‘Bad churches’ pose a huge threat to SA

CityPress - - Voices - Vusi Mona voices@city­press.co.za

From mak­ing con­gre­gants eat grass to or­gan­is­ing Ponzi schemes and the mush­room­ing of du­bi­ous churches, there is a prob­lem in the re­li­gious sec­tor in South Africa. And it has to be tack­led.

The study by the Com­mis­sion for the Pro­mo­tion and Pro­tec­tion of the Rights of Cul­tural, Reli­gious and Lin­guis­tic Com­mu­ni­ties is an at­tempt to deal with the prob­lem – and we should see it as such.

Put­ting aside the dif­fer­ences re­li­gious lead­ers had with the com­mis­sion about its ap­proach, South Africa must clean up its re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions be­fore we have a full­blown cri­sis and, dare I say, threats to our na­tional se­cu­rity.

Let me say up­front that I am a firm be­liever in the sep­a­ra­tion of the church and state. Govern­ment must have a le­git­i­mate sec­u­lar pur­pose. I say this as a Chris­tian, con­scious of the fact I would not like a gov­ern­ment that has the pri­mary ef­fect of ad­vanc­ing or in­hibit­ing my re­li­gion, or any other re­li­gion for that mat­ter.

Ex­ces­sive en­tan­gle­ment of gov­ern­ment and re­li­gion should be dis­cour­aged in a free, open and demo­cratic so­ci­ety.

But let me stress that this sep­a­ra­tion does not mean that those who are in gov­ern­ment should not hold re­li­gious views or sub­scribe to par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious be­liefs. How­ever, they should de­sist from dic­tat­ing and con­trol­ling re­li­gion.

Crit­i­cally, it should not be seen as en­tan­gle­ment – ex­ces­sive or oth­er­wise – when gov­ern­ment re­quires re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions to com­ply with the laws of the coun­try.

There are laws that gov­ern how re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions, as in­sti­tu­tions, must be reg­is­tered and con­duct their af­fairs. Ditto com­pa­nies. The lat­ter have to be prop­erly reg­is­tered and held to ac­count by their stake­hold­ers – share­hold­ers, em­ploy­ees, gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety – for their ac­tions or lack thereof.

This is so be­cause, all too of­ten, one com­pany’s ac­tions and as­sets be­come li­a­bil­i­ties and risks for other par­ties – tax­pay­ers, busi­nesses and the en­vi­ron­ment.

To the ex­tent that a re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ac­tions or a lack thereof can af­fect the wel­fare of other par­ties, they must be held ac­count­able.

We have seen this with the col­lapse of the church build­ing in Nige­ria last year in which 81 South Africans died. The head of the church, TB Joshua, and two en­gi­neers who re­port­edly ap­proved the struc­tural in­tegrity of the build­ing are now fac­ing crim­i­nal neg­li­gence charges. So they should.

But the im­pact of the ac­tions of re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions is not con­fined to its mem­bers.

Reli­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions can prej­u­dice the state and the wel­fare of so­ci­ety. For ex­am­ple, there is a prac­tice in the church world of pay­ing hon­o­raria to guest speak­ers. There’s noth­ing wrong with that. When the speaker is from out­side the coun­try, the ex­penses can run into sig­nif­i­cant amounts.

But churches have an obli­ga­tion to no­tify the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice about these pay­ments and get a di­rec­tive about how much to with­hold for tax pur­poses. Not do­ing so prej­u­dices the state and tax­pay­ers. If re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions are go­ing to col­lect money from the pub­lic and not pay tax, they must reg­is­ter as pub­lic ben­e­fit or­gan­i­sa­tions and ap­ply for tax ex­emp­tion sta­tus. This is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in light of the num­ber of churches be­ing es­tab­lished by for­eign­ers in South Africa – an el­e­ment one feels is miss­ing in the com­mis­sion’s cur­rent study.

Are these churches tax-com­pli­ant? How does the state en­sure they are not be­ing used for other pur­poses, which un­der­mine South Africa’s sovereignty? We don’t need to have a tragedy for South African au­thor­i­ties and lo­cal cit­i­zens to start ask­ing these ques­tions.

Sto­ries have been re­ported in some parts of Africa about how re­li­gious lead­ers with names like Gen­eral Overseer, Daddy, Papa and Mummy train young min­is­ters, pay them good salaries and send them to es­tab­lish branches of their churches in a for­eign coun­try – not to nec­es­sar­ily spread the gospel, but to gen­er­ate an in­come.

Th­ese min­is­ters are then asked by their churches to col­lect the of­fer­ings and tithes and send this money to church head­quar­ters.

In most in­stances, these priests are sent to a coun­try with a boom­ing econ­omy so they can send good re­turns back home. Could this be what in­forms the mush­room­ing of churches in our in­ner cities that are headed by for­eign pas­tors? The com­mis­sion must tackle this ele­phant in the room.

While it does so, lo­cal re­li­gious lead­ers must clean up their act by ad­her­ing to the laws of the coun­try.

Mona is for­mer deputy CEO of the Rhema Bi­ble Church (North)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.