Concrete proposal for reconciliation

Below are extracts from an email I sent to Kjell Olsen in December 2000. Sadly, nothing came of the “concrete proposal for reconciliation” I made. Whatever is in square brackets was not part of the original email message.

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Dear Kjell,

Thank you for the good wishes — I appreciate the idea and would like to wish you and your family a wonderful new year as well.

I read the correspondence between Kwa Sizabantu and the panel of christian leaders three days ago for the first time. In your “response to various documents about Kwa Sizabantu” you are very keen to convey the impression that if there has not been reconciliation between you and those who have been negatively affected by you, then it is certainly not because of a lack of invitations on your part. Again and again you raise the issue: “We once again, as on numerous occasions, invite those who have grievances or are hurting to come and speak to us.” “We have on numerous occasions invited those who say that they have been hurt, to come and speak to us.” It grieves you when reconciliation efforts fail, and you as co-workers would like to facilitate a process of reconciliation, etc. Your name is given as one of the contact persons.

In the same document you also repeatedly underline your attitude to God’s Word: you hold yourselves accountable to God’s Word, you base things on Biblical teaching, you care that things must be within Biblical lines, etc.

[Concrete proposal for reconciliation here.]

That “response to various documents” is a serious statement you make to the Christian Church. I am herewith seriously taking up the invitation it conveys with you as one of the contact persons listed. And here you and I, instead of merely wishing each other a wonderful new year, can actually do something which would result in a wonderful new year not only for us, but also for all who are concerned with this situation, not least my children. Just think what a powerful demonstration that would be of what the above Bible verse is all about. I believe in the power of God’s Word. That Word is in essence a message of reconciliation. I believe it is possible.

Now of course we will need to be thorough. Being thorough about these things will hurt, but there is a hurt which is unto life. Allow me then to be thorough in replying to those two assertions you make, even if it hurts, since full reconciliation requires a full understanding of the reasons why reconciliation has become necessary.

Kjell, I cannot remember one single instance where any KSB coworker stretched out a hand of reconciliation to me since I was told to either “repent” or leave KSB in June 1986. Could you remind me of one example to back up the claims you make in that document, in as far as I am concerned?

Surely you have been aware of my hurt and of the fact that I am of the opinion that KSB played a major role in the breakup of my marriage with Anneli. Am I an exception, that I have been omitted when these numerous invitations were made?

After being told to either “repent” or leave KSB, instead of showing a willingness to be reconciled, uncle Erlo appeared to be determined to misrepresent me. This he did not only in Anneli’s eyes, for example by telling me in her presence that he felt sorry for her for being married to a man like me (and then refusing to give me a copy of the recording he had made of the conversation during which he had said that), but also in the eyes of the Christian Church, for example by means of the long letter he found the time to write to an influential swiss church leader on 1 and 2 June 1987 — during the very hours he was purportedly too busy to see Hannes and Hanni Trauernicht, Martin Frische and me where we were waiting in his lounge, requesting an opportunity to discuss this situation with him with a view to resolving it.

[…]

As for me, I have indeed on a number of occasions stretched out a hand of reconciliation to uncle Erlo. For example, in a letter sent by registered mail to uncle Erlo personally, dated 20 April 1991, I wrote: “May I repeat that my invitation of 7 March 1988 for us to sort out the matter between us in a way that befits people who call themselves by the Name of Christ, still stands.”

On a number of occasions subsequently, during chance meetings with people who were still likely to meet uncle Erlo (for example […]) I made a point of requesting them explicitly to convey to uncle Erlo that I would appreciate it if he would do what he used to preach: leave his sacrifice there at the altar, and come and be reconciled to me, a brother who holds something against him. You may remember how he used to emphasise that the question is not whether you have something against your brother, but whether your brother has something against you …

Now I had something against him, and I made sure that he knew about it, and I repeatedly made it clear to him that I wanted reconciliation. Why did he never reply? How does this consistent lack of response on his part square up with your claims to the Church of Christ that KSB has always been open to reconciliation?

The only time when there was any reaction in all these years was recently after I had asked Johan Bekker on 2 October 2000 to convey the same message to uncle Erlo. Rather unexpectedly I was then called to see uncle Erlo […]. [This was when I was there for my daughter’s engagement.] During this discussion, I tried to stick to one idea only: that I was stretching out a hand to him, suggesting a meeting to sort out this matter for once and for all. I did not want to discuss the details without an objective outsider present, because of the way such one-to-one conversations had been misrepresented in the past. Nonetheless, uncle Erlo prompted me to open my heart, telling me the joke about the two people who couldn’t get along on earth and were then unexpectedly faced with the idea of sitting next to each other before God’s throne in eternity. So I mentioned two incidents as examples. He then embarked on an apology, but entangled himself in so many references to things which I and others (Trauernicht, Barney, etc) had purportedly said, written or done, as well as to irrelevant references to my more recent past, that by the time he was about to mention the second incident for which he had set out to apologise he couldn’t even remember what it was. And yet he was capable — and obviously considered it to be important — to relate to me in the minutest detail how Trauernichts had been “impolite” back in 1987, as though it had happened only the day before.

This description of my discussion with uncle Erlo on 8 October is based on notes I made before going to bed that night as well as on a draft reply I wrote soon afterwards.

I felt it would not be helpful to respond to any of these insinuations there and then, so I merely said to uncle Erlo that I would reply in writing. Kindly convey this note to him as my written reply.

Since that day, I have attempted many times to write to him personally. Invariably I end up feeling I might as well go and slam my head against a brick wall. The truth is, Kjell, that I have absolutely no reason to believe that you are serious about true reconciliation, though I would love to be proved wrong.

