The church should act as an agent of human rights within society. This is according to Prof Gräb was presenting a paper to SMMS students and staff entitled Human Dignity and Human Rights in the Light of the Gospel, under the Ubunye Programme for Reconciliation and Humanitarianism, a programme of the Khoza Mgojo Centre for Social Justice and Transformation.

“The church has the obligation to work in the public arena, following the original impulse of Jesus who liberated the people from suffering under oppression, injustice, and social exclusion. The main challenge of the church in South Africa, as is in Germany is to become a relevant agent in society. The church has to encounter the difficult situations with which people are confronted daily,” Prof Gräb said.

One of the tasks of the church acting as part of civil society, he said, should be to support the National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which goes back to the 2001 “Durban Declaration” of the United Nations.

He said, “The NAP indicates that preventing these ills is a multidimensional challenge and any effective preventive agenda must recognise the key roles of a diversity of actors. The church should be engaged on the basis of the Christian values corresponding to human rights. As a part of civil society the church should increasingly take on the role of supporting policy makers, advancing advocacy and assisting the poor in articulating their needs. The UN requires that governments tap into this expertise in developing and implementing laws, regulations, policies and actions directed at the prevention of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Prof Gräb also referred to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s theology as one of humanitarianism based on an anthropological interpretation of the gospel: “The African worldview of Ubuntu together with the idea that all human beings are made in God’s image found in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian understanding of the unconditioned justification of the sinner, altogether represent for Tutu an integral and cosmopolitan humanitarianism.”

He ended by quoting from the statement of the Methodist Church affirming the United Nations principles relating to global racism and xenophobia.

He said, “In the light of the gospel, the church reaffirms the principles of equality and non-discrimination in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and encourages respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political, or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.”