Pastoral reflections on #feesmustfall (re-post from 2015)

by Gavin  

Pastoral reflections on #feesmustfall (re-post from 2015)






This has been watershed week for our country. 


A protest against the tuition fees increase at Wits has sparked a nationwide (and indeed international) response to the matter of tertiary education.  The media is agog with the events as they unfold across the country, on various campuses, city streets and outside Parliament.  Summarising the multitudes of voices in support and against is impossible – from students, academics, politicians and everyone else who has a thought or an opinion.


I’ve watched.  Listened. Read. I’ve tried to process and digest and wrestle with some of the issues.  It is clear that there is a level of interrelated complexity in this issue that cannot be resolved easily.  This is not just tuition fees. Issues of economics, socio-economics, race, philosophy, worldview, coupled with our own chequered and painful South African history, all comes into play.  That much is clear to me… the complexity.  I don’t say that lightly or glibly, or as an excuse to not understand.


When pushed for a view over the last few days, I have typically been reticent.  I quite honestly don’t know or understand enough.  Maybe I cling to my favourite verse too much :  “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28, ESV).  I also am not one prone to like conflict… raised voices and fists and passions and red-faced anger and protesting crowds doesn’t sit well.  Having been caught up in explosive and violent students protests at Technikon Witwatersrand decades ago, the intensity of all this brings back bad memories.  It just doesn’t typically end well – for all concerned.


And yet, in God’s providence, I am called to try and pastor our people at this time.  And our people are affected.  Some are even involved.  We have church families reflected on Wits and UJ and NWU (Mahikeng).  Parents pay fees, and cry at the increases.  Some really battle – year on year.  In fact, most do, I’d imagine.  We have students on those campuses wrestling with these very issues.  Parents watch from the sidelines.  Our own Randburg Baptist Church family is affected – and grappling with how to understand it all, engage, respond.


And so I am forced to enter the discussion – pastorally.  I am not a politician.  I do not pay fees at the moment, although in time that will change.  I have however been there and done that, and felt the weight of financial constraints and burdens and crippling study debt myself.  I am not so far removed from the issues that this is a mere cold, clinical response.  I just feel the confusion and pain that our students, parents and families have been thrust into. 


So then, how should we see and respond to what is unfolding with #feesmustfall?


What follows are merely provisional musings.  I concede yet again (as I think we all must), that our perspectives are all limited, skewed and sin-affected.  We all carry baggage and prejudice, and look at the world through lenses which are most often not gospel-centered.  While we think we know in our arrogance, we probably don’t.  There is much listening to be done.


Firstly, we live in a fall, sin-affected world.  That is our present reality.  Nothing works as it should.  Structures and people and relationships are all sin tainted.  All creation is indeed groaning.  Sad – but true.  It will be different in heaven, when Christ restores everything to perfect harmony.  But, for now, we live and work and study in a world of pain, injustice and disharmony.  That is even seen in aspects of this protest action… what was largely peaceful and controlled has at times degenerated into the picture Paul paints :  “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Timothy 3:1–4, ESV).  The intimidation, destruction of property, sheer disrespect and theft cannot be excused.  Nor can the response of police brutality.  Even as I write, news feeds show that foreign students at Rhodes have become targets of xenophobic attacks.  Sinfulness abounds in much of what is unfolding.


That, despite the best interventions and political willpower, will not change.  And yet, in that mess, believers in Christ are called to live out their faith, and be salt and light for the gospel. 


Secondly, it is clear that even in that mess, believers carry a responsibility to promote peace and justice.  Again, there is a complexity of dynamics and economics beyond my limited understanding, but it is clear that much of what undergirds these responses is a legacy of injustice.  While the true gospel is always about salvation in Christ, does Scripture also not compel action to ease the situations right now?  There is a case to be made for intervention – where there are broken relationships, hunger and poverty, social ills etc.  Where there is a “neighbour” in need, believers are called to respond, right?  Tim Keller makes a compelling point as he writes :


"A strong social conscience, and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of a real relationship with God, of real faith."


Hmmmm….  Now understand, doing good deeds does not save anyone.  The gospel is about salvation from sin through Christ.  But our works – deeds done in response to God’s grace – should surely involved helping real need. 


Now does that mean solidarity with the #feesmustfall protest?  Does that mean involvement in the #feesmustfall protest?  I don’t know, and can’t answer definitively.  But action is called for to assist those who have been unjustly treated.  What should the response be from professing believers, with means, to those who battle in very real ways? 


Now, to more personal matters… I’ve been asked what people should do.  I have been thrust into a situation of needing to give guidance where there is confusion and pain and anger.  There is no easy answer.  Some little throw-away comment will probably not suffice.  But, allow me to highlight some principles which I think can (and indeed should) be helpful.  I’d encourage students and parents and others to just think through these points carefully, and see what emerges in terms of God speaking through His timeless and sufficient Word…


  • Should we get involved?
  • What is my motive for involvement?
  • What should my attitude be to authority, Senates, SAPS and parents?
  • What is shaping my opinion and responses?
  • Will my actions be honouring to Christ, and promote the gospel?


Look and reflect on these texts to shape your own thinking and engagement:


“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13, ESV)


“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17, ESV)


“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV)


“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17–18, ESV)


“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1–2, ESV)


“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,” (Titus 3:1, ESV)


“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,” (1 Peter 2:13, ESV)


“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14, ESV)


“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, ESV)


“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”” (Ephesians 6:1–3, ESV)


““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16, ESV)


“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)


Those are really just my initial pointers.  If you genuinely seek to be led by God’s Word and your conscience on all of this, then read, study and pray.  Here’s my pastoral counsel as individuals and families grapple with thus – be led by God’s Word and a clear conscience, not popular opinion and mass waves.  Sure, you may well still settle on that being an acceptable option.  But this is a time to pull back, think, reflect and come to a sober, rational, biblical and God-honouring position. 


Should we be involved?  Not involved? Supportive?  Opposing?  That’s a conscience issue that we all need to grapple with.  In fact, is God challenging even more from us all, more than merely support for a popular protest?  Are there areas of challenge and cost that might be needed to truly make a real difference in the life of someone who is struggling in tangible ways?


In the meantime, let’s pray.  Pray for your country and government and varsity Senates and Vice-Chancellors.  Pray for the student leaders and students involved – for calm, safety and reason.  The way ahead looks rocky.  But, for the sake of all in our country, pray as Paul instructed :


First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,” (1 Timothy 2:1–3, ESV)


I offer this provisional response humbly, mindful of the multiple pitfalls and deficiencies, and yet hopeful that God will shape our thinking and responses in ways that honour Him…

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