By: Clyde Ramalaine
The last few years of our sojourn has seen jolts of threats of a claimed State-led plan of regulating faith-life in South Africa. There is little doubt that what I dubbed a campaign against independent Pentecostal churches did not come about automatically or organically but is an orchestrated action that has specific role players defined political and economic interests and a sinister aim of targeting a specific Christian Faith stream namely Independent Pentecostals also Charismatics as an off-shoot of Pentecostalism.
Let us then in the beginning dispense with the fallacy that the overarching aim was FAITH in general and not a specific Christian Tradition in particular. Those who trade in this claim seek easy comfort in all faiths and denominations appearing before the CRL in its research enquiry which resulted in a report on commercialization of faith. My counter is simple it would have been too glaring had the CRL not called more than just Independent Pentecostal churches or clergy. Hence inviting all was a strategy of deflection in the hope of fooling all.
What is undeniable is that the CRL became alive to its apparent role when singular incidents of an unorthodox nature were reported to have manifested in some Independent Pentecostal churches and gatherings. The intention for regulation otherwise control was, therefore, craftily aided by these now-infamous unorthodox practices of literally less than twenty individuals of the Independent Pentecostal Tradition. Hence I will categorically advance that the CRL under its very contradictory past Chairperson Thoko Xaluva was repurposed for a bigger political aim.
Role of the CRL in the regulation campaign
While we have heard from the grapevine and simulated if not falsified ‘official’ accounts of the State’s intention to regulate faith life in South Africa, there is hitherto simply no evidence for this. What is mistaken for an overarching State-led intervention of regulation is a suspect CRL report overshadowed by the personality of its former CRL Chairperson. These subsequent vocal intentions of a CRL report which is built on less researched information for plausible solutions for what we can call structuring independent churches who in the majority are Pentecostal in tradition to be forced into denominational frames has kept many occupied in fear.
Let us remember the report as tabled is entitled the ‘Commercialization of Religion’. We may find an issue with this title since the subject of commercialization while casually addressed is not the only aspect if the full gambit of what is proposed extends to a regulated environment and space.
The 39-page report starts with 25 pages of a historical context, methodology/approach, and processes followed and varied experiences encountered. The next few pages depicts a synopsis of findings essentially under fourteen main themes that spans the inclusion of confirmation the prima facie evidence for Commercialization of religion, Non-compliance with laws, Lack of good governance, Misuse of visa application, Flouting of banking rules, Non-compliance with SARS and taxation laws, Uncontrolled movement of cash in and out of the country, Mushrooming of religious institutions, illegal and unethical advertising or religious and Traditional healing services, Property bought with the communities money, operations of religious institutions as business and a lack of religious Peer Review Mechanism. This then is followed by a set of twenty-four recommendations with a brief means to implement them.
Later on, the CRL articulated its motivation for new regulation, which starts by acknowledging that: “the religious sector needs the powers to regulate it to bring the various religions the respect they deserve.”
The CRL following this acknowledgement ventured to postulate: “The traditional structured religions along with the religious institutions that have structured systems in place should be able to articulate them and thus be accredited to act as “umbrella Organisations” or associations.”
- This premise raises several questions; it firstly acknowledges traditional structured religions. This while perhaps innocent fails to inform us how these structured traditional religions and their respective systems came about, was tested, proven, and benchmarked as the CRL accepted standard for ‘umbrella Organisation’ status. Meaning the CRL made gross assumptions.
- The CRL fails to enlighten us as to how in a natural sense it uncritically accepted these it terms ‘traditional structured religions and systems’ as the meridian and necessary standard for all.
- The CRL motivates for what its terms ‘umbrella Organisations or associations’. The challenge with terms of ‘umbrella’ ‘organisation’ and ‘associations’ lay not in the innocence of its meaning but the conflation of what these already in religious lexicons came to mean in an evolved and historical reality of a religious economy.
- It cannot be the assumption on the part of the CRL that there is an agreed common, uniform and coherent meaning for these constructs across the wider arch of what is defined as religion or faith. ‘Umbrella organisations and bodies of Associations’ firstly are those of choice, meaning the individual or religious formation has a right to religious freedom as enshrined in Sections 15 and 31 of the Constitution of RSA as well as is found in the Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms.
