It struck me once again this morning how idealistic much of our South African dialogue around transformation can be. On my way to a meeting I was listening to a radio debate (is that the sound of my street cred card being revoked?) around transformation of the judiciary.
The details of the debate were almost irrelevant; change the topic to another similar transformation issue, insert the appropriate terminology and you could have the same debate tomorrow.
Two particular responses stand out for me:
1. Force them to transform:
This is quite common among those who have been previously disadvantaged (to use the ridiculously convoluted politically correct term) who despite years of hard work and honest effort are still faced with the fact that white people control most of the wealth and economic opportunities in South Africa. If they will not change – then make them change! It is the government’s job to force them to share!
There are definitely days that I agree with this sentiment and there is much to commend it. But, besides the potential social fall-out of bitterness and division, this kind of transformation is shallow. It may transform the outward behaviour but it has not changed the heart. It may force a man to share but cannot make him want to share. It may, in fact, have the opposite effect resulting in deepened racial hatred and increased self-preservation. Compulsion may have the desired outward effect but even then rather than a spirit of giving and nation-building (to use another over-used phrase) it breeds as an unwanted side effect a focussing of energies, not on self-sacrifice and generosity, they rather on devising ways to “cheat the system” for “our” benefit.
2. It is the right thing to do:
This attitude goes something like this, people must change because it is the right thing to do. This might seem strange because I agree that it is the right thing to do. But why is it the right thing to do? Why in the world should a rich white man share his hard-earned (he did work hard for it albeit in a system that favoured him) material wealth or creative capital with a poor, ill-educated black woman who possibly does not even speak English? Why should he take from his children in order to give to another man’s children? Why would anyone disadvantage his own people in order to advantage another people?
Transformation only makes sense to me in the light of the gospel. The gospel story of Jesus, who though he is profoundly not like us, gives up all his heavenly privilege for us. Jesus who does not hoard his treasure but instead gives up his own body to rescue undeserving sinners. Jesus who lays down all the riches of heaven in order to bring all the riches of heaven to us. Jesus who not only lays down his rights but who takes up his enemies and adopts them into his family.
It is only as I follow this Jesus; as I stake my life on this gospel that I not only want to see change but I rejoice to share my resources with those not like me. The gospel transforms not just the outward behaviour but the heart. The gospel is far deeper and richer than much of what passes for transformation today. When the gospel is at work we no longer have to settle for only a superficial transformation but now a deep and beautiful transformation is at work. The gospel redefines “those like me” – it is not race or economics but together we may all stand as sons and daughters of the Most High God.
Gospel transformation is not glamorous or high-profile. It is less concerned with what the president or constitutional court are doing. They can only control the superficial acts of transformation but thousands of ordinary Christians following Jesus everyday in the simple, loving acts of brotherhood can slowly and in weakness begin to transform a community.