South African church probe is branded ‘anti-Christian’
A government investigation into the practices of churches operating in South Africa has been slammed by evangelist Mervin Reddy, above, and other religious leaders who fear that the authorities intend to exert ‘heavy-handed control’ over the way they operate.
Their misgivings relate to a study by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities into the commercialisation of religion, “healing”, and bizarre practices such as congregants being made to eat grass, snakes or rats.
Speaking at an information-sharing meeting with religious and traditional leaders in Phoenix earlier this month Reddy said “corridor talk” had been that the commission was out to “hunt and close down” churches because it was believed the government was becoming “anti-Christian”.
Founder of the Christian Revival Centre, Dr Paul “Jesus for Africa” Lutchman, accused the commission of duplicating the work of the taxman, saying if the commission wanted to check their finances they should go to the South African tax authority, SARS.
“Apostle” Bheki Buthelezi questioned the commission’s “qualifications” to investigate the religious fraternity, asking whether any of them had the theological knowledge and expertise to question them.
“Bishop” T B Ngcobo agreed, saying the commission did not understand the doctrines of the different churches.
We are scared. When your submissions reach Parliament, they will become law and we can’t change the law. The religious sector will find itself oppressed, we’ve seen it done in other countries.
Acting Chief Executive of the Commission, Edward Mafadza, explained that the purpose of the study was to investigate and understand issues around religion and traditional beliefs. This included worrisome practices, including the “supermarket approach” (with card swiping machines at places of worship) and the abuse of people’s faith.
The underlying issues driving people to buy into the promises of riches and miracle cures would also be probed.
There must be serious issues, perhaps desperation or poverty, which make our people vulnerable to doing these things. To believe someone when they say petrol tastes like juice for example, if that is the case why do we spend money on petrol and not run cars with juice?
Like the South African Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Protector, the Commission was established under chapter nine of the constitution. Its enabling act allows it to subpoena people to appear before it.
Mafadza gave an assurance that the commission was guided by the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms and it was not for it to challenge doctrines or tell leaders how to practise their religions or traditions.
We are concerned with governance issues, processes followed, financial management and whether you are trained or ordained by another person or an institution.
Mafadza said more Christian leaders would be summoned than others because the faith had an overwhelmingly high presence in the country.
African religious leader Themba Shangase thanked the commission for “settling the dust” by explaining its intention as did Pastor Nathi Zondi who said the “uproar” and defensive stance had been caused by a lack of clarity on the purpose of the study.
A final report is expected to be completed by April next year and be presented to Parliament with recommendations for “self regulation” in the sectors.
Hat tip: Ate Berga