Shame versus guilt

Our minister preached a sermon this week on John 21:15-19. In that text, Jesus asks Peter, who just days before had betrayed him whether he really loved Him. Peter answers, perhaps irritably, “Of course, I do.” Jesus then bids him to feed His sheep. As our pastor rightly said, inherent in the text is forgiveness and with it comes a new life. Yes, Peter was guilty of betrayal but Jesus did not see him as an irretrievably and irreparably bad person. How often does one hear someone say that so-and-so is a “naughty child” and thereby condemning the child instead of saying that “wonderful” child “did” something naughty.

As I listened to this riff on being shamed as opposed to being guilty, I found myself thinking about the plight of white Afrikaners in this country. My forebears came here from Holland stamping them as white Afrikaners. They came to the Cape long before the first blacks arrived here, dispossessing the KhoiSan but certainly not dispossessing the Zulu or Xhosa. Yes, indeed, they employed slaves to run the farm and probably even imported slaves from Malaysia forming the Coloured nation in the process. My great-great-grandfather was the first mayor of Cape Town. My father was a government employee, Treasurer of the Cape Divisional Council and so an extended part of the Nationalist Government.

As I stand here today, I am very conscious of being shamed, of being irretrievably and irreparably condemned as a bad person by association with my forebears. No matter what I do personally or what I did personally, I am condemned as part of the white, racist, apartheid crowd. I recall in this regard one of the leaders of the Black Sash whose picture taken along with that of leaders of the struggle against apartheid was burned on the UCT campus recently and she herself was condemned as a white racist. I wonder as I think about these things whether South Africa has a future if so many of its people are shamed out of existence. It makes me feel extraordinarily sad given my deep and affectionate roots in this country to be made to feel like a stranger.

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