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Christ Comes to South Africa

Albert González Farran/UNAMID

Philip Jenkins - published on 11/20/14


At first, the stranger listens quietly to this litany of unconscious self-condemnation, but increasingly he reveals his own behavior, his acts of compassion to all, regardless of race. When Peter jokingly refers to the hanging of several African prisoners, the stranger remarks that he was with the victims as they died. Wherever there is violence or injustice, he is there. "I hear far off," said the stranger, "the sound of weeping, and the sound of blows. And I hear the voices of men and women calling to me. … The Frenchman is not more to me than the Englishman, the Englishman than the Kaffir, the Kaffir than the Chinaman.” For Schreiner, racial equality and justice are at the core of Christian social teaching.

Christ challenges Peter directly. Just suppose, he asks, that Peter really did obtain the wealth he was seeking, all the diamonds and gold, what would it profit him? Does he really want to be like Rhodes or Barnato? He continues:

"There have kings been born in stables," said the stranger. Then Peter saw that he was joking, and laughed. "It must have been a long time ago; they don’t get born there now," he said. "Why, if God Almighty came to this country, and hadn’t half-a-million in shares, they wouldn’t think much of Him."

Christ makes Peter realize the lunacy of his political positions. He shows that it is nonsense to condemn as rebels the Africans who fight for their own country. Are not the Armenian Christians struggling against the Ottoman Turks rebels? Well certainly, says Peter, but they are on our side. Why, if the French conquered England, then the English would rise against the occupiers, and they would be absolutely right to do so. So how, asks Christ, are the Africans different?

Christ further offers him the lesson of Naboth’s vineyard, the classic Biblical story of the plunder of the poor man’s land by a cynical abuse of power. And such, he suggests, is the work of Cecil Rhodes and his ilk. Because it has tolerated these crimes, England faces a dreadful divine vengeance, which Christ describes in apocalyptic terms.

I will not summarize the whole exchange here, as every line clamors for quotation. Ultimately, Christ convinces Peter to join his followers, the church of true disciples of all ages, who stand for truth even if it means renouncing their lives.
Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland is a powerful and deeply rewarding book. We might even call it modern-day prophecy. It deserves to be as famous as In His Steps.

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