- At another level, the usage of these constructs presents a challenge for the acknowledged reality of the implicit and experiential residual abuse it holds within itself. In our conflicting political and religious South Africa, if I may cite the SACC is already an ‘umbrella Organisation’ for those who affiliate to it, it may also then for the CRL be easy to deduce that such an ‘umbrella Organisation’ is devoid of question, sacrosanct when we saw the SACC active in factional recent political pursuit of ANC Presidential removal, hardly the task or assignment for an ‘umbrella Organisation’ of religious setting that some may want to associate with or even its members endorse.
- ‘Umbrella Organisations’ may also exercise their organisational narrow pursuits that again leads us to new but State-aided and endorsed control which may in all likelihood again encroach on the fundamental rights of people and religious formations to organise in freedom of religious practices as afforded in constitutional prerogative.
- An umbrella organisation does not exist outside the scope of the political, economic and self-interest worlds that constitute our societal experience.
In an attempt to recognize the ambivalence, dualism and complexity if not the authentic questionability of its advanced ‘umbrella Organisation’ notion, it articulates, “While religious institutions will all be expected to fall under an umbrella organisation, freedom of association should be paramount in affiliation to umbrella Organisations.” What a contradiction?
Even if the premise for PEER Review Council were meant to be anchored on common faith of Christianity, for example, the assumption that we have agreed on what that means as our diverse interpretations of the TEXT confirms that you still have to hurdle many hindrances. You cannot simply assume that Pentecostal churches are in unison on what constitutes the accreditation. I am in concert with the notion of accreditation in a constitutional democracy as a principle.
However, the CRL in section 18:3 places one of the criteria for accreditation, as “a religion must have a significant number of followers that believe in and adhere to the tenants of the faith” this does not make sense because the CRL does not explain what is meant with significant.
If this is ever must be adopted it will furthermore question the establishment and realization of new religions. I don’t think the CRL exists to stymie the emergence of new religions. I also do not think the CRL can scientifically and empirically assume the current CRL accepted existing religions all started with large numbers. Again, if I may use the Christian Faith in its ontological footprint evidence a gathering of twelve people who were called together by a controversial unknown individual whom there were questions around his birth, earthly father, teachings, his miracles, lack of education in Judaism, who had a cousin and forerunner John the Baptist who was an Essene, living a secluded life that was not palatable for many of the organised faith of the day.
Jesus Christ my Saviour whom I profess was rejected as non-conventional, unorthodox and often considered in complete violation of what was then defined as religious practices. He equally was misconstrued for spelling essentially a religious but also political threat for those of his day. This is the genesis of the faith I take pride in and espouse as my faith/ religion and will defend at all times. There was no promise this religion or faith would find traction in an emerging to become a cosmopolitan world and over 2019 years later it in SA as the census confirms remains the 70% majority faith for those who choose to associate freely with it.
I cannot but wonder how a similar faith in our post-modern society will come about in SA with the CRL’s analysis and recommendations for religious regulation and accreditation. The focus of the CRL and its rushed conclusion on new regulation confirms an agenda at play.
There is simply no evidence for a State with an appetite for Faith -regulation
Despite relevant questions around commercialisation and taxation issues interspersed with at times human abuse claims as we saw with the Omotoso case, by a few individual pastors, there is no corroborating evidence for any claim the State is the initiator of strategy and doctrine for the regulation of faiths in SA.
In recent years some have taken cheap comfort in Paul Kagame’s leadership in Rwanda held up as accredited for having closed down thousands of churches implementing regulation. The Rwanda reality and the SA reality are mutually exclusive and Kagame who somewhere overnight for some became a hero has questions to answer on his claimed murderous regime.
I will postulate the State under the ANC or even in recognition of any of the official opposition parties hitherto of itself has shown no innate ambition to regulate faith in general or independent Pentecostal Churches in particular as is often naturally assumed. The State, therefore, is merely a targeted role player to be used to achieve a political agenda which is anchored in economic interest by other role players. What do I mean with this I hear you retort? I am saying there is a Christian religious interest group that uses its access and influence on the State in this epoch to this end and has targeted the independent Pentecostal Churches.
The premise of faith-based intolerance for Pentecostal Tradition
From where then the interest to control the spreading and growth of independent Pentecostal churches in SA. The history of Pentecostalism in South Africa’s sees its earliest presence around the turn of the 20th century. Its oldest church expression remains the Apostolic Faith Mission, founded by John G Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch in May 1908, while its place of birth Doornfontein, attested a multiracial environment it didn’t take long to become a race-divided entity that in 1996 officially became one. Not without its many convex and concave challenges for a claim of unity, what cannot be denied is that the AFM –SA is at least in constitution one church, and therefore, streets ahead of for example the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) and its still apartheid raced defined black division of United Reformed Church who until now confirms a divided Christian Reformed Tradition. The AFM was later followed by other expressions such as Assemblies of God in South Africa started both as a missionary and an indigenous church. In 1914 when the AOG was birthed in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a team of three applied for membership and this was accepted in 1917. From the start the Pentecostal Tradition was condemned for its liturgical format and content, its practises, its belief in miracles, evidence of speaking in tongues and other declarations.
A combination of events since the advent of political freedom immanent in South Africans rethinking denominationalism at least in Pentecostal tradition spaces and the reality of aggressive migration whether legal or illegal among others saw to exceptional growth spurts in the prevalence of Pentecostal churches. Let me then also herewith be emphatically clear, under no circumstances ought any country suffer abuse by tourist visitors who overstay their visits and eventually find apparent ‘callings’ in establishing churches in a country where they are illegal. Meaning this problem of illegal migrants parading as ‘pastors’ and mushrooming in church expressions is a Department of Home Affairs problem that warrants to be dealt with in crystal-clear constitutional and legal forms. I am all for letting the law run its course and illegal immigrants are no exception.
It is however not a Pentecostal Church problem; it cannot become an Independent Pentecostal Church problem for which it must account with cul-de-sac reasoning of regulation as the only means to control. The presence of any illegal migrant is a secular and State problem that confirms its glaring failures to implement laws that already exists.
Pentecostals out of its history right around the world were always categorised, stigmatised labelled considered sects, of substandard education, theologically challenged and doctrinally suspect. Need I say by those who were aided by 500 years of reformation tradition that redefined every aspect of societal life with no exception to religions and religious life measurable in of authenticity? Hence it is not far- fetched to remonstrate that Pentecostals were always looked down upon, found unpalatable and considered ignorant.
It, was, therefore, natural for some Pentecostals seek to be assimilated in what is erroneously considered ‘mainline’ church expressions. Even in the 80’s when apartheid was beginning to show internal bleeding and the religious formations found justified expressions in declarations such as the Belhar Confession and subsequent Relevant Pentecostal Witness the dividing lines of ‘mainline’ and ‘untrained boskerk’ realities advanced by some who continued to be dismissive of Pentecostalism as an established Christian Faith Tradition.
The truth is Pentecostalism has grown from strength to strength until in this epoch its growth and prevalence troubles some.
What was the role of political leadership [Jacob G Zuma] in the current presence of political leadership?
In a 2012 opinion piece published in the CityPress under the heading ‘25 reasons why Zuma will serve a second term’, I outlined that Zuma’s presidency plausibly may in a strange way have marked the second coming of Pentecostalism in affording it a less peripheral role as under his predecessors Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki respectively. Zuma’s clinical break with the known ‘mainline churches’ dominance of the political arena confirmed the arrival of the religious underdogs. We saw the religious council of Mbeki which comprised essentially SACC members make way for the Independent Pentecostals and African Independent Churches that assumed much more prominent role. There is little doubt that the SACC the past religious surrogate for a degree of political freedom found itself out of sync in the dying days of Mbeki presidency. Zuma did not revive any of that historical relevance when he publicly associated with Independent Pentecostal Churches fraternities and leaders. In a sense, we can argue the SACC churches are colonial churches.
