Two weeks ago popular South African farmer-turned-preacher Angus Buchan held a massive prayer meeting on a farm near Bloemfontein. More than a million people showed up to the free “It’s time” event to pray for change in South Africa. The focus was on less violent crime, less corruption, and less racialism.
I’m not a big Angus Buchan fan. He was recently banned from speaking in the UK because of his stance on women and LGBTI people, being in the “pray the gay away” and “men are the heads of their households” camp. He claims his theology is a simple one, perhaps because he as a straight white male has the ease of simplicity when it comes to conservative interpretation. He is for all intents and purposes a megachurch pastor sans megachurch.
To understand his appeal it’s probably worth noting that his big claim to fame back in the early to mid-2000s was a book turned into a movie, Faith Like Potatoes, followed by large, men-centred conferences called “Mighty Men”. This is where he shared his vision of men rising up to take back control – and to his mind, protection – of their families. It struck a chord with disenfranchised white men especially, and as his popularity grew, so did his influence. There are more than a few who consider him South Africa’s spiritual “oom” – “uncle”.
On the one hand, I want to be impressed that Buchan managed to attract a crowd of more than a million people. White South African Christians especially are notoriously skittish, preferring to stick closely to their denominational lines. But on the other hand, the mostly white crowd at “It’s time” is problematic. If you want to pray for non-racialism in South Africa, then surely such a prayer meeting should be more diverse than a tepid cup of Frisco?
The whole theme of the “It’s time” gathering was that South Africa wouldn’t see change without God. But God works relationally. So I find it worrying that the event garnering prayer for a better South Africa didn’t itself reach out – seemingly didn’t try to relate – to anyone other than Buchan’s stable of steadfast supporters: the people already watching his programs and reading his books and buying his special Bibles. Just two weeks before the “It’s time” prayer conference more than a million ZCC members descended on Moria to celebrate Easter. So don’t tell me it’s the lack of availability of willing, able and faithful black Christians that saw such little turnout at “It’s time.”
You have to wonder what the attendees took away from the event. They prayed for change, but I wonder: would they allow change? The funny thing about praying for things to change is that God usually says, “That’s fine, but let’s start with you.” Prayer and praying are fundamentally about opening ourselves up to God so that the Holy Spirit can work the redemptive power of Jesus’ cross and resurrection in our lives. Will there be a corresponding moment of grace for every prayer that cried out for change that Saturday, perhaps when next a racial video goes viral? Will the people who gathered there – and elsewhere, in smaller groups – surrender to God when he tells them, “Let’s start with you?” – as opposed to the murderous, corrupt boogeyman most people imagine when they hear the prayer points for a meeting such as “It’s time”?
The act of drawing together in faith and obedience to an event like “It’s time” is not to motivate God to act. South Africa doesn’t need God; that implies that God is missing, and he isn’t. If anything, drawing together as people did should motivate people to act and to be acted upon by God as he works a change in their hearts and lives. South Africa doesn’t need God; it needs better Christians, Christians willing to suspend their own corruption, hate, and racialism and strive for a better way. Praying for the nameless, faceless “other” to change is far less effective than praying to change oneself.