In August 2013, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) sued Rev. Peter Bougardt, a senior pastor from Mitchell’s Plain, for R1 million in damages in the Equality Court (Cape High Court). His ‘crime’? Sharing his personal convictions, beliefs and concerns regarding the practice of homosexuality on his Facebook page and on other internet platforms.
A year later, the dispute between SAHRC and Pastor Bougardt is finally settled. The outcome? Pastor Bougardt, who told the mediator that he “will go to jail” for preaching the Gospel, does not have to apologise or pay a single cent in damages. Moreover, he may continue to preach that according to the Bible, God regards the practice of homosexuality (as He does all sexual immorality) as sinful, but will extend mercy and grace to all people who repent of their sin and turn to Him for forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.
This is a great outcome and indeed a great relief for Pastor Bougardt who, in a recent interview with Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), said that “the victory is all God’s”. He explained that, much to everyone’s surprise and against all odds, the outcome was in his favour. The only explanation is that God graciously intervened and worked everything for the good.
In its court papers, the SAHRC alleged that Pastor Bougardt’s statements regarding the practice of homosexuality, amounted to unfair discrimination against gay and lesbian people. As a consequence, Pastor Bougardt should be made to publicly apologise (in the newspaper as well as on his Facebook page), as well as pay R1 million to various institutions working to protect and promote gay and lesbian rights in South Africa.
During the initial proceedings before the Equality Court, Judge Bozalek held that the parties should first attempt to resolve the matter outside of court, and accordingly postponed the matter for purposes of mediation.
At the mediation proceedings, Pastor Bougardt told the mediator that while he could not apologise for what the Bible says regarding the practice of homosexuality, he sincerely apologised if the way in which he communicated his convictions and beliefs caused offence. He said that he understands that now. Pastor Bougardt assured the mediator however that, at no time, did he intend to incite violence against, or cause any harm to, gay or lesbian people but spoke out of concern particularly for the children of his community.
Pastor Bougardt told the mediator that, contrary to what the SAHRC made him out to be in the court papers, he was not a ‘gay basher’. He asked the mediator if speaking against murders and abortion (which he does also), would make him a ‘murder basher’ or an ‘abortion basher’?
‘A learning experience’
During the interview with FOR SA, Pastor Bougardt explained that while he is grateful and gives all glory to God for the outcome, this has been a real learning experience for him. Although he cannot and will never compromise on what the Bible teaches, he will be more careful in future as to how he communicates this and will strive to do so with great love, as God’s love for all people (including those who practice homosexuality) is what lies at the heart of the Gospel. (As an aside, he mentioned that someone recently asked him if he would serve a gay person a meal, to which he replied “of course! I am not a ‘gay hater’!”.)
Pastor Bougardt also expressed his gratitude towards FOR SA, who met with him as soon as the organisation became aware of the court case against him and who was instrumental in guiding Pastor Bougardt in terms of his approach and response to the mediation proceedings. He said that he would like to work with FOR SA in the community – to educate pastors about their right to freedom of religion and religious speech, and help them understand what this means practically.
Commenting on the outcome of the mediation, Andrew Selley (Founder and CEO of FOR SA) said, “this is an unexpected and huge victory for Pastor Bougardt. He had a difficult case to answer but God really came through miraculously, for which we along with him are very grateful. The outcome is also a victory for freedom of religion. It affirms that pastors have a right to preach the full Word of God (including the Scriptures that some may find ‘offensive’), and should not be taken to Court or to the SAHRC for doing so.”
Selley explained that this is of course no guarantee that there will not be further cases opened up against pastors or Christians for believing, teaching or living their lives according to the Bible. “We are not out of the woods yet and so FOR SA continues to call upon Christians to give us their support, to stand united and to pray as we actively work to protect and promote their freedom of conscience, religion and belief in South Africa,” he said.