The Role of Religion in Developing a Nation

A speech for the Ahmadiyya Conference at Chrysalis Academy, Tokai – Saturday 13 April 2019

Murrabi, honoured guests and friends in Interfaith Assalamu alaykum, I greet you in the name of all that is Good and True and Holy. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to share our hearts.

South Africa, the rainbow nation, is a place of rich diversity. We have so much of it, from our varied
landscapes to our animal life to our beaches, our seasons, our food. And our people.

We speak about Diversity as something we have. As if it were a thing you could put in a wheelbarrow
or an illness that could be cured. It’s a thing that politicians say they do; but we have learned that
sometimes what people say, and what they do and what they think they do, are three different
things. Our Nation is particularly Diverse, which is why Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called it
the Rainbow Nation. The most diverse garden is often the most beautiful, so our diversity is a good

But on the other hand, we also have this thing called Religion. Very often, our religion informs our
idea of what diversity is and how we should do it. We can become quite defensive around our
religions and we tend to stick with like minded people. It becomes a very important part of our identity.

Politicians like Religion when it wins them votes.

But the same Religion that was their friend in voting season becomes the enemy of the politician
when it stands up and calls out our elected leaders for behaviour that is not compatible with the
morals and values taught in all of our Sacred Texts.

And so Religion, by which we mean those who practice it in all its many sacred forms, needs to be
very careful to maintain its integrity, its independence and its clarity. Religion can easily be
manipulated by those who would like to use it for their own ends. We do not have to look too far
into the past for a prime example. White Afrikaaners used their Religion to justify their domination
and subversion of other races in Apartheid South Africa and the truly sad thing is that many
followers believed the lie with every fibre of their being. For them, it was a truth. And that is how far
they were from the truth, that they could not even recognise its face. Ours is not the only example
of an ideology gone rogue and carrying an entire people with it. Every nation that has experienced
genocide can say the same – we look at Nazi Germany, we look at America, Australia. There are so
many others.

And all of them believed they could justify their inhuman behaviour because they were building a
nation and God was on their side. And so religion was the foundational theology of this kind of
nation building.

How on earth are we going to put that right and create a new paradigm? Barbara Marx Hubbard
who passed to Spirit this week spent years teaching about the New World and the New Humanity
that needed to be birthed out of the pain of the past. I wonder what that could look like? It is up to
us to start to create something new, not only for our children but for our own sakes.

I have heard it said again and again that politics and religion do not mix. But nobody has ever told
me how to separate them. While human politicians serve a human proletariate, separation of the two seems impossible. Some years ago, ANC politician Pallo Jordan was quoted in the Sunday Times
as saying that he saw no value in spiritual leadership. The issue at hand was the denial of a visa to
the Dalai Lama, who wanted to visit Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for his 80 th Birthday. It was
one of the saddest statements I had ever read and I was afraid then that our leadership had become
spiritually bankrupt.

Just last month my faith in a system of aligned political and spiritual leadership was restored when
we watched with the rest of the world as NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fearlessly showed us
how it is done.

And that is how we will do it.

The nation that we are building now cannot be built on the tears and blood and broken hearts of any
part of us. We are one nation. All people here belong to this nation – and that includes those who
have taken shelter within our borders when they found themselves unsafe within their own. All life
here belongs to this nation. That includes our mountains and rivers, our beaches, our wildlife from
lions to crayfish. They do not belong to us, they are part of us. They are us.

Nation building demands that we look to who we are, who we want to be and to what it is that we
want. We look to our sacred texts to inform us, but we know in our hearts what is right.
How do we express the very best of our religious spirit in the building of our nation? A nation is
always a work in progress, it is never a done thing. I am so grateful for new, clear religious leaders
like Rev Riaan De Villiers of Groote Kerk who not only has the moral courage to stand up for an
inclusive way of thinking and being, but also has the clarity to stand firm and guide his congregation
into a new world. This is where political and spiritual leadership are showing up in our country and it
is powerful! It asks only: Where is the Love, and then it is completely loyal to the answer.
Religion has often, in the past, been practiced in communities away from the prying eyes of other
communities. We have been a mystery to each other, and we all know that mystery can breed
amazing urban tales because the human imagination has space, in a place of not knowing, to really
be very creative.

Our greatest asset, in this world, is each other. Let us make friends, let us meet each other and share
our joys and our challenges in our lives and in our traditions. Religion is not easy. It sometimes has
rough edges that challenge us in our changing times. Our work is to keep it relevant and alive and
dynamic so that these are the courageous, lion hearted attributes we bring to our nation. Our
religion informs everything we do and everything we are, not only in the sanctuary of our mosques
and temples but also in our schools and in our parks and in our places of work.

Our religion is not only about us, in our specific communities. It is about us, all of us, in the broader
sense and I urge you with all my heart to guard it carefully so that it may remain a positive and
bright, illuminating force of compassion and unity and never a dark and heavy force of repression.
Let us be true to our religions, our God, our hearts and let us never allow the curse of unnatural
separation to push us apart from each other and allow one to cause pain to any other. And when we
are in doubt, let us simply ask: “Where is the Love?”

I end with this prayer which was created by Alice Bailey in the mid 1930’s, but which seems so
relevant today:

The Great Invocation

From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into the minds of men.
Let Light descend on Earth.
From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into the hearts of men.
May The One return to Earth.
From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide the little wills of men –
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the centre which we call the race of men
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth

April 2019