Pastor Timothy Omotoso, from Nigeria, is in police custody facing charges of rape and human trafficking. File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Pastor Timothy Omotoso, from Nigeria, is in police custody facing charges of rape and human trafficking. File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

’CRL Commission’s proposals to control churches would make things worse, not better’

By Siboniso Mngadi Time of article published Nov 22, 2020

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Durban - Christian organisations are weighing their options on what action should be taken by the government to protect congregants from becoming victims of evil practice and crime while in the “house of God”.

This comes as the spotlight falls on charismatic churches under scrutiny at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.

The commission is investigating allegations of the cult, evil practices and sexual offence against the leader of the Rivers of Living Waters Church, Archbishop Stephen Zondo.

Members of the church from Gauteng approached the commission raising several allegations.

Some leaders have confessed to being false prophets, while others have admitted to having been part of a cult and evil practice inside the church.

The revelations come against the backdrop of the escape of the controversial self-proclaimed prophet, Shepherd Bushiri, to his home country, Malawi, last week.

Bushiri, who faced charges of fraud and money laundering, was released on R200 000 bail recently.

Bushiri is the founder and leader of the Johannesburg- based Enlightened Christian Gathering, which is followed by thousands of congregants.

Another pastor Timothy Omotoso, from Nigeria, is in police custody facing charges of rape and human trafficking.

Omotoso is alleged to have lured young girls to his mansion in Durban North under the disguise of his church.

The cases were among many others that have resulted in calls for the regulation of religious organisations.

However, Philip Rosenthal, director of Christianview Network warned against it, emphasising enforcement of the law.

He maintained that other pastors were doing “good” work and could not bear the brunt of the minority.

“Corrupt people abusing people’s trust in the church is a real problem,” Rosenthal said.

“But the CRL Commission proposals to control churches would make things worse, not better, because that power can be abused to silence good pastors as well as bad ones.

“Most foreign pastors are doing good, and it wouldn’t be fair to target them because of Bushiri.

“The existing law includes many ways to hold church leaders accountable,” he said.

“People need to be made aware of these.

“There is room for improvement of the law to close loopholes exploited by abusive leaders, but registration and regulation of religion would be overkill,” he said.

Rosenthal said that the state, apart from the criminal law, could not determine which pastors were genuine or fake – saying regulation would lead to discrimination.

Lucas Ngoetjana, the deputy chief executive officer of KZN Christian Council said it was unfortunate that there was not even a single church authority in charge of discipline, unlike in the past.

“Churches used to have structures and formation to discipline members for any wrongdoing.

“Now people have single churches and there are no structures within those churches which pose a serious danger to the congregants,” Ngoetjana said.

“To end this, we need to employ government mechanisms, like the commissions.

“Anyone found guilty must face the law, each person must be treated as a human being under the constitution, not the bible.

“We need to intensify enforcement in every church and people must speak up when they suspect something,” he said.

The hearings on the cult and evil practices in churches are currently under way.

Sunday Tribune

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