Two more religious freedom cases in SA this month
By Advocate Nadene Badenhorst, Spokesperson for FOR SA
A month ago the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a fundamentalist terrorist group whose aim is to create an ultra-Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, gave Christians in Mosul (Iraq) an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant “infidel” tax, or die by the sword.
Following the ultimatum, many people including children have suffered the most violent deaths in Mosul and the surrounding areas. Crosses have been removed from all churches and monasteries — some have been burned, destroyed and looted, while many others are being used as ISIS centres.
In a desperate attempt to save their families and their properties, some Christians have converted to Islam. Thousands of Christians have refused however to deny their faith, and have fled Mosul – many leaving with only their clothes on their backs, and many now finding themselves destitute and even dying from hunger, thirst or illness. (To find out more about the persecution and/or to financially contribute to food and medical supplies for the Christian refugees, contact Open Doors South Africa – see www.opendoors.org.za).
The many faces of persecution
In John 15:20, Jesus said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first … Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.”
This was true for many of the early Christians (including the Twelve Apostles, Stephen, Paul, Silas, Timothy and others) who were hated, scorned and suffered persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus.
Today, this is as true for Christians in the Middle East and many other places around the world where Christians are imprisoned, tortured, kidnapped or killed for no other reason than that they are believers. (For the countries where faith costs most, see the Open Doors website above).
In South Africa (as in other countries in the West), ‘persecution’ is becoming a reality for Christians as well. Persecution has many faces and while, by the grace of God, Christians in South Africa by no means suffer the atrocities of their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, pastors and Christians in the marketplace increasingly find themselves having to defend their Christian conscience, religion and belief before the courts of law, the Human Rights Commission and Gender Equality Commission.
Although freedom of conscience, religion and belief is protected as a fundamental right in the South African Constitution, in practice Judeo-Christian and family values – in the name of ‘tolerance’ – increasingly have to make way for secular humanist values in the public and even in the private sphere.
The latest cases in SA
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has already previously reported on proposed legislation and pending court cases that threaten religous freedom and the autonomy of the Church in South Africa.
The month of August has seen two more ‘cases’ involving Christians, namely:
– On Tuesday this week, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein heard the appeal of a lesbian minister who accused the Methodist Church of unfair discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. In this case the Church, whose biblical doctrine and belief is that God intended marriage as a holy union between one man and one woman, had no choice but to dismiss the lesbian minister following her ‘marriage’ to her same-sex partner. The Court has reserved judgment for a later date. (To read more about this case, see http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Gay-minister-free-to-marry-partner-SCA-hears-20140826).
– On Wednesday last week, a local gay website reported that a gay couple intended to take another wedding venue, Sha-Mani Lodge in Alberton, to the Equality Court for refusing on religious grounds to host a same-sex wedding ceremony. (See http://www.mambaonline.com/2014/08/20/wedding-venue-ignores-court-ruling-snubs-another-gay-couple/). According to Sha-Mani, curiously enough, it received telephone calls from four different couples who enquired about homosexual weddings at the venue. In each instance, Sha-Mani refused on the basis that their Christian conscience, religion and belief do not allow them to participate in something that God regards as sinful.
This would not be the first time that Sha-Mani is dragged before the Equality Court for refusing to compromise on their Christian beliefs. In 2012, a lesbian couple sued Sha-Mani under similar circumstances, the outcome of which was that Sha-Mani had to pay a R20 000 settlement amount to a LGBTI rights group and agree to in future host gay and lesbian wedding ceremonies at the venue.
While some (including the gay couple who intends to bring the new case against Sha-Mani) claim unbelief and shock at Sha-Mani’s disregard of the 2012 settlement agreement, for us as believers their position should not come as a surprise. The Bible tells us that “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. … If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning” (Romans 14:22-23).
For Sha-mani, it is right not to allow something that they believe to be contrary to God’s will (namely same-sex marriage) on their premises. If they were to do otherwise, they would be sinning against their Christian conscience, religion and belief and ultimately against God. And no settlement agreement or court order can, or should, force them to do that. In Luke 12:4-9, believers are commanded as follows” “Dear friends, dont be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear … I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge int eh presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.”
This is the battle of the early Christians, the Christians in Iraq and Syria and the battle also of Christians in South Africa: when faced with difficult choices, will we cave in and compromise on our beliefs, or will we be faithful witnesses to the truths of the Gospel even if it costs us — our businesses or ministries, our friends or families, even our very lives?
A response to persecution
Andrew Selley, Founder & CEO of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) commented as follows on the situation in Iraq and Syria: “As an organisation that works to protect and promote religious freedom, FOR SA condemns the persecution of Christians in the Middle East in the strongest terms. No one has the right to tell another person what to believe, let alone to kill innocent people for their religious beliefs. Our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, and we pray that in the midst of great difficulty, they will hold on to Jesus and know the comfort and power of the Holy Spirit.”
Selley went on to say that we should not be so ignorant however as to think that religious persecution only happens thousands of miles away. In South Africa, Christians are finding it increasingly difficult to freely believe, preach and live their lives according to the Word of God. He said that we must remain watchful and prayerful for the sake of keeping the Gospel ‘free’ in South Africa.
“Over the last while, we have seen a few surprising (given the strong emphasis on and push for LGBTI rights) victories for religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church, for which we thank God and give Him all the glory! We believe that, by God’s grace and with the united support of churches around the country, FOR SA is becoming a loud enough voice for government and society to take note of and thus protect Christian conscience, religion and belief. As is apparent from the two new ‘cases’ against Christians in August however, the threat remains and as Christians we must therefore continue to stand united – irrespective of our theological differences and for the sake of religious freedom,” Selley concluded.
For more information about FOR SA, to subscribe to its newsletter and/or join FOR SA (at no cost), visit www.forsa.org.za