Steve de Gruchy Memorial Lecture at UKZN

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Professor John de Gruchy (front, third right) with
SRPC staff at the third Steve de Gruchy Memorial

The University of Cape Town’s Professor John de Gruchy presented the third annual Steve de Gruchy Memorial Lecture focusing on the church as an agent of peace.

The Lecture was hosted by the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC) and titled: “Poo-Protests and Olive Theology”.

De Gruchy, father of the late Professor Steve de Gruchy who died in a boating accident in the Mooi River in 2010, suggested that it was both an appropriate and contested topic. ‘It is appropriate because it was a subject of concern for Steve ever since, in his late teens, he became aware of the peace-making imperative of the Christian faith. This led him to becoming a conscientious objector and informed much of his life. The topic is also appropriate because we live in a violent era in global history.’

Referring to the South African situation with the high number of crimes against humanity and the fears of violent outbreaks as the struggle for power escalates during the run-up to the 2014 general election, de Gruchy said: ‘The role of the church as an agent of peace in association with other religious organisations and institutions should not simply be an academic exercise. It is an important topic that requires critical reflection informed by all the knowledge and wisdom we can muster,’ he said

‘In this regard, it is important for religious organisations, and especially for the church, to critically reflect on the peace agency, and also how this relates to reconciliation.’

He said Steve’s mission was to represent the struggles of the weak and to seek peace, justice and reconciliation – of which the olive branch was a metaphor.

A recent example was the “poo-protests” in the Cape. Resonating with a lecture by Steve on the connection between “sewerage” and theology that sides with the weak and marginalised, this incident took place in the context of a lack of toilet systems for the poor.

He added that Steve recognised that these problems did not only confront governments, city councils, engineers, health workers and town planners; they also challenged theologians and were of critical importance for the witness of the church. The outcome, for Steve, was his work on what he called an “olive theology”.

De Gruchy said: ‘If the church is to be an agent of peace in a violent world it has to learn how to counter the power-hungry greed of the one hand, and enable the birthing and fulfilment of the promise of peace of the other. But in doing so it will often find itself in the uncomfortable position between the rock of those who protest, sometimes violently, and the hard place of those who maintain law and order.

‘It will be confronted by the unsettling question of “whose peace” we are talking about, protecting or advocating. The theological answer is the peace that God gives, i.e. where justice and peace embrace each other. This peace is God’s will of justice for the world, and therefore God’s gift which makes life possible for humans and the whole of creation. In this regard, the church is called to speak truth to power. And if the church wants to speak truth to power, the church has to listen to the powerless.’

He pointed out that churches beyond the borders of informal settlements needed to be more aware of the inhumane conditions in which people were forced to live by circumstances beyond their control.

‘They have to look and listen carefully before speaking, or assuming that they can speak, and listen not least to the church communities that are present in informal settlements. Only then has the church the right to be critical of protest actions that are misguided, turn violent and become counter-productive. And only then can the church become a peace-maker in situations of conflict.’

He further highlighted that to be an agent of peace the church needed to develop ways and means to educate its members and clergy to be disciples who were peace-makers, and could therefore as Jesus said, truly be ‘called the children of God’(Matthew 5:9).