Gerald O. West
Professor Emeritus, Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal
Reopening the churches and/as reopening the economy: Covid’s contribution to The Kairos Document’s ‘church theology’
On 1st June 2020 the South African economy ‘reopen’ substantially as the government moves the country from Lockdown Level 4 to Level 3. There was no plan to ‘open’ churches on the 1st June when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the move to Level 3 on Sunday 24th May.
The President had met virtually on the 19th May with a range of faith leaders, including the leadership of the South African Council of Churches. Unexpectedly, the President again addressed the nation on Tuesday 26th May. The sole purpose of this address was to announce the ‘reopening’ of places of worship.
What is going on here is not clear. It is too soon, as I write this abstract, to tell. But what is clear is that his moment within the Covid-19 pandemic will provide significant insights into what The Kairos Document (1985) referred to as “church theology”.
What does it mean to ‘reopen’ the church? What is the role of economics in ‘reopening’? What is the role of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which has a long history of working within a ‘prophetic theology’ trajectory? Has Covid-19 revealed elements of ‘church theology’?
The Kairos Document’s account of ‘church theology’ was decisive in its 1985 analysis, for what became known as The Kairos Document was actually the sub-title of the 1985 first edition; the primary title was Challenge to the Church. While still analytically useful in 2020, further reflection is necessary 35 years later if the concept ‘church theology’ is to continue to be useful. The 2020 Covid-19 related research used in this paper will build on both The Kairos Document’s account of ‘church theology’ and how the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research has taken up and developed the concept. 2 Samuel 7, a redacted story of the religious legitimation of economic extraction, may offer resonating lines of connection and interrogation.