South Africa finds itself in a very unique situation, to put it bluntly, South Africa is a pre-Christian country enjoying many Christian benefits, and yet is thinking like a post-Christian country.
The reason I say South Africa is pre-Christian is because we have never had Biblical Christianity as a major force in the country. The type of Christianity that we do see is very much meshed with traditional religions and locked in forms of superstition. These days ‘pastors’ are promising to do the same thing that a sangoma (witch doctor) do. Furthermore, many people don’t find any contradiction between being a church member and going to a sangoma.
The other part of Christianity in this country seems to be tied to nationalism; it has been used in the past to try to condone organised racism- while anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Bible knows this to be impossible.
Another interesting aspect of South Africa is that the ruling party is aligned with two ‘communist parties’, the party itself being a somewhat communist party in its policies, however, the ANC does not mind naming Christ. Often the president will use the name of Jesus to further his cause (while in another breath he threatens people with ancestors). The president even spoke at one of the major so-called churches in the country not long ago. Yet, at the same time, he continues (as does his party), to promote totally unchristian and unloving policies, i.e.: Abortion, homosexual marriages, closed market, state control of schools etc.
In a nutshell, biblical, conservative Christianity has not impacted South Africa, and in fact has not had the presence it has had at one stage in other nations.
What are some of the results of this weak Christianity in a still somewhat pagan land? Well for one thing, unlike other places where culture was often sifted through the grid of Scripture and what was left became the predominant culture, in South Africa often things work the other way, culture seems to trump faith. Culture is often the ongoing reason for disobeying Scripture. Issues like punctuality, theft, lying, hatred, racism and adultery often go unhindered despite the presence of some Christian ethic.
Furthermore, democracy is very slow to mature. People’s minds still run along racial and traditional lines. Since the Reformation was in a major way the driving force and foundation of Democracy it is to be expected that without that same reformation impetus by the Christian Church, democracy and the values it espouses and promulgates will be slow to come as well.
Another manifestation of this is the high unemployment rate in South Africa, 25% of the labour force is without jobs, which makes SA’s unemployment rate among the highest[i]. While studies have shown that Protestant countries have lower unemployment rates than none-protestant countries[ii].
One last observation, it is widely accepted that the majority of South Africans are not pro-homosexual marriages, and quite possibly are pro-life (against abortion), however that same majority does not vote in government that reflects its moral views. Thus there is a government that does not reflect the majority of South Africans on some important moral issues.
What does it all mean?
It’s hard to pin point what this means for the future of South Africa. Some countries like Japan seem to have succeeded in imitating protestant countries (namely America in this case) in a cultural way, and thus adopted much by way of work ethic and so forth. There is a good chance however, that since South African’s are striving to make things work on their own, instead of building on the foundation of Scripture, that collapse may be inevitable, no matter which of the liberal parties are voted in.
In the end, the hope for South Africa is the same hope that any other country has; the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Christian men and women stand up for the renown and fame of Christ, preach and live the gospel, and are unashamed, real change is possible. Our hope cannot be in political pragmatism, nor in moral regeneration (who says what’s moral without God?). The only hope is that God would show mercy and save many for His Name sake. And Christian, you must be a part of that. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12)”
[i] http://www.fin24.com/Economy/SA-unemployment-rate-among-worlds-highest-20110504. Accessed 2011-05-25
[ii] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2566736.ece. Accessed 2011-05-25