The Need to Regulate the Actions of Churches and Religious Leaders that Abuse their Power

The millennial era in South Africa has seen a dramatic shift in the core focus of a pivotal arm of governance in society which is the church. Many argue that the church has since shifted from being a place of refuge and comfort, to a house characterised by self-interest, money, and corruption. Many unfamiliar or taboo practices which cannot be traced back to any biblical or generally acceptable moral standard are taking place within Christian churches. This led to a proposal calling for the actions of churches to be regulated put forward by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of  the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. This received immediate backlash from religious leaders, who regard such regulations as absurd as it breaches Article 15 of the Constitution of South Africa which states that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.

However, without any regulation, many have suffered severe exploitation by so-called “prophets’ and pastors who have gone as far as allowing their congregants to consume substances such as petrol in order to demonstrate the “power of God”. Such practices have been said to have no biblical roots, and pastors who have been involved in this have had to face the law.  Another tier of exploitation that comes with new age religious practices among Christian leaders include accessing prophecy through paying a ransom, were pastors are believed to receive large sums of money for any prophetic word delivered to a congregant.

The regulation of churches quickly became an issue  to probe as soon as several cases of rape by church leaders were reported. The South African Police Service’s serial and electronic crimes investigation (SECI) section of the family violence, child protection, and sexual offences (FCS) unit arrested a 26-year-old youth pastor in Cape Town for possession of child pornography and failing to report knowledge of the commission of a sexual offence with children. Furthermore, a Nigerian pastor charged with human trafficking, sexual assault and the rape of young girls will be re-applying for bail in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court, based on new facts. The Durban-based televangelist, who recently celebrated his 59th birthday behind bars, is alleged to have trafficked more than 30 girls and women, who were from various branches of his church. In another horrifying incident, police arrested a 52-year-old pastor in a village near Lulekani township for allegedly raping his 14-year-old half-sister.

With sexual abuse cases mounting and the lack of regulation of practices within the church, all under the ambit of the voluntary nature of the religious system, is it ethically and morally correct to endorse such practices without establishing accountability measures to ensure that the religious system functions in line with law, and is an effective contributor to the economy of the country it operates in?

There is a waging war with regards to the nature of the church itself, as an institution which is protected from state interference. However, the state has a duty to protect individuals from any form of exploitation, as law supersedes any institutional policy. In light of all these allegations, state interference is necessary, for protection purposes, especially against the “commercialisation” of religion and the abuse of people and their belief systems.

Checks and balances are necessary, and transparency is key in ensuring that people are protected at all times.


Featured image | National Assembly of South Africa | Kaihsu | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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