Linking faith and justice
At ANNO DOMINI, we encourage a life of praxis, a life committed to reflecting upon our world - its underlying values, dominantly upheld narratives and our own blind spots - and act accordingly.
How we relate and engage with the world around us is largely influenced by the ideas and beliefs we hold regarding our world. These ideas could be conscious and reflected upon, but most times they are not. Professor and theologian Stephan Beers and colleague Venter note that “Every person has a theology, whether or not she is conscious of it”. Our theology is a frame of reference for all our thinking, feeling and acting in the world.
Building on the work of other scholars, philosopher and Catholic theologian Joe Holland, together with his colleague, researcher and speaker Peter Henriot, presented the model of a pastoral cycle, which provides a framework for Christian praxis. This cycle is made up of four moments, which move practitioners from immersion to social analysis, from theological reflection to pastoral planning. Immersion is about being immersed in a particular context or environment. Immersion requires us to be vulnerable and be known, even as we seek to know.
If the first stage of the praxis cycle is an exercise in self-awareness, the second point of social analysis broadens this analytical eye towards the whole social system. This stage is important as it explores the historical and structural parallels to a situation. Holland and Henriot (1983:27) highlight the primary components of social analysis, namely “race, sex, age, class, ethnicity, religion, geography etc”. These are uncomfortable truths to bear witness to, and yet the two authors caution against overlooking them, as this would “bypass the total picture of reality”. This reality acknowledges that the intersection of these various divisions lead to people being affected differently by societal circumstances or any other given situation. This, again, assists us to see past a problem’s symptoms into its roots, (Thandi Gamedze, 2019), giving us a better sense of where we should be directing our attention when we finally do reach the action phase.
The third stage of the pastoral or praxis cycle is theological reflection, which subjects our reflections on ourselves and the historical and structural systems under the light of Scripture and other theological sources. What are the religious beliefs around race? What does the Bible say about women? What did Jesus, the prophets or the psalmists say about the impoverished? How did the church respond to slavery or apartheid in the past? Theological reflection assists us to understand and unpack all of our knowledge within the context of our faith.
Finally, we act. The last stage of the cycle is the response to all the previous components of the cycle. The purpose of social analysis and reflection is to enable one to craft a response which will be most effective not only in the short term but also in the long term. Once decisions have been made and actions have been taken, new questions are raised which call for further analysis and theological reflection, calling again for a fresh turn through the cycle.
In South Africa and much of Africa, our cities remain divided and unequal. There are the haves and have-nots, and the lack of redress of colonial and apartheid legacies is the unwillingnes to look beyond the surface of our present issues toward the roots. We continue to encourage our faith community to resist the dehumanising nature of dominant theologies, narratives and ideas, and instead engage curiosity toward ourselves and the world, so that we can collectively imagine our world different.
De Beer, S., Venter, D. n.d. Doing theology in the city: Workbook one. Institute for Urban Ministry.
Gamedze, T. 2020. Leadership in Urban Transformation. Cape Town.
Holland, J., and Henriot, P. 1983. Social Analysis: Linking faith and justice. Australia. Dove Communications.
Manzini, S. 2019. Leadership in Urban Transformation. Cape Town.