A South African clergyman who helped end apartheid leveled a mix of harsh and congratulatory words at the Christian church in his homeland and in the United States during the annual William R. Laws Peacemaking Lecture.
The Rev. Allan Boesak, 69, spoke Saturday afternoon to an audience of about 120 at Columbus’ North Christian Church.
Boesak repeatedly stressed in an hour-long message that justice comes only through courageous sacrifice and “a very costly discipleship.”
The local lecture series is part of the work of First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, where the late Rev. William R. Laws was a civil rights champion. Boesak’s message, sponsored by 20 area organizations and agencies, was titled “Bridge to Reconciliation, Justice, and Global Peace: From South Africa to Indiana.”
“If Jesus had to give up his own life then what makes us think that, in doing the work of reconciliation, we can get away with anything less than that?” Boesak said.
Boesak is in the middle of a four-year position as the Desmond Tutu Chair of Global Peace, Justice and Reconciliation Studies for Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary, both in Indianapolis.
In the 1980s, Boesak helped lead South Africa’s campaign against apartheid, a form of segregation that curtailed the rights of the country’s black majority for 50 years. He served as a top official with the African National Congress. And he also worked closely with South African President Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, a retired Anglican archbishop and South African social rights activist.
In Boesak’s opening remarks, he told his audience he knew of Columbus because he was aware that then-Cummins Engine Co. leaders had investigated expanding to South Africa in the 1970s. Cummins leaders eventually decided that various forms of racism in South Africa would make it impossible to do business there.
The clerical leader said while the church played a key role in ending apartheid, it also has worked against justice and rights issues with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community in South Africa.
He mentioned that the current, rising crime of “corrective rape,” in which non-heterosexual people are hunted and physically abused and violated, “is what American fundamentalism has brought to South Africa.”
Columbus’ Julia Stumpff, a leader with the Inclusive Community Coalition, asked Boesak what her organization can do to promote justice for the LGBTQ community here.
“You must campaign even harder than you have done before,” Boesak said near the end of a lengthy response. “These are precious children of God.”
His comments drew applause from many in the audience, which included members of First Presbyterian and North Christian churches, doctors, professors, former leaders of foundations, clergy and others.
“LGBTQ people should have the same God-given rights as everyone else,” Stumpff said. “And we certainly do have to work harder to ensure that.”
Jerry Karr, a member of Interfaith Forum Columbus that hatched the idea of inviting Boesak, said the speaker’s message reminded him of one element during the period of apartheid.
“It was chilling to me that all of us — politicians and the military and the powerful — we all looked the other way,” Karr said. “It’s easier to look away than to assist.”