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Archive for November 30, 2008

4 – Not what Jesus had intended…

Challenging AIDS

Everything must Change, Brian D. Mclaren

In a modest church building in a township near Capetown, South Africa, twenty -some local Pentecostal, charismatic, and Baptist pastors were seated in a circle. Two guest of paler hue were present as well. My local host, Johannes, and me. We had paper plates on our laps and coffee cups on the floor beside each chair…

One fellow, a handsome dark-skinned man in his early thirties (I’d guess), had been strangely silent so far in our conversation. He made eye contact with me, and as he did, I noticed how his brow was furrowed and his jaw tense. Was he afraid of something, perhaps angry?

“Do you want to say something?” I asked him.

“Yes, I have something I … need to say,” he began. He moved forward to the edge of his chair, elbows resting on knees. Slowly, his hands stretched open, and they remained extended like this until he was well into his impromptu speech. “Brothers, I am not a pastor. I am a health care worker. I do HIV/AIDS work in Khayelitsha.” At this everyone nodded. Known as as informal settlement to some, a squatter area to others, Khayelitsha is the third largest township in South Africa…

The young man continued, “You pastors are…” He hesitated as he raised one outstretched hand toward heaven. “You are causing much destruction in Khayelitsha. It reaches to the skies. I know you mean well, but you don’t realize that you cause devastation in th lives of the people among whom I work.”

Eyes widened, pastors shifted in their seats, and the young man continued, “You come to Khayelitsha every Sunday and you set up your tents, which is good, but I have listened to your preaching, and you are preoccupied with three thingsm and three things only. First, you constantly talk about healing. You tell people they can be healed of HIV, and some of them believe you, so they stop taking their medication. When they stop, they develop new resistant strains of the disease that don’t repsond as well to the medications, and they spread these tougher infections to other people, leaving them much sicker than they were before. Then you are always telling people they need to be born again, but after they’re born again on Sunday, they’re still unemployed on Monday.

They may be born again, but what good is that if their problems are the same as before? You know as well as I do that if they’re unemployed, they’re going to be caught up in the poverty web of substance abuse, crime and gangs, domestic violence, and HIV. What good is that? All this born-again talk is nothing but nonsense.”

At this, I could see some of the pastors bristling. I wondered if a shouting match would erupt, but the healthcare worker leaned a little farther forward, and the pastors constrained themselves a little longer.  “Then what do you do? After telling these desperately poor people to get born again and healed, they you tell them to tithe. You tell them to ‘sow financial seeds’ into your ministries and they will receive a hundredfold return. But you’re the only ones getting a return on their investment. You could be helping so much. You could motivate people to learn employable skills, you could teach them and help them in so many ways, but it’s always the same thing: healing, getting bron again, and tithing.

“Even the religious organizations that try to help people with HIV – most of them get US aid money, which only allows them to talk about abstinence and fidelity. They can’t even mention condoms, and as a result, a lot of people die. And most of you – you won’t talk about abstinence and fidelity, because they subject of sex is taboo among us. And so more people die.

“You know your problem? You Pentecostals and you evangelicals specialized. You specialized in healing, in getting people born again, in creating financially successful churches – but you need to go beyond that. It’s time to get a better message – something bigger than just those things. If you stop there, all your preaching is nonsense.”

Nonsense was the verbal grenade, lobbed a second time now, unleashing the pastors’ vigorous response. For the next twenty or thirty minutes, one pastor after another replied with impassioned speeches, testimonies, sermonettes. Some were fatherly; some were brotherly; some were stern; some were gentle. But each defended the fact that being born again and getting healed were biblical, which means they weren’t nonsense. We never got around to the subject of tithing.

The young man listened. As the older pastors spoke, respectfully gave them his full attention and didn’t defend himself with they used the words like “heresy” and “false doctrine” to discredit his words. When there was a lull in the conversation, he responded in a quiet but firm tone. “Brothers, I am not your enemy. I am your friend. I believe in Jesus. I am born again myself. I even speak in tongues, so I’m Pentecostal like most of you. I’m sorry I offended you by the word nonsense. But if you would simply teach them some practical things that relate to their daily lives, that could make such a big difference.”

Everything must change, pgs. 25-27


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