SACC calls for pastor certification to avoid 'alien practices'

Johannesburg - The SA Council of Churches (SACC) has called for the basic certification of pastors to protect people from "objectionable, heretical and alien" practices.

The SACC also called on the state to protect the human rights of people attending churches such as that of Pastor Penuel Mnguni, who reportedly jumps on congregants and makes them eat snakes.

"It is our responsibility in the name of the loving God to protect our community, whether they are members of our congregations or not," said SACC acting general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, with about 30 clerics standing behind him.

"We wonder whether the next step beyond human hair is - that we will be seeing people's fingers snapped off," he said of the things congregants at Mnguni's End Times Disciples were convinced to eat.

Over the past few months, reports have emerged of Mnguni convincing followers to drink petrol and eat grass, snakes and rats. He claimed the rats would taste like chocolate and petrol like fruit juice.

'Totally alien to the gospel'

In response, the EFF led a march two weeks ago which resulted in the burning of Mnguni's tent, allegedly by residents of Soshunguve who were fed up with these practices.

"We condemn these harmful practices as totally alien to the gospel of the Christian faith," he said.

Christians only commemorated Christ through the order of holy communion, he said.

"No other strange ritual or gimmick... can be represented as the saving work of Christ," said Mpumlwana.

He said the SACC knew there were many bogus pastors preying on the vulnerable, who in turn saw the promise of a solution - no matter how bizarre. However, none had any organised or recognised structure of accountability, he said.

The SACC called on the public not to fall for fraudulent practices, saying a summit was planned to define what would be considered "objectionable".

The SACC's current definition is: jumping on people, getting people to eat grass, ants, snakes, bankrupting them, or selling them things to get closer to God which he said was "demonstrably extortionist, or, at best, the sale of grace".

'Might just be about the ego'

Mpumlwana said there were also pastors who convinced congregants to let them touch their private parts, and feared that soon bogus pastors would also be conducting wedding ceremonies that had no legal standing.

The statement was made after a packed meeting of clerics at the SACC's offices in Khotso House, Johannesburg, who met to discuss pop-up churches such as those run by Mnguni.

"We shall make sure that in order to protect people who are vulnerable, we will do everything we can to identify and work on the material needs that people have, to deal with their hunger and their poverty, so they are not driven to seek solutions that are bizarre and unacceptable."

It was not always about the possibility of raising money fraudulently, he explained, even though he had heard of people buying seeds at great expense, which they were told to plant to get closer to God.

"They may genuinely believe that this is what Christ is about, but they might be just in it for a quick buck. In some cases it might just be about the ego."

He explained that for some people leading desperate lives of unemployment, poverty and broken families, churches such as Mnguni's were a form of addiction, like alcohol or dagga.

"All of these things are concentrated very easily in a culture of poverty."

'Code of self-regulation for churches'

The SACC also recognised that many people had a calling, but did not have training, so they would help these people through basic training and licensing, and link them with the relevant universities.

It also called for a code of self-regulation for churches.

Mpumlwana said they had tried to meet with Mnguni, but were told that he did not use a telephone. Eventually poet Mzwakhe Mbuli and "Apostle" Julius Moloi traced him, but when they went to fetch Mnguni for a radio show, he didn't show up.

He added that people could practice their faith as they saw fit, in terms of the country's Constitution.

"But the Bill of Rights also provides provision for the protection of a person. You can't practice religion at the expense of other people."

The SACC has 37 church affiliates at a national level and each province represents about 60 churches.

Mpumlwana explained that currently it was not necessary to be accredited or licensed to open a church.

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