Theological Reflections: The Power of Dialogue: A Model for Discourse around Land Issues
A series of consultations conferences and workshops were done with the communities of people suffering as a result of unresolved land matters. A document was drawn spelling out the choice of the method of dialogue to engage farm owners and land dwellers and workers. The document proposes a model of dialogue between parties on land matters. A model of dialogue is found to be yielding much needed fruit. Ecumenical theology is also pertinent to this dialogue as a way of resolving differences and that can be applicable to resolving land matters at a local as well as a national political level. The land belonging to God in fact is a possession of all for mutual existence. Humans have, now and in the past, misunderstood this and have personalised access, use and ownership of land. The political, social and economic errors can be corrected to deal with questions of land distribution for human service; reconciliation; nation building; harmonious living, access, use and for the benefit of preservation for progeny.
Ecumenical theology of dialogue: A model of land matters discourse
One model of reaching common ground on many difficult issues and doctrines, approaches and methodologies which have dominated ecumenical relations since the late 1950’s has been that of dialogue. Dialogue rather than debate, using reason rather than falling back on ideological positions has been successfully employed in many ecumenical circles of theological, political, social and economic discourse. We get out inspiration from the fact that dialogue at the end of it all remains an instrument of final resolve in any dispute including that of land.
In ecumenical discourses, comparative ecclesiology has been superseded by Christological ecclesiology. Concerning churches’ political doctrines on land matters in ecumenical dialogues was concluded to be of political, social, cultural, economic and theological consequence. The ecumenical theological common ground is that the land and all that is in it belongs to God. No persons or generations of nations have a theological and therefore inherent political or economic right to private ownership of land. The land is for common human care, use and preservation as long as one lives for the common good of all one’s neighbours in service to Christ and the realisation of the reign of God on earth.
Historically and missiologically, in the Southern Hemisphere, colonial settlers and Missions have by and large colluded in dispossessing indigenous people of their land, corroding their cultures, undermining
their political structures and subjugating the indigenous people to conditions of slavery and serfdom. In South Africa today some of the land belonging to the Church has been obtained illegitimately in the past due to policies of, or agreements and unscrupulous collusion with Apartheid rulers as events unfolded from 1652 (arrival of Jan Van Riebeeck), through 1826 (Voortrekkers), 1848 (Apartheid in the Church), 1913 (Natives’ Land Act), and then from 1948 onwards (Apartheid laws are legislated), to 1994 (land reform).
And yet the ecumenical movement in KZN is a proponent of the model of dialogue in seeking an amicable resolution which is theologically based in consideration of the political and sophisticated economic context in which justice and peace on land matters must be propelled and advanced in our life time – God have mercy.
Ecumenical theology as IDiakonia – service on land matters
The task of the Church is an expression of God’s compassion as an essential dimension of God’s mission in the world – “that you may serve”. This idea of mission as God’s compassion for humanity applied on land matters could be taken to mean that humanity can well serve one another and in turn serve God by showing compassion in the distribution of land, access to land, reconstruction of human dignity, and assurance of life in abundance for all as promised by Christ Himself. It is conceptualised that land is a Gift of God to all humanity. Land is meant to be passed from one hand to another as humanity play their role of enjoying this privilege of land possession – as God has temporarily had compassion on humanity to do so in good will for the wellbeing of all. The land is meant for service to all humanity and not for personal profit.
Ecumenism and stewardship on land issues
The Church must be involved in the stewardship of the material resources of creation (Ferguson and Wright (eds.) 1988: 435)[I]. “This means encouraging a wise and harmonious use of the natural order created by God, by engaging in numerous aspects of conservation and elimination of pollution. The Church will point to the creator’s gift of life for all which implies renouncing greed, and a restrained enjoyment of material goods by all in such a way that future generations will find life sustainable on earth” (Ibid. 435). The depletion of the material resources and the insatiable human greed is unfortunate and regrettable. We may
well decide to restrain ourselves and save creation or well knowing continue on our ways and see the inevitable demise and catastrophe of the creation that God had gracefully and lovingly given to us.
The Church shall therefore not be found wanting in taking care of the earth, the land, God’s creation; by exonerating and absolving greed, dishonesty, insatiability, gluttony, voracity, self-indulgence and materialism amongst us. The role of the Church is to see to it that humanity is moderate, reasonable, sensible and conserving in the use of God’s gifts to humanity such as water, land and food. The justice of God must always prevail when it comes to issues of land distribution, despite concerns over land restitutions and claims which may not bring a lasting solution. Land must be seen as no guarantee for individuals but a blessing for all generations, past, present and future.
Ecumenism and reconciliation through dialogue on land matters
“[The Church] has a responsibility to show what it means in practice to be a reconciled and liberated community in the midst of a corrupt, distressed and despairing world … The Church is to be both a sign and an agent of God’s purpose to create a new order where [‘His’] peace and justice will reign” (Ibid.435). These statements can be demonstrated by being principled, and truthful when addressing the land issue here in South Africa and everywhere where access and use of natural resources is a cause of contention. A formidable project of nation building and lasting reconciliation and peace can be built on a legitimate programme of responsible access to land and productive use of land for national wellbeing and preservation for future generations. (A fuller theological Reflection is available).
The process of theologisation is a continuum. In the this conclusion the process goes on only that in this short discourse we have reflected on the Power of Dialogue as a Model which can make a contribution is redressing the questions on land matters. The ecumenical theology of dialogue is recommended as a way of entering the discourse of resolving challenges pertaining to land questions. The ecumenical theology of diakonia is the service that dialogue can offer in the terrain of seeking to sort out human rights abuse on the land. The ecumenical theology of stewardship encourages humanity to take care of one another, progeny and the one earth the only gift of God for all without discrimination. And the ecumenical theology of reconciliation is the only soteriological hope in Jesus Christ our Lord and God.
[I] Ferguson, S. B and D. F. Wright (1988) New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press