Friday, November 30, 2007

Jesus Camp: A Fascinating Parallel

I was quite amused to see the launch of the "must see" Jesus Camp documentary being launched in national cinema.

Naturally I tense up when seeing something that challenges my Christian faith, but these kinds of documentaries are really beyond my control, and if Christianity is as strong as I believe, then it should have the strength to survive these kinds of characters attacks.

What strikes me in particular about the documentary is how mainstream society (if you can call it that in majority-Christian countries) and Christianity run parallel alongside each other and yet are increasingly different. The reason is simple: Christianity is based on an absolute standard that doesn't change over time, and mainstream society is based on humanism, which believes that we are fundamentally good and that we only need follow the natural inclincations of what we feel.

Those two worldviews inevitably lead down two different paths. Arguments can be made on both sides: the mainstream can argue that Christians have based their absolute values on a questionable authority. The Christians can argue that history has shown that the natural inclination of people's heart is towards evil and selfishness.

Based on my earlier post, "The Battle of Ideas", this is a good chance to take stock of what kinds of values the Bible teaches. That humankind regularly fails in its moral sense is undisputable. But how reliable is the Bible? What kind of authority is it? Does it make sense? And if not in the short run or immediate sense, does it make sense in the long-term? This is a good chance for you to reflect on the different issues, such as the benefit to society of homosexual marriage. I'll begin tackling topical issues like this in more detail over the coming months. Watch this space and don't be scared to post a comment or two yourself.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Battle of Ideas

In our relativistic age, the Christian claim to absolute truth is scorned. I understand the frowns. Here is a group of people claiming that somehow everybody else is wrong and they are right.

It's valuable though to realise that the position of relativism is not necessarily natural and the worldview that has brought this about has been steadily streamed to us. Take for instance, the view that homosexuality is wrong. I'd hazard a guess that most of those who now accept it did not start out that way. We have been told through Hollywood, through school teachers, through government laws or through newspapers that homosexuality is acceptable and those who disagree are carefully painted in a certain way. Take a look at the characters in movies and television shows that are "homophobic" - they'll never be the leading character with whom everyone sympathises.

To deny that the media have influenced our positions on issues like homosexuality is a heavy claim. Remember the claim that children have their personality or opinions formed by the age of six. There's a lot of truth in that, but we really have to ask is: what hand is at work to form them? What opinions are being taught and where do those opinions come from?

What becomes very clear is that it is simply not possible to live in a world of complete relativism. When a government makes a decision on whether to raise or lower taxes, it ends up making a fixed decision. It cannot lower and raise them at the same time. There is a concrete decision (even no decision is a decision) and there is a concrete reason for that decision, ranging from anything to an economic framework or a personal influence.

There are so many different viewpoints that are just not compatible. Ultimately, one viewpoint becomes dominant and becomes the basis for making a decision. Quite simply, we're in a battle of ideas.

When the Christians stand up and make a claim that their viewpoint is better, they're no different from others who make exactly the same claim. To say that no one can claim absolute truth, is a claim to absolute truth. How can you know absolutely that there is no absolute truth? That different principles can sometimes apply in different situations is valid, but in those different situations absolute truth exists. When you stop and think about it, the claim to complete relativism or the void of absolutes is completely ridiculous.

The real question is not whether a claim can be made, but what claim is made. Before you question a Christian stance on a certain issue, remember that the opposing stance is also a claim to absolute truth, and then evaluate not whether a stance can be taken, but which stance is better.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Value of Federalism

Let me first state at the outset that the ACDP is one of the only parties in South Africa that is built on a federalist approach, meaning at a simple level, if I understand correctly, that the party is driven from the ground up. The opposite form to federalism is probably socialism or communism where the unit at the top is responsible for a far greater share of decision making, and their decisions are simply to be implemented at ground level. This of course is very much the case with the ANC, who have strong communist roots.

