Gauteng church leader, author and television personality Pastor Enoch Phiri this week published an open letter to CRL Commission chairperson Mkhwanazi Xaluva expressing concerns with the commission’s proposals to regulate religion in South Africa.
The CRL which wants laws to regulate faith-based organisations is expected to table a report next month on its inquiry into the “Commercialisation of religion and abuse of people’s belief systems”.
In his open letter which is headlined “Regulating the Church will result in Government weakening the role of the Church in our society”, Phiri who leads Restoration House, a large church in Soweto, and hosts shows on TBN in Africa and 1Gospel, identifies issues in the CRL Commission’s preliminary recommendations which he says “will require further engagement between the commission and the religious communities”.
The issues he highlights are:
1. Accreditation of religions
2. Licensing of religions
3. All religious institutions expected to affiliate or fall under an umbrella Organisation
4. Establishment of a peer review council which will consist of peers from each religion that will give permission to operate to individual religious leaders
5. Establishment of a peer review committee with a defined structure and a chairperson who will be a member of the council.
Affirming his support for the constitution and abhorrence of all forms of exploitation he said South Africans must not allow the actions of a few unscrupulous religious leaders to result in the regulation of their religious freedom.
“They have a responsibility to hold their leaders up to high moral standards that promotes values of accountability, transparency, trust, honesty, fairness and most importantly – consideration for the right to dignity of others.
Complacency has no space in religion, believers must never feel disempowered to act against human rights violations including those perpetrated by their leaders. The gospel promotes accountability and respect for fellow human beings. Believers today owe it the future generations to report crime and maladministration – so as to weed out the bad elements among us,” he says in his letter.
He says religious leaders have a responsibility to promote human rights and ought to be examples and role models of ethical leadership.
“Any act that seeks to exploit congregants or extort money from them must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any acts to use spaces of worship for money laundering, tax avoidance and fraudulent activities ought to be reported to the law enforcement agencies,” he says.
He urges the commission to adopt a less reactive approach to the problem of delinquent religious leaders.
I understand that in some instances, action can only start as a result of reported cases by citizens – however, if part of its mandate is to ‘protect’, the Commission will have to be more proactive so that all South Africans can enjoy the tangible benefits of our constitutional democracy as a result of its work.
Pastor Phiri’s full open letter can be read here.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) which has been collaborating with more than 50 churches and denominations in responding to the CRL’s proposals is expected to publish a comprehensive open letter to the commission next week.