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2 Identity and Human Dignity amid Power and Liminality in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 Jeremy Punt Introduction April 27, 1994, was the historical moment when South Africa formally changed from a minority-ruled apartheid state into a modern, democratic, new South Africa, installing the iconic Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected, black president of South Africa.1 Set against a long, troublesome, and mostly turbulent few decades, which should also be understood within the framework of centuries of colonial rule in one form or another, the country at the southern tip of the African continent comprising a “rainbow people”—to use Desmond Tutu’s famous phrase—of indigenous ethnicities such as the Khoisan, southern moving tribes from further north on the continent, and initially Dutch and later British, French, German, and other settlers, evolved into another phase of sociopolitical development. The former Dutch settlement of 1652 that was reshaped into a British colony (1895) and later became an apartheid state (1948) had its democratic awakening in 1994. It saw the country move into a postliberation, democratic dispensation that has brought about many changes, of which the transfer of power from a white minority to a black majority was the most telling—but not necessarily decisive—moment. Facing many problems of various kinds, the new dispensation in South Africa has thus far not brought about the expected significant improvement in the lives of the majority of its citizens, while at the same time, it has developed more of a global profile; attempts to enhance the country’s profile, especially at an economic level, often further complicate an already complex situation. Communities differentiated by social, cultural, political, and economic differences attempt in varying ways and degrees to 31 deal with an increasingly technology-based economy in the information era—contributing to what can be described in many ways as a postcolonial setting. Interestingly, the role of organized religion and Christian groups in particular, often with strong appeals made to the Bible, were important and influential factors both in providing justification for as well as in combating the apartheid regime. While the participation of religious groups and figures in postapartheid South Africa thus far has been of a different nature and complexion,2 the link between religion and politics has evidently not been severed3 (Punt 2007; 2009). The South African context of today serves as the interpretative canvas for 1 Cor. 7:17-24. Rather than a literary or historically focused exegesis,4 overtly or otherwise oblivious of any real-life, flesh-and-blood context, my reading here takes life in the contemporary South African context, marked as it is by power and liminality as primary interlocutor. It is an explicitly contextual interpretation of the text,5 and in the next section a rudimentary thumbnail sketch of the South African context follows. The New South Africa and Its Challenges Apartheid’s social engineering with its political disenfranchisement, creation of structural disadvantages, and imposition of socioeconomic control and distortions probably hit South Africa the hardest, at its most vulnerable level, in destroying human dignity through the colonization of the mind (Ngugi 1986) and establishing a coloniality of being (Mignolo 2007).6 Many communities and individuals still suffer from a serious lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, and have not acquired even very basic life skills, all of which are not unrelated to the surrounding moral landscape. Much of this has naturally filtered through into communities where a breakdown of relationships is characterized by broken families and family structures, rampant teenage pregnancies, high levels of HIV and AIDS infections, pervasive substance abuse, unacceptable levels of corruption in the business and civil sectors, widespread criminal and violent crimes such as murder, rape, and assault, and so on. The strategy of making the land ungovernable as part of the liberation movements’ struggle against apartheid grew into a popular groundswell, which has to date proved difficult to turn around in full, even though the erstwhile liberation movements are now in large part represented in political parties and in government. The strong claims about and appeals to human dignity, enshrined in the new South Africa’s constitution and bill of human rights, are yet to become part of its social fabric.7 Second, the quest for identity in an increasingly multicultural country, continent, and world may appear a fool’s errand but is a pronounced pursuit 32 | 1 and 2 Corinthians in the South African society. Tensions were evident, for example, in public debates surrounding the...


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