Have you ever been channel hopping when there is nothing else worth watching only to stumble upon a fascinating story that speaks into an issue you are thinking about? Well I had just this experience on Saturday. I flicked over to BBC2 and became engrossed in a programme about the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa!
The Lions are a team made up of the best rugby players in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For a handful of sportsmen it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel and compete against the best rugby playing nations in the world. However, in 1974, there was a ban on touring South Africa because all civilised countries were demonstrating their outrage at the policy of apartheid. Despite political pressure not to go, this controversial tour went ahead with unexpected consequences. The British Lions smashed the Springbok on the rugby field not once, but twice. And while the white South Africans watching in the stands were silenced by the humiliating defeats of their national team, the penned in black South Africans went wild with delight! At last, the lie of Afrikaan supremacy was exposed and it became clear that international isolation meant a white only South African team could no longer compete on a world stage. Although they should not have gone, the Lions had inadvertently empowered the impoverished ethnically diverse majority and undermined the legitimacy of their oppression. There was still a long way to go, but apartheid had been irrevocably tarnished in the eyes of those who were essential for its on-going survival.
This story is a parable about how it is contingent on the powerful to use the privileges of their birth to make possible the liberation of the oppressed. It perfectly illustrated what I had been reflecting on in my own life. As a woman called to leadership in the church, I have reluctantly to admit I have needed men in positions of authority to lay down their own power and make space for me to reveal the unique gift I offer. So while it is still good for women to join together to seek to overthrow the injustice of gender discrimination, I believe it will only be achieved as men relinquish their own need to be in control and encourage women to take their place beside them in equality and partnership. Jesus models this in his encounter with the woman pronounced unclean because of her years of bleeding (Luke 8:43-48). The Grove booklet simply entitled ‘Shame’ by John Watson says this, “Jesus not only heals the condition of the woman, but…publicly accepts her and ministers to her shame…, in doing that (he), attacks the structures that were in existence. This ‘parabolic healing’ and others like it function to unmask the powerful structures of the day. Jesus did this in many encounters with the poor, the diseased and the ‘sinners’. (p.21)”
While in the context of gender, I might still in some instances be reliant upon others to forgo their power to allow me to shine, there are plenty of other situations when I am the one with the odds unfairly stacked in my favour. For those who are poor, marginalised and afflicted it is my turn to let go of privileges of status, wealth and education to make room for their voice to be heard and have an impact. And, like the Lions tour of South Africa in 1974, it is humbling to remember it could actually be in appearing to collude with the unjustly powerful that I unwittingly unmask folly and wrong-doing to fatally discredit an immoral regime in the opinion of those who maintain it. God moves in mysterious ways and sometimes the things that threaten to undermine His purposes can actually become the very agents of His justice and retribution.