- What’s trending in Holy Writ?
- Progressive Babel invents new universal rights
- Bashar Assad’s head (and other considerations)
- 4 times better than wretched
- Honest Broker?
- Designer gym routine
- Nuns and Social Workers
- Mandela the (yawn!) Commie Consort
- Cartoon Fever
- Transforming (yawn!) the Cosmos
- “Not a Christian view of God”?!
- How a new morality crushes the old
- From the vault: dubious educational distinction
- In praise of snark
- Sen. McCarthy’s Poetry Inquisition
- [Fill in the Blank], God help us
- Memory Eternal, Dad!
Certain portions of the right wing are exercised today about anybody having anything nice to say about Nelson Mandela. For instance:
Please STOP making comments about how wonderful Nelson Mandela was. He wasn’t the kind gentle old man the media, yes the media, makes him out to be. You might as well praise Osama bin Laden, Castro or Hitler. Please, read below on what this man did The hero of the anti-apartheid struggle was not the saint we want him to be.
The image of Nelson Mandela as a selfless, humble, freedom fighter turned cheerful, kindly old man, is well established in the West. If there is any international leader on whom we can universally heap praise it is surely he. But get past the halo we’ve placed on him without his permission, and Nelson Mandela had more than a few flaws which deserve attention.
He signed off on the deaths of innocent people, lots of them
(Punctuation or lack thereof in original) After initially calling “bullshit” (because a half-truth is a form of bullshit), I repaired to my treadmill, and as I walked, I thought.
Specifically, I thought about the notion that Nelson Mandela could not be a saint because he ordered the deaths of people. And I thought about who deserves death and who might mistakenly be thought to deserve death.
The forces against which Nelson Mandela fought – and frankly there is no sugar coating that he was a “militant activist” with all that implies – were white Calvinist proponents of apartheid. They were of Dutch ancestry.
In 1990, when Mandela was released from prison, I was a member of the church consisting largely of Dutch Calvinists. And in that era, if not in that exact moment (my memory of the sequence isn’t all that clear), we came under suspicion of harboring similar racist thoughts.
But as I pointed out at the time (and I was actually quoted on All Things Considered one evening, defending my Church in letter or e-mail), the Christian Reformed Church in North America had already condemned apartheid as a “heresy.” The Orthodox Church, which later allowed this sinner into its fold, has condemned apartheid’s cousin, phyletism, as a heresy.
Coincidentally, today is the feast of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is remembered among other things for having opposed the proto-heretic Arius at the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea, from which we got the first draft of the Nicene Creed. Arius denied the divinity of Christ, a doctrine which was not invented at the Council of Nicaea but which was affirmed in the face of the threat posed to Christ’s church by the heretic Arius. At one point in the proceedings (although the story is probably apocryphal), Nicholas became so indignant that he struck Arius in the face.
For this, he was stripped of his rank as Bishop and actually was confined in prison, perhaps with the intention of releasing him after the conclusion of the Council. But as the hagiography has it, key people experienced visions about him, and he was released from prison and returned to the Council, restored to the office of bishop.
Did I mention that this violent opponent of heresy is universally recognized as a saint?
On the wall in my icon corner is an icon of a man with very dark skin and very curly hair. It is the icon of St. Moses the Ethiopian. St. Moses was a violent thief and criminal, and I believe that he was guilty of murder, probably many times over. But he was radically converted, and went on to live an exemplary life. I believe that the story of his life concludes, ironically, with him being killed by a band of violent thiefs and criminals who were attacking the monastery of which he was the Abbot, and whose monks he was trying to protect by interposing his unresisting body.
So, dear right-wing, stop telling half-truths about Nelson Mandela. There was fear of extreme violence, whipped up by him, upon his release from prison in 1990. But he did something much more radical than that: he forgave.
I have no opinion on whether Nelson Mandela is a saint. As I write, I cannot even recall whether he professed the Christian faith.
But I do know that history is messy, repentance happens, and that Nelson Mandela is a historical figure remembered not for his “militant activism,” but for his role in truth, reconciliation – indeed, “Truth and Reconciliation” – and in moving his country forward dramatically during the last 23 years of his life.
May his memory be eternal!
* * * * *
“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)
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