The arrest last week of a church leader, who allegedly sexually violated female congregants, some while they were still underage, has deeply scandalized the church world.
But what was even more appalling and shocking to the religious community’s collective sense of morality is the television documentary that exposed the said leader’s conduct and activities. How someone can live with a bevy of girls in his house for his sexual pleasure, do what the women in the documentary alleged and still call himself a pastor boggles the mind.
Scenes of the Hawks apprehending him at the Port Elizabeth Airport were both disturbing and encouraging. Disturbing because ordinarily pastors should not be a threat to society but encouraging because it says the law will not hesitate to deal with rogue church leaders who do not respect the laws of the country. Rape and statutory rape are serious offenses in our country and if this pastor has committed these, the law should take its course. In the meantime, the religious community should reach out to the women and girls who fell victim and offer them counseling and prayer.
The matter of this pastor has brought up a number of issues which we as religious leaders and society in general can no longer avoid. The first one is accountability. As we watch the news about the church world today, it appears as if no one wants to be held accountable. Sadly, leaders in the church are not excluded. We have had too many wayward church leaders in the recent past who are running around doing all kinds of crazy things, like feeding people grass and snakes, without them having to account for their actions.
When one tries to establish which structures they are accountable to, one finds they are loose cannons who frown at the concept of accountability and shout, “I only need to be accountable to Jesus.” This has to come to a stop and religious leaders must set up structures which will hold their affiliates accountable. These would be responsible for accreditation, peer reviews and revocation of licenses. Any church that does not belong to a structure that has governance oversight should not have the license to operate.
Within my circle of religious leaders, especially within the Charismatic Movement, there is emerging consensus that a mechanism must be found to hold pastors accountable for their performance in providing spiritual leadership and for staying within certain limitations while doing their spiritual work.
That accountability must be administered through the board, elders, assembly, presbytery or whatever name a particular congregation gives to its pastoral source of authority. Clearly, God does not give pastors annual performance reviews, holidays. He has delegated that to congregations and it behoves us to ensure that there are proper administration and governance structures.
There are some who argue as to who will set the standards. For us in the Christian faith, the Bible gives us the basics and defines the qualifications of a leader. We don’t have to guess or use human wisdom. Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 provide lists of qualifications for leaders in the church. Leaders should be above reproach, should be hospitable, must love what is good, must be self-controlled, and should hold faithful to the word of God. Leaders should be faithful to their spouses and be people of dignity, among other things.
The second issue we need to debate but with caution so that we not seen as promoting xenophobia is that of foreign pastors who are illegal immigrants and/or misusing the country's visa application processes. There are foreign pastors who have temporary visas, no work permits and no registration for their churches who are operating in the country. That is not acceptable.
The authorities’ lack of enforcement regarding the above has led to an establishment and exponential increase in religious organizations and leaders of foreign origin. While there is an appreciation for bona fide foreign religious leaders serving our people, there is also evidence of foreigners taking advantage of locals and displaying a propensity to amass wealth. This much was confirmed by a preliminary report released by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission).
One agrees with the CRL Rights Commission’ that in terms of the Immigration Act, foreign pastors who do not have visas to reside or work in the country should, like any other illegal immigrant, be arrested, deported, fined and/or imprisoned. The law should not discriminate in this regard. In fact were it to do so, many would flock into the country under the guise of being religious leaders.
Associated with the unregulated entry of foreign pastors and the establishment of their organizations locally is the uncontrolled movement of cash in and out of the country as some churches tell their congregants that money has to be paid to their headquarters outside the country. The authorities must clean up in this area even as we as the local churches get our act together. The current situation has brought enough disrepute to our Christian faith.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIR OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL