AN ARCHBISHOP’s Christmas sermon is a balancing act. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to attempt a little incarnational theology, drawing on the few bits of the Bible that the wider public might reasonably be expected to know. But theology without any application can slip easily into unfocused piety. On the other hand, the temptation is to look beyond the immediate congregation and imagine that the wider world wants some form of state-of-the-nation address. This might secure a headline or two, but is possibly a disservice to the supernatural events 2000 years ago. That said, calling for the removal of a national leader at least has the advantage of ensuring that your late-night congregation stays awake. Any nodding during the Archbishop of Cape Town’s midnight-mass sermon will not have been caused by sleepiness; it is likely, though, that many in the congregation will have approved of Archbishop Makgoba’s attack on President Zuma, fed up, as so many South Africans are, of the willingness of their politicians to dip into the public purse for their own benefit.
And Archbishop Makgoba grounded his remarks in God’s choice to appear not at the royal court but among the humble and marginalised. The crib, he said, is “the place where the poor and marginalised find the possibility of hope that things might be different”. Away from revelations and allegations that are dogging President Zuma, there is another form of corruption which the Church finds it more difficult to speak of, namely, the assumption that inequality and poverty are inevitable and unavoidable, and the view that materialistic ambitions, which beggar individuals and denude the planet, are somehow acceptable.
Archbishop Makgoba had a particular focus for his political comments. But his words have a wider application: “The poor and the broken, the people on the peripheries, look to us to help them realise their Bethlehem. . . Anything that robs the poor of their dignity, that prevents them from realising their potential, that any act of corruption, no matter by whom it is carried out, is an act of theft from the poor, and . . . any infraction of the principles of good governance perpetuates the enslavement of the marginalised. Such acts make Christ’s new birth, and decent living, impossible.”
THE Cathedrals Working Group, set up last April in the wake of the reported difficulties at Peterborough and Exeter, and more general funding worries, is due to publish its report in a fortnight. If various deans and chapters are concerned about its findings, they can be assured that they have at least got their defence in first. It does them no harm to have a report by Lord Bourne, Minister for Faith at the Department for Communities and Local Government, published this week, in which he declares at the end of his 42-cathedral tour: “I feel at the tour’s close that our cathedrals are in very safe hands.”