The so-called “Doom and Dettol” prophets have given prophecy a bad name. Some of them bastardise religion, displaying wealth and conducting their business in a most shameful way, the writer says. Picture: Facebook

On this holy week it is useful to reflect on the role of the church in our body politic. In the past few months, we saw the church having a heightened interest in the politics of our country.

The Zuma administration were quite irritated about this - their defenders sought to underplay the role of the church and called for it to stay out of politics. In one extreme case of the incorrigible, those calling for Zuma to step down from the pulpit were labelled false prophets.

In some cases we saw religious folk taking sides even with unscrupulous characters whose morals are questionable. This is a sign of our times, where everything is a politically contested terrain, with religion caught in the political crossfire.

The reality is that no one can suddenly redefine the role of the church as we know it. All we need to do is read a little about liberation theology, and we will be better informed. The church has to question the current political dispensation.

The only thing the church did wrong was to release its foot from the pedal after 1994 and neglected its prophetic duties.

Other than a faint mention of the so-called RDP of the soul, there was nothing concrete that the church did to stem the tide of moral deprivation after 1994. The results are there for all to see - the nation has lost its moral compass almost as if there is no church in our politics.

Religious leaders got caught up in the post-1994 euphoria, and many of them got literally co-opted in the state and stopped being prophetic.

It took R700 billion to be wasted on corruption and the revelation of state capture for the church to catch a wake-up. This is a welcome development that requires the church to repent. Meanwhile the church itself is caught up in its own demons.

The recent developments that reveal unsavoury practices in the church, fuelled by the commercialisation of religion, have been rather disturbing and require the church to take a serious look at itself as a moral custodian of the nation.

The so-called "Doom and Dettol" prophets have given prophecy a bad name. The likes of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri bastardise religion, displaying wealth and conducting their business in a most shameful way.

Even with the most sophisticated spiritual reasoning, you cannot justify some of what is happening in these churches.

The mainline churches too have not covered themselves in glory. Just last week, the archbishop of Cape Town was forced to take measures to deal with sexual immorality in the church - a rather embarrassing thing, given how vocal the Anglican Church has been about the loss of moral rectitude in society.

It is in this context that we need to understand the work of the Commission for the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL).

The rights body investigates what is going on in the faith communities. The overarching theme seems to be the lack of accountability in the sector. This caught the ire of some in the community, especially when there was a suggestion that churches have been turned into generators of wealth.

The pastors are dead against anything that would seek to monitor this aspect of their business.

The alternative argument being pursued is that the state exempts churches from paying tax and in return expects some level of self-monitoring in the sector.

Allegations of some of these churches being used for money-laundering purposes can unfortunately no longer be ignored.

So what needs to be done? Surely the churches cannot expect politicians to be accountable and not want the same standards to be applied to them.

A part of me understands why the churches will be reluctant to have some kind of regulation suddenly. My argument though is not so they can remain unaccountable, but rather that they should not have a different standard shielding them from the prescripts of the law.

For argument's sake, let's assume that the law enforcement authorities get a tip-off that a Bushiri-type "larger than life" character is involved in money laundering. Upon this credible information landing on their desk, they need to arrest this person.

What has happened is that information like this is suppressed because some of the police authorities might be members of these churches. This must stop forthwith and the law must take its course.

The churches must subject themselves to the constitution like everyone else - this way, they can set a good example for other citizens. The CRL must spend its resources building the capacity of the churches to manage their affairs. Such programmes must be voluntary and be a service rather than a regulatory body.

Then there is the embarrassing matter of sexual immorality. Women and other organised groupings within the churches are too mute about this.

There are countless stories of pastors sleeping with girls. Women's group must stop pretending they are not aware of this and set up safe spaces for girls to report these pastors so that they can be exposed once and for all.

The Port Elizabeth pastor who is languishing in jail after a sex scandal was exposed cannot possibly be the only one among the current generation of pastors who have abused their positions and took advantage of girls.

It's time that society took a strong stance to protect our women and children from predators who hide behind the cloth and the pulpit. Until the church becomes a safe haven for the most vulnerable, we will make no progress in reversing the trends of abuse in our society.

On this holy week, one hopes that the churches can reflect on their own contribution to the moral decay that is attacking the very existence of our society. It's truly unacceptable that when our population is so religious, we should be ranking as one of the most corrupt societies in the world. This sends a wrong message about the standing of the faith community in our country.

* Tabane is the author of Let’s Talk Frankly and host of Power Perspective on Power 98.7

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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