This may seem to be a curious conundrum. Those outside of Christianity may perceive it to be a highly systematic, heirarchical institution. Historically, that is not far off the mark. However, with the advent of Protestantism and the emphasis of Martin Luther and others on general access to the Bible, Christianity has moved far closer to federalism. Of course, the authority of the Bible is a central point to which individuals adhere, but the modern church has a much greater access to the views of the multitude, who have been given far greater freedom to match the decisions of human authority against the absolute authority of the Bible. In fact, much of the thriving church today consists of churches that don't fall under the traditional heirarchy of centuries ago.

The basic result is that the emphasis of the ACDP rests more with the absolute authority of the Bible than the absolute authority of the party leaders. Of course there are Scripture principles that aren't explicit and require debate and a final decision at top level, but the majority of Scriptural principles are really undebatable.

The key principle that drives federalism is simply this: take ownership, take responsibility. A party thrives far better when its individual components function successfully on their own than when central leaders have to commit investigative teams to track down how well instructions are being followed through. The principle of accepting responsibility is central to Scripture, where each of us is held accountable for what we say, do and even think. When we accept that we are sinners and ultimately are in no position to blame our misfortune on sexism, racism, apartheid, ethnic and class divides, mean bosses, relentless families and anything else that comes to mind, we are the starting block of actually doing something useful with what we have. In that frame of mind, the first thought of the party can be "what can I give" rather than "what can I get?"

While federalism would seem to be weak in that it grants too much power to those who are incompetent, the culture of taking responsibility is exactly what counters that threat.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Survivor: How to Play Politics?

Survivor Cook Islands came to a dramatic end on SABC 3 last night, and with it came a fascinating look into leadership struggles. Part of me admits that the Survivor game of winning votes is different to real life, but then I pause to contemplate and wonder if politics is that different?

Let me clarify what I'm referring to. In the Survivor game show, the object of the game is not really to survive in the wilderness - it helps but it won't win you the game, as Ozzy and Terry of a different season can testify. The key is to get people on your side only for as long as you need them. There is a semblance of loyalty but it can be quickly put aside as the stakes rise.

Watching the game show, I'm sure that viewers have mixed views on this specific question: in the context of the game, is it okay to lie, deceive or betray? Many of you will say yes, and I understand your position. Personally, dishonesty violates me. I'm repulsed by it, and at the end of the show, I'd rather be known as the guy that everyone can trust and depend on.

Of course, in the game of real life, trust and loyalty are usually rewarded better than they are in a game show, except in politics. I would define politics as "the process of getting into power and retaining it". That in itself is not a bad thing if you have something genuinely good to offer. Rather, it's how that process is negotiated that has placed most politicians in the same bad books as lawyers.

And here is where I get to the point. I believe in a set of golden rules for the process of politics:

1) Be honest. Tell the voters what you stand for, what you intend to achieve and what you are capable of.

2) Be realistic. This is probably the toughest. Have tangible, observable results in mind when you shape your promises. And also accept that some missions are going to fail before you even start (especially when you don't hold a large majority).

3) Expect no reward. As Jesus said, true leaders wash feet. Nuff said.

My question to you is: do you believe a party can get into power just by being good? Is the Survivor game necessary, and if so, is it then justified?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Real Failure of Zimbabwe

Let me stress right at the outset that these few comments are my own personal opinion and not necessarily shared in an official capacity by the ACDP.

The failure of the Zimbabwean economy has been attributed to a number of causes, including voting irregularity, monetary mismanagement, unnecessary macro management and of course seizure of white-owned farms.

I am strongly against such seizure, but I feel it pointed out the fundamental challenge of Africa: the lack of entrepreneurship. The primary challenge in Africa, and South Africa included, is to develop a leadership and initiative mindset. Where white-farms were seized, their new inheritors should ideally have adopted a mindset of learning and advancement.

