There has been a great deal written about Angus Buchan’s recent mega prayer faith gathering near Bloemfontein entitled “It’s Time” and I don’t intend to add to the commentary on the event itself. However, it came about in a week in which an extraordinary video from a US church exploded on social media.
The video sees a middle-aged, white evangelical church pastor asking a young black man onto stage during a sermon. He gently invites the young man to take a seat and asks him to remove his shoes and socks. The pastor then recalls Donald Trump’s election campaign strapline “Make America Great Again” and asks the congregation to consider who America has ever been great for? Certainly not, he says, native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans like this young man, Asians or any other minority group for that matter. America, he says in a brutally factual and disarmingly humble manner, has been truly great for only one group of people; one race; his race. The white race.
In that same week, another church man – this time a local lay preacher and writer by the name of Lorenzo A Davids – penned a less widely circulated but no less powerful article in which he asked some equally probing questions as the US pastor had in his video: If “It’s Time” as Brother Angus tells us it is, then what is it time for? And why is now the time? In the context of his vast audience being mostly white, why was it not time when Madiba died or when Anene Booysens was brutally murdered or, I would add, when Chris Hani was assassinated? What makes now so unique as to see hundreds of thousands of people gather to pray in faith? Is it simply another way of articulating and embodying the Trump rallying cry; “Make South Africa great again.”? And if this is the case, then who are we really praying for it to be great again for? Because it was never great for too many people other than one race; my race; the white race.
Now, you may say that there were also non-white people at the Angus Buchan prayer gathering and that the spirit between races was loving, brotherly, embracing – even healing in its nature. I have heard superb stories of what happened at that event. This is all good and I do not wish for one moment to belittle anything of what took place there. However, it is not enough by a long way. We must add to our faith – whatever faith that may be – works that will actively arrest the decline of our nation but also radically transform it and bring restitution. What does this look like? What must we do? What is it time for?
I believe that what the American evangelical pastor does next provides us with the answer, but before going there, let me borrow again from Lorenzo A Davids who speaks profoundly about what he terms the Zacchaeus Moment. When he meets Jesus and has a revelation about the many he has wronged, the legendary criminal tax collector Zacchaeus – the small guy who had to climb up a fig tree to see Jesus – repents. This is not just a simple matter of saying sorry, although I am certain he did this. As part of his repentance he gives half of his possessions to the poor and to those he cheated out of money, he returns 4 times the amount he had taken. Put another way, his repentance included significant restitution. He added to his faith, action. It was only then that Jesus declared salvation over Zacchaeus’ house. It is this salvation that Brother Angus is praying for.
As he continues to speak, the white pastor gets down on all fours in front of the young black man. He looks him in the eyes and he speaks with such tenderness as he takes his feet gently in his hands and begins to wash them. A young black man. An older white man. He tells the youngster that he cares about him; that he is valuable to him; that he is not inferior to him despite what history would tell him. They are brothers even though their contexts are so different.
He holds his feet with such care. He gets down as low as he can; as close to the young man’s feet as he is able. He massages his feet, each one in turn – slowly. Tears fall down the young man’s face as the pastor slowly dries the young man’s feet, embraces him and tells him he loves him.
This is not American theatrics. This is what leaders like Christ and more recently Pope Francis model in terms of a start point for healing and restitution. For Francis, he washes feet whenever he can; Christians, non-Christians, men, women, refugees, prison inmates you name it. He actively eschews his position as the leader of millions; he makes himself accountable for the wrongs of others; he humbles himself by getting down as low as he can to take broken and dirty feet into his hands and wash and sometimes even kiss them.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.