The unfolding court proceedings of the alleged atrocious crimes of a pastor Timothy Omotoso of the Jesus Dominion International based in Port Elizabeth who stands accused of having over a protracted period of time abused his privilege and office of pastor in preying on the most vulnerable, some of those merely 14 years old, leaves many of us as parents, members of SA society convulsed in anger, and sick to the point of vomiting. The mere thought of Pastor and abuser in reference to the same person is such a contradiction.
The term pastor or as the Grecians referred to as ‘poimenon’ speaks of a shepherd, someone who cares for protects and defends while providing for the sheep. When the shepherd begins to turn on his own sheep as a means to an end, we have reached another level in our societal definition of what faith, church, the order of pastor’s office means to be a member of the Christian faith. We have seen this across denominational lines where the RCC among others remains plagued to defrock many more priests who have been fingered in the crimes of sodomising, in particular, boys.
Yet it would be gravely unfair to pretend what plays out before our eyes in the testimony of these brave souls that it is a first in SA, or anywhere in the space where humans dwell. It is equally not right to necessarily want to frame this with an upper-African pastor problem that has invaded SA in particular since the advent of democracy. It is too easy to make it off in that sense, allowing South African pastors to escape due to scrutiny.
I am known strong campaigner for proper visa regulations for SA, I don’t agree with the notion of open borders for justifiable and sensible reasons that protects a citizenry and their legitimate rights as unique to the land of their birth. I am against the idea and practice where anyone can enter South Africa or anywhere else on a visitor’s visa and end up overstaying his/her visit and tomorrow claim being a pastor of a flock in SA. I don’t care how anointed you may claim to be or how called you may feel, you are not legal in SA you must be arrested and deported yesterday. It is also a fact that the church of the 21st century has become a hideout for failed business people, failed careers etc, where someone decides church is good business and has an interest purely anchored in monetary gain.
South Africans are trying to make sense of the supporters of Omotoso who show up in defence of their leader. They are also questioning the defence attorney Daubermann whom we have learnt was assaulted by those who think him callous and insensitive in how he presented his questions. They simultaneously want to know why a Cheryl Zondi, the brave young lady who is a victim Omotoso’s alleged abuse, is rendered an accused.
The spokesman of the Competition Commission, a dear friend, Bra Sipho Ngwema also perturbed by the unfolding saga of this court case, its brutality and callousness of reality supported by detailed in victim evidence, asked me why we have these situations in the life of the church. I do not pretend to know the totality of the answer to this very real question, yet as a social scientist and pastor, I have thought of this too. I herewith venture to respond with the following hardly exhaustive reasons for us having to hear the evidence we are exposed to in this pastor and member sex slave scandal.
- The institution defined as church constitutes the gathering of people in the fellowship of the Saint’s set-up takes place in the ambit of a constitutionally recognised privilege and right of freedom of association. Meaning no one is forced to attend, any gathering, you do so of your own accord. By that same token, it was your choice to be a member.
- In accordance with SA being a constitutional democracy where the bill of rights protects individuals to live meaningful self-determined lives. That meaning full life includes the right to belong and practice a faith as sacrosanct to those who made that choice for the particular faith.
- Church then existentially and innately from a known history of its genesis of association with a Divinity understood in the description of GOD purports a safe place. That safety is extrapolated from the accepted tenets of the subscribed Faith in which two Commandments that encapsulates the original ten defined the life of the member who is also a believer. These two commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself”. This by extension for some could be interpreted as to suggest the safety of the community as often more important than that of the member. This while there is no community without the individual. The risk of anyone trusted who it is claimed threatens the livelihood of the community of faith or the church, is often frowned upon. Meaning you are likely not going to be believed if you ever break your silence. When we hear this brave young lady lead her evidence it must be juxtaposed to the crowd outside who accuse her and the others of threatening the livelihood of their faith community.
- Those who practice these ungodly things are masters of deception and experts of manipulation, they often exploit the most vulnerable who have turned to the church and faith for help. We must not be confused about the role of a pastor and the designation of pastor is a hallowed designation/position that imbibes trust and influence which translates to power. People confide and trust their pastors with their deepest of secrets. They relate to the office with implicit trust and a firm persuasion that the pastor has their best interest since as God’s representative in the earth he in a sense exudes the closest figment to actualise Deity in the purity of a faith defined by a moral conscience.
