We must speak out against abuse in the church

Sarah Setlaelo
Sarah Setlaelo

With every incident in which a minor church member is sexually abused by the pastor, his wife, church members and the victim’s family, who are aware or suspicious, are equally guilty.

In other words, they and the pastors are all perpetrators who have to be brought to justice.

The Constitution is explicit in section 28 of the Bill of Rights that “every child has the basic right to ... be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”.

Unfortunately, the long arm of the law has proved to have very short reach when it comes to securing these rights.

This is largely because those who are fundamentally tasked with protecting the interests of children are often the ones compromising them.

The charismatic Christian Church has been brought under the microscope by the sexual abuse allegations against some prominent pastors, among others, Timothy Omotoso (Jesus Dominion International), Shepherd Bushiri (Enlightened Christian Gathering Church) and Alph Lukau (Alleluia Ministries).

Alph Lukau

Cheryl Zondi bravely testified about her sexual abuse at the hands of Omotoso.

Ironically, she instead became the accused in the court of church opinion. The attack on the credibility of her testimony is textbook criminal defence law.

Discredit the witness; suggest ulterior motive; transfer burden of proof; create reasonable doubt.

The church rallied around their leader like zealots.

Timothy Omotoso.

German sociologist Max Weber articulated an archetype of a leader found in dictatorships, tyrannies and religious movements.

According to Derik Gelderblom et al, charismatic authority rests on the personality of a great man (and, less frequently, woman) who has an extraordinary appeal to their followers.

Such leaders inspire devotion because they are seen to have a special gift, often involving magical powers, through which they can solve their followers’ problems.

Here I will appeal to rhetoric and ask: “Doesn’t this sound familiar in the case of our modern charismatic leadership?”

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.
John Stuart Mill

I will go further to say that charismatic religious leaders are adept at blurring the line between themselves and God.

For example, they claim that they are the special anointed one chosen by God, who speaks directly to them, so that they can give prophetic guidance to church members.

This blanket anointing elevates them above the ordinary person and makes their conduct above reproach.

Now, if such a leader engages in questionable behaviour, to question them means to question God.

This lack of accountability gives licence for all manner of commendable and condemnable conduct.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing,” said John Stuart Mill.

Shepherd Bushiri

Starting with the role of the pastor’s wife in the debauchery committed by her husband, those well versed with the charismatic Christian Church hierarchical structure will know that being the wife of a “man of God” amounts to being queen of a castle.

Benefits include a reverential respect, financial abundance and even a pastorship without any real merit. Anyone with a healthy ego will protect this position at all cost.

Therefore, when she suspects or discovers that her husband is having inappropriate relations with church members, a balancing of scales between losing her benefits and protecting a stranger finds her, like Taiwo Omotoso, among many others, “standing by her man”.

ReadWife laughs as rape survivor testifies in Omotoso rape trial

Congregation members, like people in general, have eyes and ears.

It is thus perplexing how rumours of the pastor’s sexual abuse of minors can circulate among them and yet nothing is done about it.

What has proved to be a deterrent from confronting or reporting the pastor to authorities is their own awe at the “supernatural powers” displayed by the pastor and their fear of being accused of blasphemy by questioning the “holiness” of the man of God.

The primary mandate of charismatic church members is to win souls into the “kingdom of God”, so as to save people from the “burning fires of hell”.

Their pastors are the conduit to this salvation and thus their human fallibility cannot be acknowledged.

This provides the pastor with the audaciousness to do whatever satisfies his lusts knowing that if he goes down, then members go down with him.

Even more twisted, some members subject themselves and their children to sexual encounters with the pastor, in the warped belief that these acts will transfer power to them and give them a supernatural edge in society.

3D illustration of the word trust broken in two pa

As for the parents and relatives of the victimised minors, I reserve my most scathing condemnation for them.

Even the mere suspicion of abuse should be enough cause for an investigation and intervention.

This category of accomplices in the sexual abuse of their own children deserves to be charged criminally, arrested and imprisoned in the same cell as the perverted pastor.

Their level of uncivilised neglect is akin to the human and virgin sacrifice rituals practiced by some cultures as appeasement of their deities. Inhumane.

To provide international context for this epidemic, there is a centuries-old urban legend that Catholic Church priests are prone to molesting their altar and choir boys.

In 2002 the Boston Globe broke a story about allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston.

Once found to be true, a litany of accusations by victims throughout the Catholic Church internationally came out of the woodwork to verify this sinister legend.

It was found that over multiple decades, boys were frequently touched inappropriately, were coerced to perform oral sex on priests and were even sodomised.

close up of priests hands holding rosary beads

Through several tribunals it was established that not only did the upper echelons of the church know about these abuses, there was also a well-established strategy, of epic proportions, to cover up reported incidents.

The rationale was that protecting the image and reputation of the church far outweighed the odd priest’s depravity.

The victims of sexual abuse were merely collateral damage.

A famous decree in the ancient Greek city of Athens (403 BC) gave birth to the political concept of amnesty, in which citizens were forbidden from mentioning crimes committed against one another, as they were considered mere “misfortunes”.

Since then 20th-century philosopher Paul Ricoeur denounced this collective forgetting, as it did not address the persistence of what he calls “the wounds left by history’’ and the consequent “call to justice owed to the victims of history”.

The history of sexual abuse in the church, currently in the making, is being written by the three categories of accomplices I mentioned – pastors’ wives, church members and the families of the victims.

They are the ones who control the narrative, because with their interventions, the likes of Omotoso, Bushiri, Lukau and priests from all other mainline churches have no opportunity to wound and damage whole generations of children.

My parting shot to them is: “Sies on you.”

  • Setlaelo is an author

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