Thirty years have passed since the Kairos Document was signed and given to the world as witness to the turmoil, injustice, and coming crisis in Apartheid-controlled South Africa. That country is still far from perfect. But then so is our own country, yes?
The time has come. The moment of truth has arrived. South Africa has been plunged into a crisis that is shaking the foundations and there is every indication that the crisis has only just begun and that it will deepen and become even more threatening in the months to come. (Kairos Document, 1985)
Thirty years have passed since the Kairos Document was signed and given to the world as witness by some of the churches in South Africa to the turmoil, injustice, and coming crisis in Apartheid-controlled South Africa. This past month, a conference was held in Johannesburg to mark the anniversary of this document. My friend, John de Gruchy, was invited to give the daily meditations during that event, and he was kind enough to send them along to me and other friends who could not be present at that conference.
This is not the place to give a detailed history of those times. But in short, in 1985 a State of Emergency was declared by the ruling, conservative government resisting the rising tide of Black Consciousness and calls for past and current injustices against black and colored peoples to be righted – one way or another. And as I read John’s meditations, I remembered seeing a film years ago that had vividly portrayed those times of violence against minorities. I remembered the name Biko. Searching the internet, I found the film Cry Freedom starring Denzel Washington as Steve Biko and Kevin Kline as the young, white and liberal newspaper editor, Donald Woods.
I watched the film that evening, and was again very affected by its true depiction of the suffering of the native blacks, the development of a rich and deep friendship between Woods and Biko, the incarceration and final murder of 30-year-old Biko while in custody, Wood’s exposure of corruption and criminality of the government officials who were responsible for what had become a police state — sanctioning Biko’s murder — the government banning of Woods, and finally his and his family’s dramatic escape to England. During his flight, Woods was able to smuggle out a manuscript he had written mostly in longhand, a book finally published under the title Biko – the complete detailing of all the horrors of the Apartheid system, including the murder not only of Biko, but also of many other black activists who had died mysteriously while in police custody.
As John noted in his meditations, South Africa is undeniably different today than it was in 1985 when Mandela was still imprisoned, and better off now than in 1994 when a democratic vote was opened for all citizens and a new day dawned in that land. Of course the country is still far from perfect. But then so is our own country, yes? In fact, we still live in desperate times, dangerous times in a world shrunken by Internet communication and instant messaging, where terrorists are recruited through slick Facebook images, where hordes of fleeing refugees from Africa and the Middle East flood West European shores, and small children drown before the eyes of the world.
In one of the first meditations of the Kairos Conference, John refers to the concept of Kairos itself. The word usually refers to a sense of God’s eternal “time,” or Now, intersecting with our worldly, everyday sense of chronological time. When Jesus announced at the beginning of his mission that “the Kingdom of God has come near,” He was referring to a sense of God’s inbreaking and disrupting of ordinary time with the good news of salvation at hand for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see what was happening in their midst. And Jesus preached His prophetic words at a time when Palestine was under oppressive Roman rule. He speaks the same word to us today. If you read the daily papers, if you watch the news at night, if you witness protests in the streets, if you have eyes to really see and ears to really hear what’s going on, you may be moved to speak out in the cause of justice – not just for some but for all.
Let me close this with an eloquent quote from one of John’s meditations. He says:
To celebrate God’s kairos is to keep on believing this good news, to claim this promise, to commit ourselves afresh to this task, and to warn of the judgment which follows when we fail to grasp God’s moment. We listen to Jesus and the prophets not because they once spoke, but because they still speak. We celebrate the Kairos Document because it keeps that memory and hope alive in this place and in many places. For it is the possession of all in every place and every faith, and even those of no faith, who recognize the authenticity of its witness to God’s justice and peace. To miss this opportunity is to condemn future generations to continued misery and hopelessness.
So here is my suggestion. Watch the film Cry Freedom, even if you already saw it when it came out in 1987. I guarantee that you will be moved by it. And then ask, “Who is Biko today?” And pray for courage to speak out in some way or another against injustice when it happens on your own streets and in your own town. Exercise your civic duty and conscience by voting, thanking God that you live in a place of comparative freedom that allows you to do that very thing. And hope for the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom to come ever more clearly into view. “For today is God’s time, today is a new kairos to be grasped, a moment of judgment but also, and above all, a time for hope and redemption for us all, for the bondage of any keeps us all in bondage.”
Thank God for the Bikos of the world!