Justice is not an option. It is never a privilege. The church is based on radical demands. Christianity is about the liberation of all people in all ages. - Father Mathibela Sebothoma


Faith guides his work in social justice
Posted: Dec. 5, 2005
Crocker Stephenson

Mathibela Sebothoma was 8 years old when the student protests that began in Soweto on June 16, 1976, reached his South African township, Mamelodi, and all the pupils in his elementary school were sent home.

On that day, June 21, Mathi would see two things he had never seen before: a lot of white people and bloodshed.

The whites were police officers sent into the township to quell the uprising. The blood was shed by children struck by bullets that the police fired into the crowd.

The crowd carried nothing deadlier than rocks, nothing more powerful than signs that demanded what, in the coming years, could not be denied:

“Away with Apartheid.”
“Away with Bantu Education.”
“Release Nelson Mandela.”

“It was for our convictions,” he said, “for the moral rightness of our cause, that we would face tanks.”

Mathi grew up a witness to one of the great social transformations of the 20th century; he saw racially divided South Africa become an open democracy.

As a boy, Mathi vowed to become an instrument of that transformation. And so he became a Catholic priest.

The clergy were among the heroes of that time. Many preached a form of liberation theology that challenged white orthodoxy and spoke directly to South Africa’s oppressed people.

Mathi, which is what he prefers to be called, has been living in the rectory of St. Mary Czestochowa while working on a graduate degree in communications at Marquette University. He’s about halfway through the program and plans to return to South Africa in about a year.

When I visited Mathi at the rectory recently, one of the things we talked about was the controversy surrounding All Saints Church, an Episcopal congregation in Pasadena, Calif.

You may have read that the Internal Revenue Service has questioned the church’s tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon delivered from its pulpit two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Some have argued that the sermon was nothing more than an anti-Bush and pro-John Kerry stump speech and therefore a violation of those portions of the tax code that bar tax-exempt organizations from sticking their noses in political campaigns and elections.

Mathi found this position mystifying.

Isn’t it appropriate, he asked, even necessary, for church leaders to speak to matters of conscience?

Are we so cynical - either toward issues of faith or politics - that we can separate the two and keep them separate, pretending one has nothing to do with the other? Can one speak of love without speaking about justice, righteousness and equality? Are these values void of political meaning?

“The gospel is not neutral,” he said. “The gospel has never been neutral. Justice is not an option. It is never a privilege. The church is based on radical demands. Christianity is about the liberation of all people in all ages.”

Last edited by TeganDowling. Based on work by g.  Page last modified on January 19, 2006

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