Uncle Erlo’s response had virtually nothing to do with reconciliation — it was a half-hearted apology drowned in irrelevant insinuations about the conduct of others. Half-hearted, not only because he needed to be reminded of the second of two items in the list, and not only because it was packaged in clear indications that he actually felt all sorts of other people (especially me) deserved more blame than he, but also because we talked about things he had said to me in public, and true repentance would require him to ask for forgiveness in public.

The truth is further that I have absolutely no reason to believe that you hold yourselves accountable to God’s Word. What does the Bible teach about marriage and divorce? Who at Kwa Sizabantu, Kjell, while seeing my marriage disintegrate over a period of years in front of their very eyes, strived to base his or her reactions on Biblical teaching? Could you give me one name of a Kwa Sizabantu coworker who sought to submit to God’s Word in his or her reaction to the evident fact that my marriage was falling apart? I would very much like to meet that coworker — I would like to ask him or her a few straightforward questions. Would you like to put forward your own name, Kjell?

When I was told by the top coworkers present at the time (including uncle Friedel and the Mamas) to either “repent” or leave, nothing at all was said about discrepancies between my conduct and Biblical teaching. I had to “repent” from things such as the fact that I had read too many books, that I had (to my surprise) become your biggest enemy, that I had a different spirit, etc. The sad truth about this situation is that what I was in reality being required to repent from was the fact that I had dared to call light light and darkness darkness even as regards Erlo Stegen’s conduct. I will never forget the fierceness with which I was interrupted during the first of those two meetings the moment I questioned uncle Erlo’s conduct. The message was clear: don’t you dare question Erlo Stegen! They were not even prepared to listen me out. They had “understood the letter while it was still in the envelope”. They did not need the facts, they did not need to test what I had to say against the Scriptures.

Yet now I am to believe that “the revival was born through the Word of God, and throughout the years all experiences and revelations have been tested by and are subject to the Scriptures”.

Let me give you another example to illustrate why I find it so difficult to believe that you submit to what the Bible teaches. In your “response to various documents” you refer to Matt. 18.15-17. You claim: “We are saddened that as far as we know, these principles were not followed by those who testified before the panel while still within the KSB fellowship”. Now I cannot speak for others and I did not physically testify before the panel (although I did send them a letter — […]) but there are two things which I wish to state in response to that remark.

Firstly, I watched the entire video recording of the meeting where Barney told uncle Erlo that he was leaving him after more than three decades of loyal service in the same work because he “didn’t find him to be truthful” (my translation of the Zulu as I remember it). If we are to believe what Barney said during that recording, then it is evident that he applied Matt. 18.15-17. And watching the video from start to finish, I thought it was perfectly obvious who was speaking the truth that day.

Secondly, I could write a book about my efforts to apply Matt. 18.15-17 both before and after I left KSB, as well as about the lack of respect for the guidelines of Matt. 18.15-17 which was apparent in your reactions. The summary would be: you don’t care about Matt. 18.15-17 unless it suits you. Or could you explain to me why uncle Erlo would write all sorts of half-truths and lies about me in that letter he wrote on 1 and 2 June 1987, without discussing most of them with me beforehand? He did not even send me a copy of the letter, and given the fact that he had never discussed most of the issues with me, I would have thought that the principle of Matt. 18.15 would at the very least have required him to send me a copy.

But again: uncle Erlo’s way of applying Scripture would have allowed him to unilaterally declare me just another Demas, as he did with Barney and Matthias in his letter to European KSB coworkers, dated 21 June 2000, where he writes (in German): “But Paul says about Demas only that he has left him, which was enough. Should that then not also be enough for us? Or is it still necessary for us to go to Demas, to listen to his side?” Yet this argument is flawed, and is no reason for ignoring Matt. 18.15. Note how uncle Erlo assumes himself to be on a par with Paul, and then goes on to contrive conclusions on the basis of that assumption. Reverse the roles, i.e. apply that same Demas-logic to uncle Erlo, and he forgets all about Demas and calls for a Nicodemus — see for example the last page of my reply to his 1 and 2 June 1987 letter.

There is a Nicodemus in South Africa today in the form of a panel of church leaders who are sincerely interested in hearing his side of the story. And there is no basis whatsoever for assuming a Paul-Demas relationship between uncle Erlo and his “enemies”. Paul did not tell lies about Demas behind his back. Paul also did not lie to the Church of Christ.

Yes, that is indeed my view. A reconciliatory spirit and wholehearted submission to Bible truth are two key characteristics which KSB desperately lacks, and to pretend in your “response to various documents” that those are the very areas in which you excel amounts in my view to a blatant attempt at deceiving the Church of Christ.

If it had been true that you hold yourselves accountable to the Word of God, I would never have had a problem with you. And even after being placed before that impossible choice (“repent” from being honest; or leave but we won’t make it easy for your wife to leave with you) I would not have left of my own accord if I had seen the least bit of openness in the KSB leadership to be corrected — not by me, but by God’s Spirit. I concluded that there was no such openness whatsoever, and decided to do as I had been told. So I left.

And now, fourteen years later, you invite those who “might be hurting” to come to you with a view to “discussing their individual case”. You “will meet them in a spirit of reconciliation”.

Well, I’ve done what you’ve invited me to do. I have told you openly and honestly why I have a problem with you.

My one heart, as the Zulus would say, tells me that I’m wasting my time, that your “response to various documents” is just more of the same. My other heart says that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

I believe both, so I am open to to idea of meeting [further remarks on my concrete proposal for reconciliation].

[…]

I plead with you, in Christ’s Name, Kjell: let us go beyond Christmas wishes and be reconciled to one another. This whole sad saga has done enough damage as things stand. There is no reason to let it continue.

Best regards,
Kobus du Preez