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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
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Entries in abuse (5)

Sunday
Mar102019

Why South Africans are prone to falling prey to charlatans in the Church

An article that my colleague, Pastor Simbarashe Pondani and I wrote for The Conversation Africa has been published.

It is entitled: ‘Why South Africans are prone to falling for charlatans in the church’.

You can read it here: http://theconversation.com/why-south-africans-are-prone-to-…

Pastor Simba recently graduated from the Master of Theology, Gender and Health Program at Stellenbosch University. His thesis focused on these opportunistic ‘Pastors of Doom’. When the editors approached me to write an article on this topic I asked if I could write it with Simba. I am so pleased to have been able to draw on his expertise and research in writing the article.

Why South Africans are prone to falling for charlatans in the church

File 20190306 48444 15x2ykw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Pastor Alph Lukau - his “resurrection” of a man made world news. Alph Lukau/Facebook
Dion Forster, Stellenbosch University

South Africans – like millions of people across the world – are seriously susceptible to religious abuse.

The local media has once again been abuzz with a litany of shocking stories about manipulation, abuse and fraud by pastors. The latest one, a fake “resurrection” made headlines around the world. A video of Pastor Alph Lukau “raising” a man from the dead went viral and even sparked the #ResurrectionChallenge.

Why do South Africans fall for these religious snakeskin oil salesmen (and women)?

One possible reason is that faith continues to play a very significant role in South Africa. In the last household survey over 84% of South Africans indicated that they are Christians. And a 2010 Pew Report found that 74% of South Africans said that religion played an important role in their daily decisions, values and shaping of their morals.

In addition, churches and religious leaders enjoy higher levels of public trust in South African society than either the government or private sector. This is unlike many other modern democracies in the 21st century.

Some suggest that this susceptibility to religious belief is due to the moral and political failures of the state and politicians. Religious leaders and institutions gain trust in situations where the population faces high levels of economic and social vulnerability, as is the daily reality for many South Africans. Religious groups are often the only sources of basic care and hope in many communities.

We believe that South Africans allow charlatan pastors to win their trust, take their money and get them to engage in frightening, and even comical, quasi-religious acts because of a combination of two factors. Many South Africans have high levels of trust in religious leaders. At the same time there’s a great deal of economic need. In situations like this people look to “supernatural” means to solve basic problems. Research on these phenomena in countries such as Brazil and Nigeria shows similar tendencies.

Some answers

People are drawn to what are known as prosperity gospel pastors because they are offered the opportunity of getting out of poverty and becoming rich by means of God’s blessings. South Africans who are losing hope of gaining adequate employment, or dealing with rising debt, see the lavish lifestyles of prosperity gospel pastors is appealing.

The message is that: obedience and sacrificial giving (to the pastor and their church) is the road to wealth.

Second, in a situation in which there is inadequate health care, it isn’t surprising that people turn to “miraculous” healers to find relief from suffering. This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa - it happens in other countries around the world where religion is important and social systems are weak.

How are these unethical leaders and their sectarian communities spotted?

Tell-tale signs

One of the most telling characteristics is an overt and gaudy display of personal wealth. The intention is to extravagantly display the super-abundance of supposed “divine blessing”.

Sadly, the wealth on display is derived by manipulation, even criminality, or excessive and unsustainable debt.

Next, is the tendency towards the supernatural and the spectacular – miracle healings, raising people from the dead, prophesying and sharing visions.

These “miracles” are frequently staged, using actors, psychological tools or technologies. They serve to attract members, and also to establish a hierarchical religious power structure with the pastor at the top.

The veneration and deification of the pastor is another common characteristic. They are presented as a “spiritual elite”, having direct access to God, a special measure of God’s blessing, and particularly powerful spiritual gifts. As God’s “chosen one” these aspects serve both to give the pastors power over their members, but also to shroud them in mystery.

In contemporary religious sociology this is referred to as “religious exceptionalism”. The laws of nature, culture, the religious tradition, the state and morality do not apply to them since they are an “exception”, supposedly by God’s divine choice.

In some instances, these leaders and their communities display cult like tendencies, seeking to isolate their members from regular life and their friends and families, who are portrayed as sinful and evil. It is under such conditions of deep trust, sincere faith, great need, facing spiritual manipulation and isolation, that many of the abuses take place.

Rights and freedom

What should be done to curtail such abuses?

The South African government has sought to regulate religious leaders and communities through the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights, Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. The commission is attempting to set up standards for conduct, registration and qualification of religious groupings and leaders.

There is some concern that the state-appointed commission will use laws and policies to infringe on the legitimate rights to freedom of religion, and possibly even silence critique of the state.

Also, many of the abuses are not primarily religious or theological in nature. They are covered by civil law that should simply be enacted to protect citizens.

South Africa remains a deeply religious nation. The state and religious leaders and their communities bear a shared responsibility to identify and expose corrupt religious leaders, as well as safeguard citizens against abuse, while maintaining their rights to religious freedom.

Simbarashe Pondani has contributed to this article.The Conversation

Dion Forster, Head of Department, Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Professor in Ethics and Public Theology, Director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology, Stellenbosch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday
Nov092007

Widows, witchcraft, and the abuse of African culture to deny Southern African women their rights...

Culture is a necessary thing - it structures our lives in relationship, it adds meaning and depth to communal practices, it enlivens our history, and shapes our future.

You would know that I ardently encourage the adoption of the ideology of ubuntu as a principle for relationship based justice, harmony, and equity. I do so primarily because there is so much of this ideology that can positively shape society (particularly societies that have become competitive, self obsessed, and disregarding of the rights and responsibilities that we have for one another's wellbeing). In fact, I find many more Gospel values in the principles of ubuntu than I do in Western Capitalist individualism...

