Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Paul Brannen

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Paul Brannen

Article excerpt

WHILE a theology student at Leeds University in the 1980s I became involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), spending many hours picketing Barclays Bank successfully encouraging students to boycott apartheid's number one bank.

When dissertation time came round I decided to write mine on, 'The role of the Anglican Church in the struggle against apartheid'. This involved reading Naught for Your Comfort, my first encounter with Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.

Huddleston, an Anglican priest, was sent by his religious order from England to South Africa in the 1950s, and in response to the moral evil of apartheid he wrote Naught for Your Comfort, the book's title taken from GK Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse. It went on to sell 250,000 copies, encouraging thousands to join the fledgling AAM.

Huddleston was then recalled from South Africa by the Anglican Church, which viewed him as a trouble maker, as it did other church figures who spoke out in the 60s and 70s. It was only when the leadership of the church passed to an indigenous black leadership - Tutu, Boesak, Chikane - did the church establishment within South Africa emerge on the right side of the moral dividing line that was apartheid.

In his declining years, with his health failing, Huddleston became increasingly impatient to see the end of apartheid. He worried he would die before Mandela was released, before the first multi-racial elections could occur. As President of the AAM he would exalt the staff, myself included, and the supporters to do more, to go the extra mile for his beloved South Africa. In so doing he deployed the following motivational and funny story.

On a visit to his monastic home, the College of the Resurrection near Leeds, he was seated with his elderly colleagues one suppertime discussing the pros and cons of buying a new suit when advanced age had been reached.

Was it worth the investment? Whereupon the oldest member of the community piped up: "New suit, new suit, I worry about buying green bananas".

The church as an institution has a long history of 'calling it wrong' and being on the side of the oppressor, as spelt out dramatically in Road to Damascus; Kairos and Conversion, a blazing piece of liberation theology written in 1989 by Christians in what we then referred to as the Third World. …

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