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Disband the White Church!: A call for reconciliation


September 16, 2007
- Mimi Hollinger-Janzen

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — “Disband the White Church!” proclaims the cover of Xola Skosana’s book. Skosana, founder and lead pastor of Way of Life church, demands the end of racially-segregated churches in South Africa. He proposes that the white church dissolve and reemerge within the black church.

Skosana’s book tells of the pain of his people, the black South Africans in Khayelitsha township on the outskirts of Cape Town. Thirteen years after the fall of apartheid, South African reality still includes poverty, broken families, racism and struggles for liberation.

Tired of apologies, Skosana calls the white church to economic restitution, seeing this as the basis for any reconciliation. His fiery and prophetic words inspire hate, anger, bitterness, shock and accusations of mental illness from black and white Christians alike.

But his message has a different effect on some.

Meeting Skosana’s challenge head-on, Leon Oosthuizen –  pastor of the Vredelust Dutch Reformed church –  responded by literally putting his money where his mouth is. Oosthuizen initiated a partnership between Vredelust and Way of Life, including dialogue as well as economic restitution. Although still in its beginning stages, the relationship shows a way forward towards an integrated South African church body.

Skosana likens his relationship with Oosthuizen to that of Paul and Ananias. After receiving his vision on the road to Damascus, Paul was blind and dependent on Ananias to guide him. Ananias, scared and confused, didn’t know what was going on but obeyed God.

Paul puts his life in Ananias’ hands and trusts,” said Skosana, comparing Paul’s experience to his own, as he too enters a world he does not know.

“But there is a growing trust and relationship between [Oosthuizen and me],” said Skosana.

In his book, Skosana describes his country and its resources as a house which white people have occupied and black people have been trying to enter. Then, with the end of apartheid in 1994, the door opened. However, instead of rebuilding the cramped house with enough room for everyone, the status quo held.

Skosana wrote that in this house there are “whites inside, a few black people filling up the extra room and IF and WHEN there is one more room, then bring in more blacks, only ONE AT A TIME, let’s call it Black Economic Empowerment!”

He continued, “White Christians would sacrifice their last meal to ensure that blacks are ‘saved,’ converted, yet will not move a finger to see to it that they are economically empowered as well.”

For Skosana, genuine reconciliation must include economic restitution. But considering the history of polarization and the extent of hate existing in South Africa, he is convinced that it would take a “supernatural act of God” to bring about reconciliation.

But our God chooses to use people in his work, as difficult and uncomfortable as it may be, said Skosana.

So despite Skosana’s hesitations, he and Oosthuizen have met for the past 18 months to discuss different ways of doing church and how the church can change society.

Through dialogue, the focus changed from critiquing to trying to find the answers. Out of their conversation, the relationship spread to their congregations.

Members of Way of Life and Vredelust have visited each others’ congregations, participating as observers and worshippers. Praising God together through music is a common denominator, said Skosana.

The partnership has been especially meaningful for the young people at Vredelust, said Oosthuizen. With unlimited choices, many choose to leave South Africa and live elsewhere. Among those who stay, it is difficult to find their place and get involved in the community. The partnership “gives them a chance to contribute to the development of the country,” Oosthuizen said.

Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network workers in South Africa also relate to Way of Life Church. Witness workers Yvonne Snider-Nighswander and Dan Nighswander spent four weeks with Way of Life earlier this year and observed the relationship with the Vredelust Church first-hand.

“North Americans can walk with Black churches more easily than White South Africans,” says Nighswander, “but the hard road of reconciliation and restitution is one that the South African churches must walk together.” Snider-Nighswander adds, “The collaboration between these churches represents a growing trust and a commitment to finding a new way for Christians to relate across the racial divide that still dominates in this country.”

Vredelust assisted in providing computers and a full-time administrative assistant for Way of Life’s offices and the churches are planning a joint conference on mission building next year.

Skosana sees his role in the partnership as one of education. He has spoken at Vredelust several times, sharing his story to open eyes to a reality of which many are unaware.

“This is the place where I feel the most vulnerable,” said Skosana of the partnership. “It’s easier to shout from the pulpit. Relationship by its very nature has a way of making you feel vulnerable, but we trust that out of vulnerability will come some healing and real insight.”

Hear Pastor Skosana
Xola Skosana, pastor of Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha township, South Africa, preaches at Vredelust Dutch Reformed church which is developing a relationship with his own congregation. In this 54-minute message, Skosana discusses God’s call to South Africans, remarks about the information in his book and answers questions from the congregation.

Listen to the sermon (MP3)