John Scheepers, from Hope City Presbyterian Church, is dedicated to developing a holistic, theological, and cross-centred response to racial and economic injustice within the South African context.
Facing the Challenges to Build a More Harmonious South Africa.
“I see persisting structural and economic inequality in South Africa as one of the biggest challenges we face. We have removed the laws of apartheid from our law books of our country but the spirit of apartheid lives on and our country is still profoundly shaped by the geography, the structures, the power systems and the economics of apartheid.”
“Apartheid (and colonialism before it) was a deliberate, intentional, well thought out system to achieve particular (evil) ends. How can we possibly think we can begin to eradicate its legacy in South Africa without a similarly deliberate, intentional, well thought actions to reverse the structural and economic effects of apartheid?”
“We have tried to fix this at an individual level but the problem with this is that racism and the racialization of society operate at a level far deeper and broader than simply the individual level. The individual level may well be an excellent starting point and in many ways, it could be said to be the correct starting point. But in no way, can it be the ending or complete journey.”
“The other problem with individualized solutions is that they work on networks of relationships for access to and knowledge of opportunities. And depending on where you grew up your network of access to opportunities is most likely radically different. Thus, by advocating for an individualized solution we can perhaps unintentionally end up entrenching and perpetuating the racial and economic inequality, precisely because economic inequality largely runs along racial lines in South Africa today.”
Engaging in the Process of Change
John believes that this is a multi-faceted, deep and far-reaching issue which no one individual or organisation can provide the total cure for. “We need all of us working with the tools and the expertise which we have at our disposal to tackle these issues from every angle. I am a theologian convinced of the real hope that the gospel offers for substantive and deep change at individual, communal and structural level. These are the skills and convictions that I bring to the table. I am not primarily an economist, a social worker, an educator or even an activist.”
“My role, though, is to shape the Gospel lens through which the economist views the world to such an extent that the way they do economics is radically altered and reshaped in the light of the Gospel.”
He also believes that the church has largely failed to teach people to engage in society beyond individual ethical behaviours. “I do want an honest property developer but more significantly I want a Gospel centred property developer who models in his work, Jesus, who laid down his rights in order to serve us, to redeem and restore us and invite us into his beautiful, world transforming kingdom.”
Taking the Lead on The Way Forward
“Again, I cannot speak for other church traditions or other organisations but my particular theological tribe is conservative evangelical and our recent history over the past 100-150 years have been some of the worst in terms of working for justice. Much of it has hidden behind a supposed neutrality or non-worldly spirituality which, while claiming to be apolitical, has in fact, by default, chosen to uphold the status quo of injustice and oppression. This theology has been shaped by our Western influenced over-individualized culture which can only understand sin and faith in individual terms and thus cannot see that not only are we sinful people but we have created deeply flawed and broken structures which maintain and perpetuate our sin and injustice.”
“Our actions have been profoundly shaped by our inadequate theology and therefore, in order to change, we must interrogate, and if necessary reshape our theology. We must go back to Scripture with fresh eyes, listening to different voices and asking the hard, contextual questions of it. Out of a renewed and more Biblical theology must flow a new way of being the church in the world.”
“To this end I am currently in the beginning stages of setting up a new ministry venture, the Isiphambano Centre for Biblical Justice, a study and training centre dedicated to developing a holistic, theological, and cross-centred response to racial and economic injustice within the South African context. This is our attempt to articulate a theologically robust vision of cross-centred and contextual justice for South Africa.”
More about John Scheepers
“My South African story is a bit unique in some ways in that I grew up being exposed through the work of Scripture Union, among others, to friendships across racial and economic barriers. This rich exposure to different people and communities meant that I came to understand South Africa in a very atypical way for a white working-class boy in the 80’s and early 90’s. At the same time, I was a young Christian, growing in my faith and working out my theology within a diverse and dynamic community of Christians, deeply concerned for both the propagation of the gospel and for justice and reconciliation in South Africa. Justice and faith have, in a sense, grown up together, sometimes uneasily, in my life each in turn informing and nourishing the other.”