Cool heads needed in probe into religious exploitation


The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Rights of Communities (CRL) has caused great consternation within the South African Christian community as it continues with its hearings into the commercialisation of religion and the exploitation of people’s beliefs.

As a chapter 9 institution, the commission has the power to summons people to give evidence. It is the use of these powers that has upset some church leaders.

They feel hard done  by but the fact is, a host of so-called pastors have made headlines for doing absolutely bizarre and unacceptable things in the name of religion.

For example,  getting congregants to eat grass, drink petrol and swallow snakes.  Then there is the whole issue of financial impropriety.

Getting the attention they wanted!
The irony is that some of these “pastors” have insisted on putting their unusual religious practices on display through using the social media. They wanted attention – and now the commission is giving it.

The latest church to get the commission’s attention is the Ngcobo based Angel’s Ministries. It was in the news after forbidding children from attending school because of a belief that state education  has been taken over by the devil.

This claim is part of the submission to the commission by the seven brothers who lead this church.

They said they had been sent from heaven to fix this situation and the other evils done through the country’s constitution.

Obviously, the fact that this church has for many years been able to preach an anti-civilisation message – one totally at odds with the country’s constitutional values – underscores the need for the commission.

Deprived of an education, many young people today face bleak futures after being tangled up in such organisations.

The Christian community should not allow itself to be associated with the flagrant abuses we see so often today. It cannot continue to be the silent majority and allow a minority to run roughshod over its cherished faith.

Blessing in disguise?
At this stage the church as a whole might be irked by the commission but it should rather consider this process a blessing in disguise. It might just be time for self-inspection by  the religious community regarding their fiduciary duties.

And it  might also be an opportunity for the church to regain the moral high ground that has been lost through the actions of narcissistic, self-serving leaders, some of whom parade around surrounded by bodyguards and have no qualms about the ostentatious displays of gross materialism that give religion a bad name.

These hearings have highlighted two important aspects of religion.

First, people’s freedom to practice religions and beliefs in a manner of their choosing and second, the need for the protection of the same people against abuses committed in the name of religion.

The challenge is to negotiate  the tension between the two. A resolution will remain elusive if the commission opts for strong arm tactics to get religious leaders to cooperate.

At the same time religious leaders should be under no illusions about enjoying special immunity from  accountability.

The fact that the church is not homogenous and has many complexions should not prevent it from attempting some form of self-regulation. It is clear to me that religious abuses thrive in an environment that lacks regulation and oversight.

As a statutory body the CRL commission is unable to verify claims of divine healing and other paranormal activity. But it can easily gauge when there is a deviation from the country’s laws and when people’s dignity is impugned.

That said, the commission needs the church as friend and not a foe, therefore it should adopt a less antagonistic approach in dealing with the church.

Cool heads are needed on both sides.

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