The CRL today finally released its much-anticipated report that started with a solicited investigation essentially informed by the unorthodox practices of some in the Christian Faith more particularly classified as the independent Charismatic formations.
Let me then upfront commend the CRL for the initiative undertaken the process followed and for presenting us as the general public with a report. Let us remember the report is entitled the Commercialization of Religion. We may find issue with this title since the subject of commercialization whilst addressed is not the only aspect if the full gambit of what is proposed extends to a regulated environment and space.
The 39-page report starts out with twenty-five pages of a historical context, methodology/approach, processes followed and varied experiences encountered. The next few pages depicts a synopsis of findings essentially under fourteen main themes that spans the inclusion of confirmation the prima facie evidence for Commercialization of religion, Non-compliance with laws, Lack of good governance, Misuse of visa application, Flouting of banking rules, Non-compliance with SARS and taxation laws, Uncontrolled movement of cash in and out of the country, Mushrooming of religious institutions, illegal and unethical advertising or religious and Traditional healing services, Property bought with the communities money, operations of religious institutions as business and a lack of religious Peer Review Mechanism. This then is followed by a set of twenty-four recommendations with a brief means to implement them.
The report then outlines its motivation for a new regulation, which populates a proposed structural dimension that postulates the establishment of ‘umbrella Organisations’ that is underpinned by Peer Review Council supported by Peer Review Committees (religion specific informed) as its diaphragm.
Whilst the contextual background is known and the challenges of the CRL’s approach to summonsing church organisations was equally and rightfully challenged, it becomes important by way of introduction to restate my earlier challenge as captured back in 2015 with the approach of the CRL.
As a member of the clergy whilst never summoned to appear we participated in some of the elements of the process. I am one of those who critiqued the CRLs for its narrow focus on the Christian Faith as its departure point. I later also advanced that the CRL has done very little to assist the public’s consciousness on how religious traditions and practices evolve into acceptable norm.
I am still of the view that the means of a summons whilst allowed within the ambit of the CRL’s constitutional mandate as a tool caught many by surprise since this was a research that adopted an investigation and those summoned regardless to how the CRL may remonstrate became overnight suspects if not labelled as guilty be it purely in sentiment. I am still having the view that the CRL may have opted for a less intrusive and threatening means of a summons since I hold the general religious population would not have been averse to participate in such investigative research.
It is important to upfront state, that I find the overall report of the CRL firstly devoid of any admission of its own errors and blunders because this process was of a virgin nature and to assume that the CRL acted, handled and approached as well as communicated at all times in clarity would constitute a misconception of a sojourned process.
I will therefore limit my reflections at this point to the CRL Motivation for New Regulation:
It starts out by acknowledging that: “the religious sector needs the powers to regulate itself with the aim of bringing the various religions the respect they deserve.”
This is a pertinent and fundamental recognition and warrants not being conflated to mean less than what it says. Self-regulation of the religious sector is and must remain a non-negotiable.
The CRL following this acknowledgement, ventures to postulate: “The traditional structured religions along with the religious institutions that have structured systems in place should be able to articulate them and thus be accredited to act as “umbrella Organisations ” or associations.”
This premise raises a number of questions; it firstly acknowledges traditional structured religions. This whilst perhaps innocent fails to inform us how these structured traditional religions and their respective systems were came about, was tested, proven, and benchmarked as the CRL accepted standard for ‘umbrella Organisation’ status. The CRL fails to enlighten us as to how it in a natural sense accept these what it terms ‘ traditional structured religions and systems’ are uncritically accepted as the meridian and necessary standard.
The CRL motivates for what it terms ‘umbrella Organisations or associations’. The challenge with these terms of ‘umbrella’ ‘organisation’ and ‘associations’ lay not in the innocence of its meaning but the conflation of what these already in religious lexicons came to mean.
It cannot be assumed that there exists a uniform and agreed meaning for these constructs. ‘Umbrella organisations and bodies of Associations’ firstly are those of choice, meaning the individual or religious formation have a right t religious freedom as enshrined in Sections 15 and 31 of the Constitution of RSA as well as is found in the Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms.
