PRAYER NOT POLITICS
Walking in New York late last year I came across a metal sculpture of a man sitting on a park bench.
A plaque explained it as an "Invitation to Prayer" depicting a businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier.
He is "warmly welcoming passersby to join him for a moment of quiet reflection or a word of prayer".
The statue was erected in 2007 on the 150th anniversary of a prayer meeting he held on September 23 1857 that "ignited what became a spiritual revolution in New York City".
Only five people attended, but within weeks thousands throughout the city were meeting for prayer each day.
Within two years nearly one million people across America were touched and joined various churches.
This was one of several "Great Awakenings" of great significance in American history.
The first was a wave of religious enthusiasm that swept the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s.
It played a key role in the development of democratic concepts that led to the American Revolution.
Later religious waves spurred the abolitionist movement against slavery.
The intense focus on individual moral self-improvement was highly beneficial in curbing social ills like crime and drunkenness.
A similar phenomenon took place in Victorian England. Benjamin Franklin said in 1766 that "There is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken and insolent."
This was changed through religious revivals, an array of self-improvement and mutual aid societies, and a focus on family and individual responsibility.
British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says this is an example of how positive social change "is always preceded by and works through moral change."
In South Africa I am convinced that the transition from Apartheid that defied sceptics was facilitated by a largely shared Christianity.
The Bible was certainly abused, but its essential message of transcendent accountability and man created in the image of God eventually shone through.
Many ANC founders were educated in mission schools and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has said that "our non-racial ethics were strengthened by the message of the Bible, transmitted through Christian missionaries".
When former President FW de Klerk took his presidential oath in September 1989 it was "as though I was indeed standing before God and quietly promised that I would try to carry out the responsibility that He had entrusted to me with the biblical principles of justice, peace and charity as my guidelines."
While morally inspired politicians are important, other forces are needed to uplift society in profound ways.
But any discussion of morals is virtually taboo in the circles that dominate policies in areas like teenage pregnancy and HIV/Aids.
The late Professor Lawrence Schlemmer observed that "if ever there was a need for a conservative revolution in sexual morality and family values, it exists in South Africa today. However, the typical approach ... is to plead for counselling and youth programmes - or virtually anything except the restoration of the social and moral authority of conservative and religious institutions."
This is controversial, but why is it that even as children have sex at a younger age the call is for condoms in schools?
Maybe if we all prayed more the social change we desire will happen.
Jack Bloom MPL, is DA Leader in the Gauteng Legislature
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