This is the story of life: we all have opportunity of some kind and what we make of it determines what we'll achieve. For us as South Africans or Africans to really establish our economy will require a forward thinking that creates rather than expects. In true Biblical fashion, this comes down to an acceptance that the buck stops with me and I am due much of the blame when I fail to seize an honest opportunity. Attribution of failure to racism, colonialism, trade rules and badly drawn border lines may all have some merit, but ultimately none of us are slaves. To different degrees we all have choices to make, and I as a South African am happy to stand up and say that despite my many limitations I choose to do something special with what I have.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Elbow Grease

I was seriously challenged today by someone who refuses to vote for the ACDP. He took offense to the fact that the party were preaching morality at him, and despite being a strong Christian, preferred to vote for a party that would serve his neighbourhood despite the moral standing of his party.

I understand his position. I scorn his ignorance of the moral issues, but I do accept that the ACDP hasn't had a lot of chance to show their readiness to buckle down and serve. A track record is important, especially in the realm of politics, where promises are made with little comprehension for what they require.

Firstly, I want to say in the ACDP's defense that there is not a lot you can do without finances and position. You are not allowed to build roads, make laws, run the police, run council finances or change the laws. There are of course things that you can do, such as get involved in community projects that require effort rather than finance (and this in your own spare time too, because without finances you need your own job). Also, you can do well with what you are given, and it is well known now that the ACDP punches well above its weight in parliament and in councils.

However, I do accept one criticism: if you believe in a project, go out to business and raise funds. The ACDP has been attempting to secure financial backing for a long time, but raising funds for a community project could be a more feasible alternative for some businesses. When they see that their donations are well spent in community service, perhaps they'll be more ready to inject cash directly into the party.

The bottom line is that the ACDP needs to continue sowing themselves into work on the ground that is visible to the voters. It's a pity that this contradicts the Bible which says you should not do good works to be seen - I don't have an answer on that one, do you?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Oh To Be Solution-Minded

I've just read an interesting document on the ANC's communist agenda. It's a long list of specific pieces of legislation and quotes from ANC leaders that paint a very clear picture of what the intentions of the present government are. If you know how serious the threat of communism is, with its poor economic track record and its insistence on central power of all citizens, you may be alarmed to know how serious the ANC is on bringing it through.

Nevertheless, I was challenged by this thought: can I envision in my mind the alternative? As South Africans we develop a doom-and-gloom mentality very easily. Even the DA is proud to call itself the official opposition, and you wander if they believe their job is only to oppose things and not to provide a solution.

At this point we remind ourselves to stand up proudly and say: we have a solution, we believe it is viable and we believe it is achievable. In the ACDP we do have a value-based party that is federally based, that reflects of the views of the majority better than the ANC or DA do and in its membership reflects the demographics of this country more accurately than any other party.
The DA have taught us that making a noise is not enough - it's time to bring some good news and a bright outlook on our country!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Marriage in a State of Collapse?

Where are we headed on the status of marriage? America and Europe tend to be the forerunners on cultural norms, and if their example is anything to go by, South Africa is also heading towards a culture of rarely successful marriages, where couples prefer to stay together, have a few kids and then part ways after a few years. I'm understating it - South Africa is already well down that path.

I was fascinated to watch this during my time in Scotland. Fully aware of the Biblical stance on marriage, I was curious to see how well that structure worked without any "moral limitations". In fact, I was stunned. For a start, the norm was to marry in your late 20's or 30's, and if you married earlier, you were asked: "What? Are you bored (of sleeping around)?" The big side effect was the structure of the family. My work colleagues had kids with short-term partners and had to manage maintenance costs and scheduled visits with their children. I've seen similar patterns in South African, and no matter what your worldview is, you'll have to admit that being torn between two or more parents that way is definitely not healthy for children. That is not a secure environment and brings with it a whole new set of stresses and strains. For all of the supposed limitations on your "freedom", marriage is far and away the best way to raise healthy kids, and healthy kids make a healthy nation.

The struggle of the marriage institution comes down to a lot of causes. The sexual revolution was particularly devastating, and here in South Africa we have little idea how well it continues to thrive overseas. The microwave culture has also had a big impact - people are less content to wait for the right person or to push through the dark times in relationships and wait for the sun to break through.

