We should've spoken up about religious abuse sooner - CRL

Religious leaders say they cannot apologise enough for terrible things that have been happening in churches in the name of religion. 

On Friday, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) announced that it would hold a national religious summit for all religious and church leaders to attend in a bid to find a way to fix the wrongs going on in churches.

The summit is one step in religious leaders' efforts to fight the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of people's belief systems.

It is set to take place on February 13, 2019, convener of the commission Reverend Ray McCauley said in a media briefing on Friday.

McCauley said the decision was taken after the commission instituted an investigation following reports that church leaders were violating congregants' rights.

He said results from the investigation were "embarrassing".

"We have seen the exploitation of people, sexual abuse of people, emotional abuse of people. All these and many other things have tainted the image of the church and put us in a very bad light," McCauley said.

Various church leaders, including the secretary general of the Shembe church and leaders of the Zion Christian Church, attended the briefing.

McCauley said the summit would be inclusive to all religious organisations and would focus on six main areas:

  • legal/constitutional framework;
  • developing a code of conduct;
  • developing a system of accountability;
  • developing healthy relationships with the CRL Rights Commission;
  • developing core values for a multi-faith society; and
  • a working partnership with Parliament, the Department of Home Affairs, the SA Police Services and the SA Revenue Service.

No silence

He said a document focusing on the mentioned areas would be produced during the summit and would then be sent to Parliament so it can assist with the necessary legislative processes.

He added that a task team had also been formed and would ensure that the production of the document followed all the necessary processes.

McCauley said they would no longer be silent and were determined that people's religious rights would not be violated anymore.

"By our silence we have allowed these things to continue and we are now here to move things forward. We appeal to all religious leaders and religious structures to support this process and participate," he said.

Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, chairperson of CRL rights commission, said the decision to have the summit and adopt a document that would hold religious leaders accountable was a historic moment in South  Africa.

"For the first time religious leaders are taking on this responsibility. We have had a rocky start and it always helps to have a rocky start when starting something because it means we are disrupting the system and allow people to think out of the box. We have found a way forward, and we are saying to the nation, nothing will ever be the same again in the religious sector," Xaluva said.

Xaluva added that they called on all religious organisations which did not fall under an umbrella body to join hands with the commission and other leaders to fight the scourge of bad things happening in churches.

"I'm sure you have realised how the nation has been moved and how it was moved by the testimony of a 22-year-old to say enough is enough," she added.

"The summit in February next year will help us move forward as a nation. This is not just about the leaders, it is also about the congregants and millions of people out there, who are exposed to unbelievable things," she said.

Xaluva also warned people to apply their minds before joining various churches.

"Make sure you think hard when you are in religious setting and apply your mind and make sure your rights are protected as you worship," she said.  

The Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) said it acknowledged the work the CRL Rights Commission did through its report which yielded to results of the extent of commercialisation of religion and the abuse of people's belief systems.

"The committee extends its full support to the process that is led by Pastor Ray McCauley and various religious structures aimed at ensuring that all the necessary preparations are undertaken leading to the religious summit scheduled for 13 February 2019," committee chairperson Richard Mdakane said.

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