A second challenge with the usage of these constructs is the acknowledged reality of its implicit and experiential residual abuse it holds within itself. In our conflicting political and religious South Africa the SACC is already an ‘umbrella Organisation’ for those who affiliate to it, it may also then for the CRL be easy to deduce that such a ‘umbrella Organisation’ is devoid of question, sacrosanct when we see the SACC in current political pursuit of Presidential removal, hardly the task or assignment for an ‘umbrella Organisation’ of religious setting that some may want to associate with or even its members endorse. ‘Umbrella Organisations’ may also exercise their own organisational narrow pursuits that again leads us to new but State aided and endorsed control which may in all likelihood again encroach on the fundamental rights of people and religious formations to organise in freedom of religious practices as afforded in constitutional prerogative.
In attempt to recognize the ambivalence, dualism and complexity if not the authentic questionability of its advanced ‘umbrella Organisation’ notion, it articulates, “while religious institutions will all be expected to fall under an umbrella organisation, freedom of association should be paramount in affiliation to umbrella Organisations.”
This is clearly a contradiction from where I stand, the CRL motivates for a structure of organisation evident in umbrella Organisations as its solution for religious regulation when it fails to recognize how this will stand with the undeniable right of freedom of association. If belonging to a CRL accredited ‘umbrella Organisation’ is a must does it not mean association as right is compromised? It would appear one could not have both without sacrificing one for the other. If none of the CRL accredited umbrella Organisations is source of comfort for the particular individual or religious formation where is the latter accommodated? And why would the right not to associate that is equally implied by the same constitutional franchise not be a final resort?
The CRL proposes PEER REVIEW MECHANISM that will consists of peers from each religion that will give permission to operate to individual religious leaders. Peer Review Committees will underpin the proposed PEER REVIEW COUNCIL.
If I understand this it is a Council of all religions, evidenced in peer leaders that would preside over peers to grant permission or extend licensing to individual religious leaders.
The challenge with this system is an assumption that all religions understand and appreciate each other’s didache’s, fundamentals of faith, and teachings. In an ideal world this may be very possible, yet religion operates in a religious economy where there exists contestation to persuade one another as to the rightness of ones own faith juxtaposed to the implied wrongness of another’s faith. If I may cite, the Christian Faith has a fundamental mandate of “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations… ”
Every other religion exists to convince others that their way is correct. The Jewish Faith assumes as its teachings lead they are the chosen nation of G-d. The Muslim Faith assumes all non-Muslims are infidels (kafir) therefore must be brought to the conviction of what it means to be Muslim. Buddhism teaches the theology of enlightenment, by implication from darkness of not associating with its faith.
The CRL therefore must have not considered the contested space religions functions in and that it’s not one of complete acceptance one of the other. That religious economy warrants approaches for convincing others often no different to pure commercial ventures. The handing out of (for example) food parcels is more than goodwill gesture its in attempt of promoting and marketing ones faith to the beneficiaries of these food parcels.
How than does a Peer Review Council that is made up of peers of diverse and often diametrically opposed religious extend a license or permission to one of the religions it contests against? How will this then even remotely function when we have a new religion emerging, for we may not assume we have seen the last of religious formations yet.
The final point in this adumbrated reflection is the subject of a religious accreditation. I am in concert with the notion of accreditation in a constitutional democracy as a principle.
However the CRL in section 18:3 places one of the criteria for accreditation, as “a religion must have a significant number of followers that believe in and adhere to the tenants of the faith” this does not make sense because the CRL does not explain what is meant with significant.
If this is adopted it will furthermore question the realization of new religions. I don’t think the CRL exists to stymie the emergence of new religions. I also do not think the CRL can scientifically and empirically assume the current CRL accepted existing religions all started with large numbers. Again if I may use the Christian Faith from its ontological footprint evidences a gathering of twelve people who was called together by a controversial unknown individual whom there were questions around his earthly father.
Jesus Christ my Saviour whom I profess was rejected as non-conventional, unorthodox and often considered in complete violation of what was then defined as religious practices he equally was misconstrued for spelling a political threat for those of his day. This is the genesis of the faith I take pride in and espouse as my faith/ religion and will defend at all times. There was no promise this religion or faith would find traction in a cosmopolitan world and over 2000 years later it in SA as the census confirms remains the 70% majority faith for those who choose to associate freely with it.
I cannot but wonder how a similar faith in our post-modern society will come about in SA with the CRL’s analysis and recommendations for religious regulation and accreditation.
Bishop Clyde N. Ramalaine