Rev Prof Peter Storey ‘begged to differ’ with the status quo. He was a non-conformist and a ‘candlelight that protested against the darkness of apartheid.’
This is how the South African Council of Churches (SACC) Senior Vice President and Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) International President, Rev Dr Frank Chikane described his fellow anti-apartheid activist when he delivered the eighth annual Peter Storey Lecture, on 10 May.
“Storey was called into ministry during the darkest time in South Africa when the racist apartheid system was being brutally enforced again the black majority, causing untold harm, pain and suffering. The challenges of the context within which he had to minister called upon him to be like a ‘candle-light’ which stood as a ‘protest’ against the ‘darkness of the night’. He stood in that dark moment as a ‘non-conformist’ in terms of the traditions and stance of the Church at that time, and boldly said to the darkness, ‘I beg to differ.’
“During that time, if you were white, you were expected to conform to the status quo. Storey boldly said to the darkness: ‘I beg to differ.’ He listened to his ‘human consciousness’ in the face of the brutality of the apartheid system and acted where he was expected to act to stop that brutality. What is radical about what he did is that he went beyond the ‘immediate material interests’ of ‘whiteness,’” Dr Chikane said.
He said Prof Storey’s ‘historical praxis’ leapfrogged him from the normal dispensation of ‘white innocence,’ in the sense of unquestioning acceptance of the racist construct of reality to a ‘dispensation of conscience’ where the Spirit of God strives with humanity to be what God wanted humanity to be, causing him to fall out with some white members of his congregation.
Dr Chikane said, “He begged to differ with some of the members of his congregation with the result that a significant group of white congregants rejected his approach and left his church. The Church family that remained found a ‘painful togetherness’ and began to look more like God’s future for South Africa.
“Storey did something close to what Amilcar Cabral defined as a kind of “class suicide.’ This involves listening to one’s ‘revolutionary consciousness’ and the ‘culture of revolution’ rather than acting on its ‘immediate material interests’ as a social class.”
He narrated numerous incidences in which Prof Storey and other activists ‘begged to differ’ and became ‘witnesses-in- chief’ for the Church and the SACC.
Following in the footsteps of Prof Storey and other activists of his generation, Dr Chikane said the SACC begged to differ with the democratically elected government in 2017 when it was clearly following a trajectory that would lead the country to its own destruction, and declared it ‘morally illegitimate.’
He sent a stern warning to the defenders of state capture and the re-elected ANC: “I would like to warn those who intend to continue to defend the capture of the State and the shocking levels of rot that is coming through the various commissions. In the name of the Lord, they will not succeed as the nation has woken up to understand what their mission was about. I would like to warn them that they can only hurt themselves further if they try to persist in defending this indefensible and immoral project. I would like to warn those who have committed crimes or have been involved in this rot not to act in a suicidal way because of fear of going to jail. I plead with you not to bring down the government of the people together with them because you do not want to face the might of the law. This will not be allowed, and, can only add to the number of charges you will be facing.
“I would like to warn the members of the ANC that they have the last chance to save their organisation and the country by becoming the first line of defence and root out the deep rot that is in the organisation. You are warned that preserving the unity of the ANC at the expense of the people will only lead to the demise of the ANC. The ANC cannot maintain its unity by doing everything possible to keep the rotten potatoes with the good, as the good will ultimately rot as well. Remove the rotten potatoes, clean the good potatoes and save yourselves and the nation. If the members of the ANC fail to clean up their house which affect all of us, then the people of this country must be the next line of defence.
He ended by encouraging the Church to continue the tradition of Prof Storey and his compatriots and beg to differ with injustice.
“For the Church, I would like to say that you cannot, but beg to differ when evil abounds. It is your Gospel imperative and the only way to remain the Church of Christ. As the Church of Christ you can only be a protest candle light in the midst of darkness, the darkness of midnight. You can only be the salt of the earth to prevent the decay that is happening.
“The Church of Christ has not become what the Lord died for, and what the Lord expected it to be. The Church has become more of a reflection of the brokenness of society which the Lord died for. The Church has become the macrocosm of all these realities. As Peter was the Apostle to the Jews and Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, we need an Apostle to the Church of Christ to help it rediscover this mystery that was revealed to Paul,” Dr Chikane concluded.
In response to the Lecture, Prof Storey praised Dr Chikane and clergymen like Beyers Naudé who, he said, paid the highest price because they came from churches that rejected them.
He warned that religious people can do so much harm to God. “The only way politicians can be transformed is by a church that is not captured. The most important gift we, as church, can offer the world is to be different from it,” he said.