I believe the humanist worldview has also created a false understanding of relationships. The humanist view holds that all people are fundamentally good, while the Bible teaches that we are sinners with a conscience held in check only by the Holy Spirit. What that means is that a humanist goes into a relationship expecting good to come and is then disappointed not to find it, while a Christian has a better understanding of who people are and can be less surprised to find they're not perfect. When you can acknowledge your own sin and find God's grace, you'll be a lot more ready to give a little grace to your partner.

There is more trouble on the way with the advancement of the sordid homosexual agenda. That they should meddle with marriage is sacrilege. My prime objection is simply this: for a child to be adopted or brought into a homosexual marriage is one sure-fire way to mess with their mind and their identity. Security in a loving relationship? That's one for the wishing well. How can you get a sense of purpose for your life and a sense of belonging if it's not even obvious where you come from?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Victory! Corporal Punishment Preserved

There was some more great news for the ACDP from the national convention...

The ANC brought in a new bill with the headline of improving legislation to prevent child trafficking. On top of that they piggy-backed a clause that banned spanking at home. Immediately we should ask why they had to be so secretive? Did they not want the public to find out?

The ACDP of course spotted the clause and sounded the alarm. Now for the rest of the facts I'm trying to put down what I remember of what MP Cheryllyn Dudley said. The entire bill came to a bit of a head, because there was considerable sport for the human trafficking clauses, but still considerable debate over corporal punishment.

Mrs Dudley felt the Holy Spirit prompt her to suggest to parliament that Clause 13 (corporal punishment) be removed so that the bill could still go through. The suggestion was accepted, which was a major victory.

Just to clarify, the ACDP's recommendations to parliament are that parents be required to give a reason for the discipline to children before they administer it, and that the discipline not be done in anger. As a matter of principle, the ACDP upholds the duty of parents to raise their children rather than government. This is in contrast to liberal views, particularly in America or Britain that have continuously transferred responsibilities of the parents to schools and govermental institutions. The end result is a breakdown of respect children have for their parents and with it the well-publicised breakdown in school discipline these countries are experiencing.

The ACDP holds that the core unit of a healthy culture is a healthy family unit. When you understand this value system, it is easy to understand why the ACDP stands against homosexual marriage, prostitution, gambling and other family-eroding institutions.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Importance of Absolute Authority

I'll admit that's a frightening title, but let me elaborate...

Why does any political party have a reason to be honest?

There are a number of reasons: if voters discover dishonesty you may lose votes in the next elections, or you may have a stampeding protest outside your parliament. Then there's the media, snooping around all the time, splashing frontpage headlines across national media.

But beyond that, as evident with the ANC, you can get away with quite a lot, and if you stand behind barriers like the race card, you can get away with even more.

The critical standard here is what kind of authority does the party hold itself up to at election time? Service to the people? The mandate of the people? As you can imagine, these create plenty of room for shifting goalposts.

In contrast, the ACDP uses the Bible as its absolute authority, despite being under considerable pressure to abandon that stance in order to win more votes. Now there are of course grey areas that can't be determined from the Bible, such as certain aspects of economic policy, but others don't move. The Bible is a tough plumbline and even by its own definition nobody has risen completely to its standards. This is very good news for voters who can hold the government up to its own immovable standard. What some may see as a yoke can work out as a blessing.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Can the DA Really Fix Crime?

Yesterday witnessed another armed robbery at a local "institution" in the KZN Midlands, the Wartburger Hof, an old German hotel/pub not far from where I live. Two were killed.

In light of this and the spate of crime that is by now an old story in South Africa, ask yourself: what does the DA have in mind that is very different to what the ANC are doing? Really, ask yourself. Sure, they'll talk about less corruption at the top level, better policing, less protection of the criminals, but these are largely soft issues that don't really send a clear message and take time to implement anyway.

And the other parties? Well, it's clear that ANC don't have a clue. IFP are the no-policy-party. PAC, Cosatu and the SACP probably fall along similar lines to the ANC.

