Nelson Mandela, as nearly everyone should know by now, died yesterday at the age of 95. South Africa's first black president will be remembered as an advocate for peaceful resistance and a fierce opponent of the country's brutal apartheid regime. But prior to and during his 27 years in prison on Robben Island, Mandela and those associated with him were frequently disparaged as "terrorists" and communists by rightwing forces -- and not only in the political muddle of the Cold War era, but as recently as 2008.
As discussed many times before, COG organizations are replete with self-described rightwing conservatives, some of whom even break old church taboos and vote in general elections or align themselves with Tea Party conservatives. Of course, there has been lots of racism in the cult as well. But in this case, it seems their tune has changed.
"I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists," Mandela told Larry King's CNN in 2000. "I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one."
Included in that sweeping statement about his critics would be the COG, who have just written glowing articles to join the media chorus singing Mandela's praises following his death. While some are more measured, cult responses thus far remain fairly positive.
Many of those growing up in right-leaning COG households during WCG's heyday may have had parents who were critical of Mandela and perhaps were raised with a negative view of the man. Fans of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and others among Mandela's vocal ideological opponents saw themselves as aligned against the African National Congress -- something in vogue for Americans at the time due partially to the country's international alliances and the organization's controversial history.
Bob Thiel's COGWriter said "I seem to recall that [Mandela] was at least indirectly denounced by the old WCG sometime prior to the 1990s." COG blogger David Ben Ariel has spat nothing but venom about Mandela in the past. Memories here at Silenced are also those of disdain for Mandela among the COG faithful.
Fast-forwarding to today, it now seems certain major COG organizations are calling Mandela a "man of peace" and "an example" in retrospect, without any sort of acknowledgement of traditional church views on the Nobel Prize winner, very similarly to how other former critics have responded without acknowledging their shift in attitude.
Mandela's life was a complicated one for certain and trying to categorize everything into columns of black and white (both morally and racially) is not productive. Changing one's view of a dynamic global figure who evolved over his lifetime is also expected and acceptable.
What's off here is the cognitive dissonance so often found within the COG and it begs a number of questions:
- Can yesterday's "terrorist" really become today's godly "example" within the confines of COG teaching?
- Is this simply bandwagon-jumping pandering on the part of COG groups for the sake of appearing tolerant?
- What do the resident racists in the COG think of this shift in tone regarding Mandela?
- Are church teachings and viewpoints contingent on the social mores of the time period or are they supposedly eternal and unmovable?
- If apartheid was terrible, as the COG now says, why still prohibit interracial marriages?
- How far are these enclosed, anti-intellectual cults actually willing to shift on issues large or small? Is it merely a matter of enough time and pressure? Or do they simply say or do whatever suits their leadership and message at the time?
- Do the myriad COG congregations throughout South Africa realize how other "brethren" and leaders across the world have regarded their national hero?
And there are likely many more questions begging to be answered as well.
In any case, may Nelson Mandela rest in peace and may South Africa someday reach the level of his lofty aspirations for the country.