When religion goes wrong

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Dr Billy Graham, that well-known evangelist who died recently, described John 3:16 as the heart of the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Indeed, it is difficult for find another verse that says so much in just a few words: God’s all-embracing love; the gift of his Son; belief; being saved from death; the gift of eternal or everlasting life. There is a wealth of truth and wonder in this verse.

The initiative of God in reaching out to our broken world. The gift of life through his Son. Faith. Trust. Assurance. Peace.

Of course it doesn’t end with this verse. We take God’s love wherever we go, into our struggles for justice, for human dignity, into the question of land expropriation without compensation which is engulfing our nation at the present time, into all the turmoil and pain of our communities.

The recent murders of policemen at eNgcobo police station, and the subsequent action by police which resulted in seven people being killed at the headquarters of the “Seven Angels Church” are all fresh in our minds. It is sobering that this group calls itself a “church”, and therefore part of the body of Christ.

But judging from what we read and hear, their actions and way of life bear no resemblance to the life of Christ to which we are called.

Instead, what appears to have been happening is spiritual manipulation, inappropriate control over others – including children; and gross abuse of power (among other things).

Last year, following some of the more ridiculous practices such as the “prophet of doom”, and questions around financial irregularities of some faith-based groups, there has been much discussion on the merits (or not) of requiring all faith groups to register and be monitored by a statutory body – a move that is strongly opposed by various faith communities, including the Christian churches, in our country.

There are more than adequate laws already on the statute books to enable authorities to monitor and where necessary act on illegal activities such as financial fraud, non-compliance with the tax laws, noise infringement regulations, human trafficking, abuse of human rights, preventing children from going to school, harbouring terror suspects, and the like, which were among the concerns raised by the CRL Commission into the activities of religious groups.

Events such as happened at Ngcobo call all who work in the NGO sector, including the faith communities, to ensure “best practice” in governance and policies; and in particular for the Christian community to reaffirm our commitment to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who came that all might find life, freedom, salvation, and hope.

  • The Very Reverend Andrew Hunter, Dean of Grahamstown Cathedral
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