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Omotoso trial: FOR SA concerned more Pastors caught abusing their flocks

Oct 29, 2018
Omotoso trial: FOR SA concerned more Pastors caught abusing their flocks

The ‘rape trial’ of controversial Nigerian televangelist and Senior Pastor of the Jesus Dominion International church, Pastor Timothy ‘Tim’ Omotoso, currently underway before the High Court in Port Elizabeth, has caused a national outcry against rogue pastors, who abuse their power to prey on the poor and vulnerable.

“With shock and horror, South Africans have watched young Cheryl Zondi, a member of Omotoso’s church, give evidence of how the ‘man of God’ repeatedly raped her and afterwards prayed for mercy,” said Michael Swain, Executive Director at Freedom Of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)

“Respect for the rule of law demands that the law be allowed to run its course (including the legal onus on the State to prove Omotoso’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt).

“However, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is deeply disturbed by the serious accusations and evidence of sexual assault and rape against Omotoso, and support a sentence of the fullest penalty of the law upon a finding of guilt.”

Swain said that: “It is deeply concerning that any religious leader should stand accused of sexual assault, rape and human trafficking.

“According to 1 Timothy 3:2, overseers should be above reproach, faithful to their wives, temperate, self-controlled and respectable. Pastors who – in the name of religion – commit such heinous deeds, not only cause unspeakable damage to their victims, but tarnish the name of Christ and the church. Their actions must be condemned in the strongest terms.”  

In the meantime, the presiding Judge, Mandela Makaula, is expected to rule on whether the Defence can petition the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) on whether he can still continue to hear the Omotoso trial.

Several pastors found guilty of abusing members of their churches

He said that FOR SA has always held that freedom of religion can never be an excuse for harmful, criminal or otherwise illegal activities.

“Where such are taking place, the State has a duty to prosecute and sanction the persons involved. When this happens and the relevant existing laws are applied, those perpetrating such abuses are successfully dealt with,” Swain added.

“This has been seen in the case of the so-called ‘Prophet of Doom’, who was found guilty of assault and sentenced by the Mookgophong Magistrate’s Court earlier this year.

“It was also seen in the case of Bishop Jabu Ndaba of Trinity Apostolic Church who, earlier this week, was found guilty of rape of a minor and received a life sentence from the Spring’s Magistrate’s Court.

“It is now being seen in the case of Omotoso. Enforcement of the already existing laws against perpetrators sends out a strong message that criminal activity – particularly when it happens in the name of ‘religion’ – will not be tolerated. It also helps to educate and inform the people of South Africa regarding the boundaries of freedom of religion.”

'Need for religious sector to regulate itself or face government regulation'

Swain said that FOR SA strongly urges any persons, who have been the subject of such heinous acts to follow the example of Cheryl Zondi and other courageous women like her, by reporting such activity to the Police and/or the CRL Rights Commission.

“We commend the CRL for highlighting these issues and exposing charlatans in the religious sector.

“FOR SA also strongly encourages church leaders to warn, and speak out against, rogue pastors who abuse the trust of those (particularly women and children who are the most vulnerable) under their care and whose teachings and practices do not represent Biblical Christianity,” he added.

“Furthermore, it is vitally important that church leaders take an active role in current and upcoming discussions around self-regulation of the church, including broad support to the Code of Conduct that is currently being developed by the South African Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms as the ‘responsibility’ side of the Religious Freedom Charter that has already been endorsed by signatories representing 25 million people.”

In this regard, FOR SA’s Legal Counsel, Adv Nadene Badenhorst, comments: “In Angola this month, the government passed legislation in terms whereof only pastors, who have a theological degree will be recognised as religious practitioners, and churches with fewer than 100,000 members will be shut down.

“The same happened in Rwanda earlier this year, reportedly resulting in the shutdown of 6,000 churches. Churches are now meeting secretly, as group prayer is prohibited anywhere other than in government approved buildings.

“The message is clear: if we do not regulate ourselves and get our own house in order, we may well find ourselves in a situation where government will do it for us.” 

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