No to gays, yes to riches

2011-08-27 00:00

UPON the conclusion of church services at Johannesburg’s Winners Chapel International (WCI), congregants can report to an office where a string of pastors stand ready to rescue souls, drive out illnesses and cure “deviations”.

Among the “deviations” the church can apparently cure through prayer and counselling is homosexuality.

And among the pastors doing this counselling is constitutional judge Mogoeng Mogoeng, who has just been nominated by President Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s new chief justice for the next 10 years.

When Judge Mogoeng leads the judiciary, however, the Constitution demands that he treats everyone as equal before the law, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Asked about this Nigerian church’s attitude towards gays, one of WCI’s senior pastors, Samuel Dennar, told Weekend Witness this week that homosexuality is an unacceptable deviation condemned by the Bible. He added, “We transform such behaviour through prayer and counselling according to the teachings of the Bible. We do not condemn anyone and will help anyone,”

The church also prohibits abortion and is widely criticised for its so-called “wealth preaching”.

The head of the church, Bishop David Oyedepo, is Nigeria’s wealthiest church man, with a personal fortune of an estimated one billion rand.

On Wednesday night congregants were encouraged to buy Bishop Oyedepo's many books — which describe among other things how homosexuality can be cured.

Judicial and constitutional experts are now asking questions about Mogoeng’s suitability to be chief justice.

He is accused of being inexperienced and of deferring to executive authority.

Constitutional expert Professor Pierre de Vos said he is “shocked” by the nomination and that Judge Mogoeng is not suited to be chief justice.

During his two years in the Constitutional Court he gave two dissenting judgments — one without providing reasons — which has led to speculation that he is extremely conservative and even homophobic.

One of these cases dealt with freedom of speech and sexual orientation. A former deputy principal of a Pretoria school sued three boys because they had depicted him as homosexual.

The Constitutional Court rejected his claim, saying it cannot be considered slanderous to portray someone as homosexual. Judge Mogoeng dissented from his colleagues without giving any reasons.

Pastor Dennar said there are no contradictions in WCI’s policy on, for instance, homosexuality or abortion. He said the church is very similar to churches such as Rhema.

“We do what the Bible says we must do,” he says. “You have the Constitution, we have the church.”

Pastor Dennar rejected fears that if Judge Mogoeng applies in practice what his church preaches he will be in contravention of the Constitution. “All I can tell you is that he is an honest, sincere and hard-working church man.”

And how does the church expect Judge Mogoeng to act if a question of homosexuality were to come before the court? “He is a judge and should take judicial decisions.”

Judge Mogoeng was not available for comment on Wednesday night, as he was busy with counselling.

MEMBERS of Winners Chapel International (WCI) are encouraged to be rich — very rich.

Their high priest is an example: two jets (apparently he recently sold two more), a Rolls Royce, houses in Europe and America, a university, school and much more.

“Away with financial embarrassment!” Bishop Isaac Oyedepo declaimed at Wednesday night’s service. “May the ability to gather riches in the name of Jesus Christ be released on every one of you!”

Tomorrow’s service is a “guaranteed wealth service” and members are encouraged to bring their business cards and bank statements so they can be blessed.

Later on Dr Oyedepo waved something that looked like a cheque in his hand, and large white buckets were sent around.

“Please give your contributions with surrender and joy. Your donations are blessed.”

Among the estimated 1 000 congregants in the church in Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg was Constitutional Court Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng, who has just been nominated by President Jacob Zuma as the new chief justice.

Mogoeng sits at the right hand of Oyedepo with other pastors.

Oyedepo (56), the founder and head of WCI, is one of the wealthiest pastors in the world. His followers call him “papa”.

He founded WCI in 1989 in Lagos after he received a message from God to free the world of all repression by the devil.

More than two decades later WCI has 300 churches across Nigeria and congregations in 32 African countries, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

In 1998 Oyedepo built the biggest church in the world in Lagos, on a piece of land spanning two square kilometres.

The Faith Tabernacle can house 50 000 congregants and is full every Sunday. Forbes magazine lists Oyedepo’s personal fortune at R1 billion.

ONE of Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng’s most-criticised judgments — his minority judgment in the case of The Citizen vs Robert McBride – is also the one of which he is most proud.

In this judgment Judge Mogoeng dissented from his fellow Constitutional Court judges and found that the newspaper’s characterisation of McBride as a murderer was an attack on traditional values and should not be allowed. Judge Mogoeng found that calling McBride a murderer after the TRC had granted him amnesty amounted to character assassination.

The other constitutional judges found that it was not libellous and rejected McBride’s claim.

In Judge Mogoeng’s application for chief justice, he wrote that his dissent sought “to strike a balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right to dignity, having regard to ubuntu”.

Constitutional expert Professor Pierre der Vos said there is no doubt that Mogoeng is the most conservative judge in the Constitutional Court and that he has a “strange concept” of how freedom of speech works in a democracy.

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