Christians charged for following their conscience
By Andrew Selley, Founder and CEO of FOR SA
In 1946 Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor who narrowly escaped execution at the hands of the Nazis, wrote this provocative poem:
“First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics and I did not speak out because I was not a Catholic.
Then they came for me, and there was no left to speak for me.”
In 2014, the same poem holds frightfully true for Christians.
The Billy Graham Foundation has recently described the fight to uphold freedom of religion as “the most pressing issue facing Christianity today” and with good reason. In terms of a recent report by Pew Research Forum, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. While for some Christians persecution takes the form of martyrdom, for others it takes the form of government placing legal restrictions on their freedom to believe, teach and practise Christianity – no less real, no less hostile, no less directed at eradicating Christianity from society altogether!
On the international plain, we hear of CEOs of big corporations such as Mozilla Firefox being fired for not supporting same-sex marriage. Big franchises such as Chicken-fil-A are banned from New York City, because their CEO likewise believes in and supports natural marriage.
This month, two provinces in Canada banned law students educated at a Christian university from practising law in their provinces. The reason? A university policy that appeals to staff and students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” The fact that the staff and students willingly and thoughtfully chose to attend a Christian university, is of course irrelevant. So also the fact that these young legal minds have studied many years to equip themselves for their chosen profession and are now without any prospect of getting a job in their own province.
In South Africa, the battle is heating up also. In the month of April alone, Christians have come under fire for following their conscience in four different cases. All four cases have been instituted by members of the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) community and effectively accuse Christians of being “bigots”, “homophobes” and “hate speakers”.
1. S Raymond v Oakfield Farm, Roodepoort
Most recently, on April 23, 2014, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) notified Oakfield Farm in Gauteng, one of the oldest wedding venues in the country, that it is investigating a complaint of unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the farm.
The facts are as follows: In response to a request to host a same-sex marriage in the chapel on the farm, the Christian owners of the farm replied that unfortunately their conscience did not allow them to do so. The owners explained that the farm treats all people of all colours, cultures, religions and gender with absolute respect and without discrimination irrespective of whether they are clients, employees or service providers. The chapel however belongs to the Reformed Evangelical Church of SA and has for more than 16 years been in use for regular church services.
For the owners, to allow a “marriage” which does not conform to a biblical understanding of marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman, to be concluded in this consecrated place of worship, would make them participants in a “marriage” that looks different to what God intended. As participants to sin, they themselves would be guilty of sin before God. For this reason, the owners believe that they had no choice but to decline the hosting of a same-sex ceremony in the chapel. (Incidentally, the reason why the couple approached Oakfield Farm in the first place, was because the Catholic church for very much the same reason refused to conduct the ceremony).
The Oakfield case is the most recent in a string of cases lodged against Christian wedding venues and guesthouses in South Africa, by persons practising homosexuality. These cases closely resemble the current persecution of Christians who refuse on grounds of conscience to participate in same-sex “marriages”, by LGBTI groups in other countries around the world.
For example, in the United States of America recently:
– The New Mexico Supreme Court found that a Christian photographer cannot refuse to photograph a homosexual marriage. The US Supreme Court has since declined to hear an appeal by the photographer.
– A Christian florist in Washington state could face hefty fines because she refused to provide a floral arrangement for a homosexual wedding.
– In Oregon, the owners of a Christian bakery who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines after they were found guilty of violating the couple’s civil rights.
In all these cases, the Christians find themselves in a moral quandary: While they are not to judge people who hold to different beliefs than themselves, to help them do what they (Christians) regard as sinful, would violate their conscience and make the Christians themselves guilty of sin!
2. SAHRC v Rev OP Bougardt
On April 23, 2014, the Cape High Court sitting as the Equality Court, heard a matter referred by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against Rev O P Bougaardt of Calvary Hope Church in Mitchell’s Plain.
In this case, the SAHRC is asking the Court to order Rev Bougaardt to pay the sum of R1million in damages!
The complaint against Rev Bougaardt is that he made certain discriminatory statements with regard to homosexuals / homosexuality on social media and in public. He is also accused of hate speech.
Again, Rev Bougaardt’s intention at all times was simply to convey what the Bible says about homosexuality, namely that it is sinful before God and that God desires for people practising homosexuality, as for all sinners, to repent so that their souls may be saved. As a pastor, Rev Bougaardt believes that he has a responsibility before God to preach the Word of God without compromise. To do otherwise, would be to deceive hearers of the Word and so bring judgment upon himself.
