Paul is a friend of mine.
I have known him for the past 23 years. Back then we both were both Supervisors of Probationer Methodist Ministers – he in Johannesburg, and I in Cape Town. I would stay with him when I went to Johannesburg, either in Hillbrow (when it was not safe), or in his Soweto home.
Why not safe? Because he found himself caught up by the political currents that swirled around Winnie Mandela and her “soccer team”. Paul was followed by the security police. He was shot by a local township gangster who tried to take his car. He was vilified by white Methodists for his commitment to political change, and excoriated by black Methodists for challenging the inept and often lazy ministry exercised by some. He was fearless in challenging injustice and in championing those without a voice.
And I am appalled by the short memories of those in leadership of our country. Many of the current political leaders were helped by Paul when they were still youngsters in the townships. And many of the current Methodist leadership were taught by Paul when they were student ministers. He is not a saint. He is often stubborn, and irascible, and determined to have his own way. These were required weapons to cope with the ugly face of the Apartheid years. And these have become necessary tools in the face of entrenched xenophobic South Africans.
Clearly these are not helpful tools to deal with the intricacies of Church politics. In the holy huddles of Bishops and other church flunkies, blunt honesty and fearless comment are unwelcome. They muddy the carefully purified waters that are sprinkled on troubled brows. Many have bided their time and waited for the right moment to put him in his place. And now he is being charged in a church disciplinary committee with a technicality: he is accused of usurping the right of the Presiding Bishop to go to court on behalf of the Methodist Church; and of speaking to the press without the authority to do so. Grave crimes indeed!
My church is less concerned with the children than with the instigator of the court action. And these charges could have been brought months ago: Paul has spoken to the press for years and years without church complaint… but they are timed to do the most damage to his reputation.
Paul remains my friend. And I will pray for my church’s leadership.