Contrast this with the ACDP who have two radical policies... The death penalty for convicted murderers and labour/work for prisoners. On the first, the death penalty does indeed send out a clear message and on the latter, prison is currently a bed of roses. In my little town, the fences are broken, but the prisoners don't escape because they eat well, play soccer and watch TV, and keep their families with them. In other words, after being a burden on society through their crime, they continue to be a burden and contribute absolutely nothing. If the rest of society can be putting in some labour to put food on the table, then prisoners definitely can.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Social Gospel

The ACDP has always been known as a morally grounded party, standing strongly and even fiercely on a set of moral principles. While I support the moral stance entirely, we're all aware that preaching a few principles is not necessarily enough to convince voters that a party is ready to govern.

The emergence of the community and social upliftment agenda in the ACDP has thus been incredibly refreshing. I personally have been challenged by this issue over the last few months, and it appears I'm not the only one. The Biblical passage of Isaiah 58 talks about "true religion" being to feed the orphans and widows and set free the (spiritual) captives. Jesus Himself refers to helping the poor and when the apostle Paul left Jerusalem, it was recorded that they had one common urge: to remember the poor.

Of course, it's tricky to "help the poor" when you don't have a budget to work with, and in some senses the voting public will never know what the ACDP is capable of until they are in power. Here it is refreshing that the position of Deputy Mayor in Cape Town was nailed down, so that the party will have a chance to show its motives in serving the community.

Despite the restrictions, however, it emerged that the different ACDP provinces have been heavily involved in community activity. An annual competition is managed to see which of the provinces achieves top score from several points categories, including members signed up, by-elections contested (60% overall, second only to the ANC among the parties), biggest percentage vote achieved in a by-election and number of community projects involved in. My province, KZN were leading right up to the last month, when Western Cape dug into their reserves and pipped us, with Limpopo casting a shadow down in third place. KZN as the leader has its hand in 27 community projects.

There have been several ways to get involved in the community. Firstly, enter into cooperation with current church projects like orphanages and soup kitchens. This is a natural relationship, because much governmental community development is done with NGO projects. ACDP can bring in organisational experience and oversight that perhaps some volunteers lack. Secondly, some ACDP branches provide a process help service, so that someone who is having difficulty with a national department can receive help in processing paperwork and finding the right channels. Finally, the good old community clean-ups - don your ACDP tshirt and go out as a group and pick up litter on the highways. It costs nothing and gets visible publicity. Funnily enough, the ANC copies us as soon as they see us do it! Sure, it's marketing, but which kind of marketing do you prefer: a big money bilboard or some elbow grease?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

ACDP National Convention: A Ground-swell

I've just returned from Henley-on-Klip. Not from Oprah Winfrey's new school, although I did see it (looks like a modern office block). Actually, the 12-hour return trip was for ACDP's NAGC, or annual national convention.

I came away very encouraged - there was a lot of good news, some of which I'll be sharing over the next few days. More than that, I was just happy to listen and learn and to put my ear to the ground and hear what people are saying, thinking and feeling.

For me, the word that best describes the event is "ground-swell". In any conference like this, especially when votes are taken on potentially controversial issues like labour law, there is always chance for a bit of contention or bad feeling, especially when the attendants hail from so many different ethnic and economic backgrounds. In this light, I was stunned at the togetherness and unity in the party, with a sense of purpose in chasing one vision.

There was one amazing moment during one of Rev Meshoe's speeches, where he was discussing the fraud investigation of the Scorpions unit and how the announcement of allegations came a year after initial reports, timed perfectly as an attempted cover up of the investigations of Selebi. Rev Meshoe said boldly, "Enough is enough", and there was a massive roar from the crowd - a stadium type roar.

Truth is, there are many more than just ACDP supporters saying "Enough is enough". There is in fact a ground-swell of South Africans who are upset with the present system, but most feel that they are somehow powerless to react. In contrast, at this convention we were being presented with an alternative: a party that preserved traditional morals, that stood under the authority of the Bible rather than being a law to itself, and that had every intention of restoring good in this country.

I can still hear that roar...

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