The Church in South Africa is facing a two-pronged onslaught to its mission to preach the gospel without interference from the State.
This threat comes from the CRL Rights Commission and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
The CRL Rights Commission, which interviewed church ministers and religious leaders across the country earlier this year, is now proposing strict regulations that would require all ministers of religion to be licenced. In addition, “worship centres” would need to be registered.
The second threat comes from the proposed Bill on the Prevention of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech, which opens the church to the risk of having sermons challenged because they could be construed to be hate speech. Hate speech could include something being interpreted as “threatening, abusive or insulting” to some individuals or groups of people.
At first glance that may sound quite noble, but is it?
If a pastor read some verses from the sixth chapter of the Book of Galatians where it lists a number of what God deems as sins; what would be the outcome?
The list includes hatred, murder, drunkenness, idolatry, witchcraft, and sexual immorality of all kinds – sex out of wedlock, adultery, and homosexuality. There are some further hefty sins to deal with in the list.
Now, according to Bible-believing Christians, God disapproves these actions. To flaunt these sins is to place oneself in peril of God’s judgement.
Now if the pastor warns the congregation against worshipping and making offerings to idols as some religions teach and he mentions one of these religions, is he now committing the sin of “hate speech”. Is this insulting them?
If the preacher condemns witchcraft and some of its dubious ceremonies is he offending people who practise these occult crafts?
If he warns the congregations against sex before marriage, the perils of adultery or fornication by any gender. Is he abusing the rights of someone or some group?
Now if the CRL Rights Commission or the Justice Department were to receive a complaint it would not just be the pastor in the dock, but the Bible and God. And if the pastor was found guilty that would mean cutting out every offensive scripture in the Bible.
That may sound like a far-fetched scenario, but it is beginning to happen in the nation that is so proud of their liberty – yes America.
This month (October) the State of Georgia issued a legal demand to a lay-preacher Dr Eric Walsh to hand over his sermons, his sermon notes, ministerial documentation and even his Bible.
Last year the mayor of Houston, in Texas, demanded that a number of pastors in the city hand over their sermons, following complaints about what was said from the pulpit.
So the Church needs to beware of what could happen with all this weighty proposed legislation being speeded along as we near the end of the year.
And the media needs to take careful note as well because hate speech legislation could also be used against them when comes to exposing issues of public interest that may be covered up by government and big business.
Giving the government and institutions like the CRL Rights Commission legislative powers over churches could see a diminishing of freedom of speech in South Africa.
The churches straight response to the CRL Commission s should be this: “The pulpit is governed by the Word of God.
The government and its lackeys should be careful and not abuse the pulpit of its inalienable right to proclaim the gospel.”