seemed to be in the right place. At least some of the things he said (as reported on News 24, my main source for SA news) are quite good - men need to repent of the sin of racism, and ask personal forgiveness - they had to stop tax evasion, etc etc. Some have been very cynical about it all - and no wonder, given the number of charlatans in the pentecostal/charismatic fields over the last 2 decades or so. But I think one needs to applaud, and pray for, efforts like Buchan's.

Steve Hayes said...

Skylding,

I know nothing about Angus Buchan, apart from what I've read on blogs about this Mighty Men conference.

I'm not cynical about it; I just wonder what it says about the state of Christianity in South Africa. Is this what "postcolonial Christianity" is all about?

digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks so much for the linkbacks to my blog! Very much appreciated as always.

First, the practical issue of charging my laptop... I in fact did most of my blogging from my Nokia E90 cellphone (it has the built in camera, a small QWERTY keyboard and connects via EDGE, GPRS and 3G). Although, amazingly we stayed in a tent which had a generator! So, if there was need to charge devices we could do so for the hour or so that the generator ran each night.

Now, on to what truly matters, I think your observation is spot on! I was at SACLA II, it was an amazing event (that was just as I was getting ready to move from CT to PTA).

I think that the reason why you get 60 000 men to a weekend 'camp meeting' and only 3000 people to a Church leadership conference has something to do with self indulgence. It says quite a lot about the 'brand' of popular Christianity (people often see contemporary expressions of the faith as a mix between popular psychology, good financial advice, and a few miracles on the side). I personally believe that all of these needs can be met in varying forms, but I agree that they should not form the centre of the faith! I think North America evangelical Christianity has left the marks of individualism and capitalism on just about all popular expressions of the faith (one need only tune to the DSTV 'christian' channels to see that!)

I think that SACLA we less appealing to the average Christian person. My experience of it was that it was a call for persons to gather in order to seek concrete solutions and strategies for national transformation. Now, while that appeals to me (as a Christian minister), it may not be so appealing to the motor mechanic whose marriage is in a state of collapse because he cannot pay the rent again...

I'm not sure I am expressing the difference in aim as clearly as it could be stated. SACLA was about social transformation and structural sin, Mighty Men seemed to be about personal renewal and individual sin... Somehow most 'ordinary' Christians find it easier to deal with the latter of these two.

Blessing to you up there!

Dion

Steve Hayes said...

Dion,

Thanks very much for your comment. It's very useful to see your remarks comparing it with SACLA II since you were at both. I hope you have time to do a fuller reflection on your blog, since your new job seems to be more time consuming than your old one.

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