Pretoria - ‘We are hurt that the need to keep up pretences and look holy became more important than acting in a Christ-like manner. The church did not stop, it did not listen, it did not care.” This was part of the memorandum handed in by protesting Methodist young people during a convention at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria on Sunday.
The group, joined by members of the EFF, was angry about the alleged sex scandal that rocked the Methodist City Mission in Pretoria last week. The youths came from as far as Limpopo, Bloemfontein and Free State. They wore black outfits.
The shocking revelations of sexual abuse at the church came to light on January 28 after a video of young women protesting during a service went viral. The alleged sexual abuse took place last year.
Read: Church sex shame
The memorandum also stated that the youths were concerned and deeply hurt by the mothers who called the alleged victims “loose” and were the first to accuse them of throwing themselves at “fathers”.
“They are the first ones to say ‘these young kids like things’. Our mothers stand on the side of the creepy uncle and insist we deal with this as a family matter,” read the memorandum.
In it, the youths also requested church leaders to treat cases of that nature with sensitivity and for those implicated to be recalled from any position of leadership.
It also called for the perpetrator, protectors and the church to search within their hearts and apologise unreservedly for their actions and delays of justice.
“Ultimately, we want our churches to be safe spaces, for us to be able to come to church without the fear that we will be victims of inappropriate advances. Let our churches be spaces where children, women and the marginalised find a voice,” the youths added.
Dineo Ledwaba, organiser of Sunday's protest, said the youths wanted to show the members of the church that new ways had to be explored, especially when dealing with issues of sexual abuse or any other kind of harassment. This included finding new ways of reporting cases and expediting matters when an issues like these happened.
“This is a serious matter that needed to be looked into a long time ago. The issue was reported last year, but the steward was still in function until recently,” Ledwaba said.
Kitinki Mazwi, of the EFF in Tshwane, said they too wanted to show the young women that protested that they believed and supported them.
The “Fighters” were holding placards, some of which read, “A church is a place of safety”, “Abusers must repent” and “Any form of harassment is a sin”.
Bishop Themba Mntambo, of the Methodist City Mission, said the leadership allowed the youths to voice their concerns and accepted the memorandum, which would serve as part of the journey to begin the healing process.
“The service held was organised long ago, but we decided to give the youngsters of our congregation the opportunity to tell us how they felt about this entire ordeal,” Mntambo said.
He confirmed that the steward had as of last week’s protest been suspended pending the outcome of the church's processes.
Meanwhile, The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has said it is greatly perturbed by what happened at its Pretoria church last week where a group of young women protested against alleged sexual harassment.
“Furthermore, we are disturbed and saddened by what gave rise to such action,” Presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa said.
“We are disappointed that the need for the girls to protest arose from the fact that the church processes that had been set in motion were experienced as slow and ineffective. We acknowledge and regret the frustration and anger this obviously caused.
“We are ashamed that any members of our church, be they female or male, would be allegedly victimised in what is considered a safe space. No abuse of any nature should be tolerated anywhere, especially in the church, a space within which people are meant to feel welcome and safe.
“We extend our deepest apology, not just to the young lady affected but to all the women in the church who have felt that their pain and hurt has gone unnoticed or has been inadequately dealt with by the church.”