The case has been postponed by the High Court, in order for the parties to try and mediate the dispute.
3. NJ Coulson v S and M Neethling
On 13 April 2014, the Equality Court in Bellville heard a matter against the Christian owners of a guesthouse in Wolseley in the Western Cape.
Again, the issue is the owners’ inability on grounds of religious conscience to rent out a room to a couple practising homosexuality — as in the case of people who are not married, who bring prostitutes to the premises, or who are under the influence of alcohol.
Again, the owners have made it clear that while they accept the couple’s choice to practise homosexuality and do not judge them for it, they ask the couple to accept their choice as to how they conduct their business and not condemn them for doing what they believe is right before God. For the owners, to make a room available to a couple who practise homosexuality, is to ask them to help the couple do something that God regards as sinful and in this way, to sin and incur God’s judgment upon themselves. The issue (and indeed, the moral quandary for the owners) is therefore not tolerance, but whether they should help the sinner to sin.
In this instance, the SAHRC has agreed to legally represent the homosexual couple who is asking the Court to order the Christian owners to:
– Give an unconditional and sincere apology for their conduct;
– Pay a fine to be donated to a non-profit organisation of the couple’s choice (Pride Shelter Cape Town); and
– Be prevented from discriminating in future.
This is an extremely important case for Christians in South Africa as it may set a precedent for how cases such as these will be dealt with in future. In the circumstances, FOR SA applied and was granted leave by the Court to act as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in the matter, to assist and guide the Court with regard to the constitutional issues. FOR SA’s hope is to persuade the Court to protect and uphold the Christian owners’ right to freedom of conscience in this instance.
The case has been postponed for hearing on 17 June 2014.
4. L Brown-Waterson v Kilcairn, Riebeek Valley
In April 2014 month also, a couple practising homosexuality lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against Kilcairn, a wedding venue in the Riebeek Valley near Wellington, Western Cape.
Again, the case against Kilcairn’s owners who are devout Christians, was that they unfairly discriminated when they refused on grounds of religious conscience to host a same-sex marriage ceremony on the farm.
Pressured by gay lobbyist groups, some suppliers boycotted and withdrew their services from Kilcairn. The wedding venue also received various hate mails and threats via correspondence and telephone, as a result of the publication of the story in the media.
The case has since been dropped by the homosexual couple. At the time, the SAHRC threatened however that “it is hoping to deal with this kind of discrimination in similar matters on its books”. The SAHRC is now evidently making good on its promise in the case of NJ Coulson v S and M Neethling before the Bellville Equality Court, referred to above.
5. E Butler v Diemerskraal, Paarl
Diemerskraal in the Paarl area in the Western Cape, is another wedding venue that was taken on by a couple practising homosexuality — both in the media, and by laying a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
Similar to the other cases, the owners of Diemerskraal last year refused on grounds of religious conscience to allow a same-sex ceremony on their premises. Again, while the owners respect the right of the couple to practise homosexuality, their conscience did not allow them to participate in a “marriage” that does not conform to a biblical understanding of “marriage”.
The case has since been dropped by the couple.
6. Case against New Living Way Ministry
In or about November 2013, the Office of the Family Advocate in Bloemfontein gave instructions for a complaint to be lodged with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), against a pastor who ministers to people with unwanted same-sex attraction.
In this instance, the pastor (who himself struggled with homosexuality for 32 years before coming to freedom, and who is also now married) wrote to a Dutch Reformed Church and offered to help bring people caught in a lifestyle of homosexuality to freedom in Christ. The Church reported the pastor to the Office of the Family Advocate, who referred the matter to the SAHRC.
The matter is currently still pending.
7. A and H Mostert v Joshua Generation Church, Sunningdale
In or about July 2013, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) investigated a complaint against Joshua Generation Church in Sunningdale, Tableview in the Western Cape, lodged by a husband and wife who are neither members of the church nor have any relationship with the church.
The subject of the complaint was the church’s teaching that parents have a God-given responsibility in terms of the Bible (Prov 13:24; Hebr 12:6-7 and others) to, at times and where needed but always in love, discipline their children by spanking them. To emphasise, the complaint was solely directed at the church’s biblical teaching in this regard. At no stage, was it alleged by the complainants that any actual incident of child abuse occurred.