Gone was the traditional mainline churches dominance of the political spaces a subject for which Zuma was and is hated until the SACC among others were wholly part of campaigns to have him unseated. Shall we remember how in 2017 Bishop Mpumlwana argued for the dissolving of Parliament over the Nkandla Saga? It claimed it was resorting to these public views since the ANC Top six leadership ignored their request for special meetings. Hence Pentecostals whether they want to admit or not had such publicity and senior political recognition as under the Zuma administration. What is clear is that Zuma’s presidency redefined the religious-political economy of SA and that choice did not include the SACC. If the SACC leadership is honest they will admit that’s where its war with Zuma started. As the SACC dwindled and teetered in irrelevance it sought to find a means to resuscitate itself in 2012 when it approached independent churches for financial aid.
It is therefore not cynical to argue the SACC leadership personalised its fight with the ANC and SA president because it felt insulted and disrespected by his choice not to go with the SACC as his predecessors to varying degrees did. Some in the SACC sits behind this ‘regulation’ agenda.
I will continue to argue that perhaps the biggest role player in quest for the regulating of an Independent Pentecostal church expressions is not the South African State, it could not even be a slew of political parties or even a Chapter Nine institution of CRL, but potentially players in a redefined religious-political economy that warrants resuscitating themselves in relevance to control. I place that as some in the SACC fold who until now struggle to respect Pentecostalism equal to their own traditions, others bitter for what former president Zuma in choice at religious level stood for and for the fact that the SACC became in the aftermath an irrelevant organisation. Need I remind us all that the proposed ‘umbrella organisations’ advanced in the CRL report have entities such as the SACC in mind.
I, therefore, wish to postulate it is not the State in any form of expression that is obsessed to regulate faith life in SA. It is some in the SACC who despite having Pentecostals as part of its affiliates, detests the Tradition from the debris of arrogance of a claim of theological superiority. These in lusty fashion desire to rule the Christian Faith as mother-body and covering of all. Meaning there is both political and economic interest at play and this must not be ignored. I premise my deduction on this since the February 2019 meeting held at Rhema Church in Randburg were over 600 clergy or church representatives gathered had as its pre-planned agenda the endorsing of an already concocted plan in which the CRL’s insistence that we all huddle together and work out a plan since Government was ready to regulate. The meeting hosted by a group of clergy saw Pastor Ray McCauley, his spiritual son Bishop Muso Sono as leading the meeting. Needless to say, McCauley was at pains to introduce us to Sono in what I have deemed a sort of ‘handing over of a baton’. While this in Rhema Church setting may be perfect and legitimate it, unfortunately, cannot be assumed is relevant to the broader Independent Pentecostal Church fraternities. When attendants called McCauley to order he resorted asking them what they have done so far in reference to what he claims he has done. We must also remember Rhema is part of the SACC too.
The strategy was clear, scare them into the proverbial kraal and force them into submission by a prepared declaration oath that was to dovetail the planned meeting agenda. Unfortunately for this agenda some of had a spirit of discernment and saw right through the old hand of apartheid tactics. We purposely confronted those responsible for the programme and content of agenda that wanted us to merely rubberstamp their concluded decisions as binding on the entire Christian Church expressions. One of the things I raised there was the fact that the meeting was out of order in origin of agenda, process, structure and content. That meeting was not just a hive of contrarian views but it was revealing of what is at play behind the scenes in both personal and group agenda definitions. I can confirm that since that gathering where the then CRL Chair Thoko Xaluva was demanded by the majority to leave but refused to an agenda was unveiled that has at aim the fear-mongering of the threat of regulation that was made to hang over the head of the independent Pentecostal churches. Since that time no public meeting ever was organised while an October 2019 date was agreed as the next time to engage. We have made attempts to engage the organisers of the Rhema Church gathering and such have drawn a blank.
We, therefore, must be vigilant to categorically acknowledge if any agenda for regulation exists it does so as engineered by members of the Christian Faith community inspired by their own political and economic interest who repurposed the CRL and attempts hoodwinking the state into their agenda.
I, therefore, think that the CRL under Xaluva was repurposed and agencies such as SARS are among others are potentially used as instruments in means to the desired end. Critical is the tactics hitherto employed, that of fear-mongering, threat and a sense of herding. Independent Pentecostal Churches beware there is a religious-based big brother organisation who wants to control you and your organisation because it already has Pentecostal affiliates who desperately seek to be assimilated as mainline churches.