I have been intending to write a nice, in-depth essay comparing two Christian pastors who have recently caught the attention of the world. Unfortunately, I have neglected the task and the timeliness is fading. As a compromise, allow me to at least juxtaposition the two and perhaps spur some critical thinking.
In one corner, we have Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, USA who made news for his pledge to host an event to burn copies of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
In the other corner, we have Xola Skosana from Hope for Life Ministry in Khayalitsha, the largest black township in Cape Town, South Africa who attracted controversy for his sermon entitled, “Jesus had HIV.”
The stated purpose of Pastor Jones was to fight back against Islam, which he labels a violent religion. He eventually cancelled the event after intense international pressure, including an unprecedented phone call from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Supposedly, a local imam promised that the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero would be moved.
Pastor Skosana’s intention was to address the stigma of HIV in African townships and popularize testing. At the conclusion of his sermon, he took a blood test in front of his congregation. While South Africa is at the top of the list in HIV infections, Khayalitsha doubles even these astronomical numbers.
While I will necessarily leave out a number of important factors relating to each pastor and church (this is a blog after all), let’s give a cursory examination to each pastor’s position.
Methodologically, each pastor is purposefully outrageous in order to attract attention. Both conclude with a physical act as a culmination, a textbook call to action. Their intended audiences are different. Pastor Skosana presented the sermon that would speak to his congregation, to the local community. Pastor Jones was sending a message to the world. It would seem that he was hoping for grand attention.
Pastor Jones idealizes the angry Jesus that cleared the temples and flipped the tables of the money changers. This Jesus is righteous and seeks justice, clearing out the promised land for his people. Pastor Skosana loves the Jesus that took compassion on the people and healed the sick; take any number of lepers or the apocryphal Adulterous Woman of John for example.
Those against the Pastor Skosana emphasize the divine nature of Jesus. This Jesus is sacrosanct, holy. The Bible never states that Jesus actually had leprosy. Nevertheless, it does portray Jesus as speaking and acting against the marginalization of lepers, etc. Neither does it state that he burned scrolls from pagan religions.
Ecclesiologically, Pastor Skosana believes in an open and inclusive church. He desires to show the church as welcoming and mimic Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized. Pastor Jones is in battle mode. He sees the church on the apocalyptic battlefield with evil.
Societal trends of Pluralism and Globalism play a key role here. Leslie Newbigin and David Bosch (fitting to bring in a South African) are instructive. Unfortunately, as my books are in boxes 10,000 miles away; my accuracy may be lacking. Newbigin wrote prolifically about the proper way for the church to function in a pluralistic society. Bosch’s magnum opus described the historical paradigms of the church. In it, some churches with good intentions get stuck defending a particular interpretation of church that lacks relevance in a new paradigm.
One can’t help but notice that the detractors of Pastor Skosana would likely support Pastor Jones and vice versa.
The two of them together ask us a question: which represents Jesus more fully in our world? As a church member, which would you rather follow?
As I was contrasting the two in my mind, I entered a classroom at Habelgaarn Primary School in South Africa. Scrawled on the wall in bold black letters was graffiti pleading, “Lord, please murder my enimies” (sic). It reminded me of the Anne LaMotte line about the folly of people whose god hates the same people they hate.