While the matter was still in the investigation phase, the SAHRC prejudged the matter by sending a letter to Joshua Generation Church, stating that “the SAHRC does indeed regard corporal punishment … as falling within the definition of abuse, maltreatment, neglect, and degradation” – this, despite the fact that there was no evidence of child abuse, and despite the fact also that it is entirely legal in South Africa for parents to spank their children!
The outcome of the matter is still pending.
In the meanwhile, the South African government intends, around June 2014, to propose amendments to the Children’s Act that will make it illegal for parents to spank their children. As a result, parents who believe that it is their God-given responsibility in terms of the Bible to, at times and where needed but always in love, discipline their children by spanking them, will potentially face criminal prosecution. If found guilty of the crime of spanking, they will be fined or imprisoned even where no child abuse has occurred. A further option in terms of the Bill, is the referral of the child to a social worker for investigation, and the referral of the parent(s) for evaluation and treatment in the form of parenting programmes. Parents who refuse to submit to the liberal ideology of these parenting programmes, may well find their children being removed from them and placed in foster care (as is already happening in Europe).
8. Youth pastor
According to a report received by FOR SA, there is already a youth pastor in prison for failing to report to the Police a sexual offence by a minor, which came to his attention as a result of repentance by the ‘offender’ to the SAPS. (FOR SA is still in the process of obtaining / verifying the details of this).
9 Deputy Minister of Justice & Constitutional Development v Creare Training Centre, Free State
In April 2013, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) investigated a complaint of unfair discrimination against Creare, a Christian Training Centre specialising in Christian based studies and Christian arts. According to the findings of the SAHRC, the problem lied therein that Creare “expressed a religious view that the practise of homosexuality is deemed to be contrary to divine will.”
The facts of the case are as follows: As a school that trains and equips students for Christian ministry, Creare subscribes to a biblical view of homosexuality. It believes that homosexuality, as other forms of sexual immorality, is sinful before God and that people who want to change, can do so by submitting to God’s Word. While the SAHRC accepted that Creare’s view of homosexuality was a biblical one, it did not however accept the viewpoint itself and regarded it as a violation of human rights.
Contrary to what has been reported in the media, Creare never excluded any students on the basis of their sexual orientation and never forced any student to change their sexual orientation either. Creare’s policy has always been to love, accept, have respect for and believe in people as God Himself does, and to help those who want to change by pointing them to God’s Word since He alone can change us.
Having found against Creare, the SAHRC recommended that Creare undergoes a series of sensitisation workshops. There can be no doubt that the aim of these workshops is to persuade Creare that its biblical viewpoint is insensitive towards people practising homosexuality and for that reason, unacceptable and to be abandoned by the Christian training centre.
Most recently, the SAHRC has notified Creare that its appeal against the finding of the SAHRC (to the effect that Creare is guilty of a human rights violation) has been refused – this, when Creare never lodged an appeal against the finding!
10. Strydom v Nederduitse Gereformeerde Gemeente, Moreleta Park
In 2009, in another serious blow to religious rights and the autonomy of the Church, the Pretoria Equality Court decided that Moreleta Park church was not entitled to terminate the contract of a teacher who, it later emerged, was practising homosexuality. In this case, the church was ordered to pay compensation in a total amount of almost R100 000!
It did not matter to the Court that the practising of homosexuality was contrary to the church’s doctrine. Nor did it matter that the teacher failed initially to disclose his homosexual lifestyle to the church.
The Court has decided but the question lingers: who was the real culprit in this case – the unsuspecting church, or in fact the teacher?
A call to arms!
At this point, you may give a sigh of relief, grateful that you do not own a guesthouse or a wine farm, that you are not in the wedding business or a pastor of a church. But only for a moment, because there is no telling who will be next in the firing line.
The reality is that Judeo-Christian and family values are under major attack – on the international as well as on the home front. Following the elections, Parliament will be asked to pass a number of Bills that will directly challenge the authority of the Bible, and will rob Christians of their freedom to believe, preach and live their lives according to the Word of God.
The question is not, is this happening? It is. The only question is, what will we do about it?
Will we stay silent as one by one, our values and our beliefs as Christians are being taken from us? Or will we speak up and make a difference – not only for ourselves and our families, but for the sake of our nation who desperately needs the Good News of Jesus Christ at this time. Yes, history has shown that the gospel cannot be bound and will abound even in persecution. But how much better to live in a country where there is freedom to believe, share and live the gospel without fear of harassment or persecution!
Christians, it is up to us to fight this battle. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
Christians in SA are invited to join FOR SA (www.forsa.org.za) to stand together to fight for freedom of religion in South Africa.