- Another reason we are witnessing what we do today stems from the relatively modern VIP status and trend where pastors have come to be celebrities, either superstars and demigods with a claim to possess supreme powers often considered magical to bless but more so to curse dissidents. If people ask why she was silent all the time, we must be cognisant of the presence of fear, we do not know what she was threatened with. Abusers usually threaten their victims and by so doing keep them bound in fear to be silent and subservient.
- This situation prevails today in the 2st Century church because fear has supplanted faith. Where faith use to define the essence of church-life today fear has come to define that. Fear that affords, charlatans of pastors to threaten members with invoked ‘curses’ if they don’t obey and submit to their authorities. We know from the Biblical Text that fear is not from God as 2Timothy 1:7 leads “for God did not give us a spirit of fear but of love power and a sound mind.” Why then are church people so afraid of their pastors? Why then are the pastors so prone to threaten God’s children with curses if they don’t obey? Perhaps the devil has come to church and rules from the pulpit.
- Another reason why these situations may prevail emanates from the known central teaching of the Christian Church that imbibes the practice of forgiveness. The Christian is one who is a product of forgiveness and a benefactor of both graces – the unmerited favour and mercy its twin that spared a deserving sinner the necessary punishment. The Christian Faith, therefore, dictates that those who are products of forgiveness naturally and daily extends that forgiveness as taught by Jesus Christ in an immeasurable sense of 70 times seven a day.
Thus, people forgive and are taught to always forgive as the Christian Didache leads. In that context, it’s easy for some to abuse the grace of forgiveness until they render others objects of their pleasure.
- There is another emerging tendency in the 21st Century Church as experienced in SA, Africa, UK and USA. The false doctrines of “father” and “son” or “daughter” teachings which finds expression in very challenging definitions as a lived experience renders adult members mere children of the church pastor. Meaning they must obey him as they would obey their biological parents, in some instances even more than their physical parents. These teach and advance a questionable doctrine of “sonship” as a non-negotiable belief and practice. In that space, they can manipulate, lure and abuse whom they target. Pastors and their spouses who are often not seminary trained and qualified pastors are referred to as ‘Daddy’’ and “Mommy”. This practice is common in the upper-African nations and in some sense imported from there.
- Unfortunately, the church of today accommodates “pastors’’ who have sold their souls to Satan. Many have entered into dark covenants in pursuit of success defined in a big church, status, prestige money and fame. We seldom want to admit this but some have made covenants where they must sacrifice to Satan when the latter it is claimed guarantees them success understood in a following, so-called big church, fame and of course money. This is not new, we know according to the Biblical Text found in Matthew 4- that Jesus Christ was tempted after he completed 40 days of prayer and fasting when Satan offered a cocktail of things including, power, fame, wealth and prestige. Anyone who reads the text will realise Jesus never told Satan he lied about his offers at what, I have termed ‘An offer at a prime time.’ in one of my sermons. It’s time we admit the Devil goes to church, he does not have the horns but is often at the Pulpit, draped in designer Gucci suits and Kenneth Cole shoes because some very famous SA and International preacher, have private shrines in their homes where not even their spouses can enter. It is here they receive “prophecies” and magical powers to do what appears to be miracles. Many of them have to sleep with a said number of ladies even man to maintain their abilities to “prophecy and perform miracles” which is their mainstay.
- Another challenge is the new obsession with ‘deliverance events and services”. The belief here is that members need deliverance from curses, past experiences, ancestral connections etc. The challenge with this is people get delivered weekly, meaning why would one need it today if you had been delivered yesterday? Well, it’s a means to earn money, spent private time with congregants where you literally direct their lives through sophisticated control mechanisms. This deliverance ministry has become an economic spin for the prying eye, the lustful heart and the depraved soul. Often the aforementioned is the very pastor who must nurture God values.
- Lastly, the church is obsessed with miracles, faith today is defined in magical powers. One of the famous preachers of this era in SA, that has become famous in SA while not born here, answered why he was so famous in SA, with the following exclamation, “South Africans are very gullible and just want miracles.” Listening closely tells you the pastor has determined his market and he lives off that market generously.
It is safe to conclude that the church is in a precarious state that seldom we want to admit as believers and members. It is here the words of Christ Jesus in Luke 18:8 confronts the professing Christian with the sobering truth when he paused and asked: “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine