Former Methodist Bishop of Johannesburg and veteran human rights activist, Revd Dr Paul Verryn has urged the church not to make Karl Marx’s dictum that religion is the opium of the people, come true.

Dr Verryn was addressing the Diakonia Annual Meeting under the theme “Churches and church groups as social justice hubs and centres of hope.”

“What irritates me about Karl Marx is that what he said about religion is by and large true. Nowhere in our sermons do we speak of justice as we really confront it in this country. We speak about social justice over and over again without knowing anything about it. People walk out of the service feeling pretty happy about injustice. I want to plead with you not to enable the Marxist dictum to be true,” he said.

Dr Verryn, who is spearheading efforts to start hearings throughout the country for people to tell their stories of trauma and pain, said every community should become a community of hope and healing.

He said, “We should create in every gathering a place where issues of justice become part of the breathing mechanism of the church. If we do not bring these issues onto the centre stage, I think we are defying the gospel and denying ourselves of credibility.

“The reason we engage in issues of social justice is because we know for a fact that as we begin to liberate the potential of the most irrelevant people, we begin to unlock the potential of our full humanity. We need to start to break down the prison of memory that destroys people’s proper functioning.”

Dr Verryn said the most critical issue South Africa faces at the moment is the disparity between the haves and have-nots, adding that we should begin to realise how critical our responsibility is as religious people.

He ended by reminding delegates that the journey of social justice requires concerted efforts of all people of faith.

“The journey with the dispossessed will demand of us every fibre of our intellect and how we begin to start addressing it so that the next transition we have got to make in this nation – if we are not going to have a bloody revolution – is going to demand of those of us who have brains in the faith based-community, to engage comprehensively with everything that we have got. Right in the nerve system of the reason for being as people of faith is this issue that will challenge every dimension of our intellect.

“This work cannot be left to theologians alone. It is going to mean that we have to connect with people from all professions, because the injustices in this nation filter into all sorts of places,” Dr Verryn concluded.