When the battle to defeat South Africa's racial segregation policy called apartheid was under way in the 1970s and '80s, I was not aware of the role that interfaith cooperation was playing.
Allan Boesak (pictured here) clued me and others in on that aspect of the struggle earlier this week when he spoke at St. Paul School of Theology. Boesak, currently a visiting scholar at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, was a deeply involved (and controversial) activist against apartheid along with Nelson Mandela and others.
Boesak told the gathering at St. Paul that the real battle against apartheid began in the 1970s with "a whole generation's refusal to proceed as if nothing was wrong."
And that generation included not just Christians but Muslims, Jews and others who joined to stand against this evil system.
At one point, he said, he was one of 19 marchers protesting the death of a young man shot to death by authorities in the June 1976 Soweta Uprising. He had expected many more to show up and march but there were only 19, including two Christian clergy (Boesak and one other man) and two Muslim imams, plus a young Jewish woman who represented South Africa's Jewish community.
They all were arrested crossing a bridge and put in the same prison cell for the rest of the day. There, he said, they shared the one sandwich and one chocolate bar that someone had brought.
"For the first time that day," he said, "I discovered that Christians and Muslims and Jews. . .could come together to stand up for justice."
These three faiths -- as well as other major world religions -- share many of the same values and can be much more effective when combatting social, political or economic injustices if adherents from each group work together in common cause.
At times, of course, religious organizations themselves are part of the problem, as was the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa for so many years. And when religious groups are the problem, interfaith cooperation is even more important.
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A CHURCH LEADER'S DAUGHTER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The daughter of the newly chosen archbishop of Canterbury struggles with depression, and her story is one all people of faith would do well to take seriously so we know better how to love and support people with her disease. Good for her that she's willing to talk openly about it.