However, there is a HUGE disconnect between the ideology of ubuntu and its ethical application in contemporary Southern Africa. Whilst the ideology is touted by many, there are very few who hold it dear enough to actually practice it!

I wrote a paper on this subject that you download and read here.

Sadly, my experience has been that even in traditional African communities, as soon as the individual can afford a BMW, buy a house in the subburbs, and outwit, outlast and outplay other persons, the ideology and philosophy of interdependent identity and harmony in relationship is chucked out of the windows in the pursuit of individual gain!

Sadly, culture is abused by many as a tool to justify abusive practises, and at the same time avoid responsibility. This disturbing article comes from the Mail & Guardian newspaper.


While the United Nations Millennium Development Goals aim to empower women and eradicate poverty, Southern African inheritance practices are having the opposite effect -- leaving widows impoverished, maligned and separated from their own children, says a recent study out of Mozambique.

The study by Save the Children highlights how tradition -- which dictates that the man's family can devolve the deceased's assets among themselves -- leads to widows being made scapegoats for their husbands’ deaths and losing custody of their children.

Maria Delia and Isauru Mandlate, part of the team that conducted the study for the Save the Children Foundation in Mozambique, say that in addition to dealing with bereavement, a widow faces the immediate loss of her home and all her possessions.

Women are commonly accused of bewitching their husbands and causing their deaths, and this is used as a pretext for refusing them their inheritance.

“The family is not interested in negotiating, they just want the goods, "says Delia. “This is revenge for her having 'killed' her husband. They are really rough and don’t leave her with a single penny."

But even more painful than the loss of material possessions, say the researchers, is the way the husband’s family will poison the children’s minds, leading them to believe their mother is responsible for their father's death.

"The children are not allowed to visit their mother -- the children are told to run away from their mother if she comes to visit," says Delia.

Widows who refuse to participate in the ritual of "purification" -- which requires them to have unprotected sexual intercourse with a male member of their husband’s family to dispel bad spirits -- are banished from the family and even the district.
The result is that dispossessed widows turn to sex work or cheap manual labour to survive and are more vulnerable to risky sexual activity and HIV infection.

Delia tells the story of a young widow whose husband died of Aids. "Her husband had gone to South Africa to work on the mines and while he was away she lived with her in-laws. When he became ill he came home and she cared for him. When he died, they [the in-laws] kicked her out."

The woman ended up living in a mud hut, without even a bed to sleep on and just the clothes on her back. She survives on the few stalks of maize and vegetables she can grow.

The study says patrilineal African societies view male heirs as continuing the family line, while women are seen as assuming only the role of temporary guardians of assets. As a result the deceased's family members feel they are entitled to all his material possessions -- even if the widow has worked to contribute to the shared assets.

The report notes that despite Mozambique being a signatory to instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the government has yet to produce comprehensive legislation on inheritance.

In South Africa this tradition has been challenged by progressive human rights legislation, where a precedent was set by the Constitutional Court in 2004.

Nontupheko Bhe, a widowed Khayelitsha woman, approached the court to have the Black Administration Act -- which provided that if Africans died intestate their estate would be devolved according to customary law -- declared unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the Act was an "anachronistic piece of legislation which ossified 'official' customary law and caused egregious violations of the right of black African persons” and found that "whatever the role of male primogeniture may have played in traditional society, it can no longer be justified".

Despite this landmark ruling, the law is often at odds with deep-seated cultural norms and many women remain unaware of their rights.
"In many instances the widow is made aware of her rights too late and the assets have been claimed by the in-laws or the livestock is already sold," says Busi Motshana, a para­legal at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre in Acornhoek, Limpopo.

In addition to ignorance of their rights, there is also a culture of silence among women and children -- who are generally passive participants in traditional society. In rural areas access to facilities and institutions of justice is an added obstacle. The drawing up of a formal will is rare, in part due to issues of access, but also due to the fear that doing so is tantamount to inviting an early death.

"This is becoming an issue as more people die of HIV/Aids," says Delia.

"More needs to be done in the communities to educate and inform these women on their rights and also encourage community reform."

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Wednesday
Nov072007

Preaching for profit - American televangelists face an economic review

Among those who are to be investigated are Joyce Meyer (who is very popular in South Africa), Creflo Dollar and Benny Hinn... [PS. what do you call Benny Hinn's hair style!? A Hin DOOO!

Personally I am amazed that it has taken so long for them to come under public scrutiny! Rick Warren (the author of the best seller 'Purpose drive life') is a much better model than these folks. When he made millions of the rights and sales of his 'ministry' he negotiated to draw a sensible salary and gave the rest for HIV AIDS work and other independently directed ministries! Now, that's courage (I'm not sure if I could do that - and by that I mean, write a best selling book, AND give the lion's share of the profits away. But heck, I hope I could!)

So, here's the story about the investigation... Sometimes good people loose their way... I am sympathetic because I am prone to sin myself...

It comes from one of my favourite blogs:

Acting on tips about preachers who ride in Rolls Royces and have purportedly paid $30,000 for a conference table, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said Tuesday he’s investigating the finances of six well-known TV ministers.

No one noticed the lifetyles of the rich and famous bible-thumpers?

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said those under scrutiny include faith healer Benny Hinn, Georgia megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar and one of the nation’s best known female preachers, Joyce Meyer.

Grassley sent letters to the half-dozen Christian media ministries earlier this week requesting answers by Dec. 6 about their expenses, executive compensation and amenities, including use of fancy cars and private jets.

"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."

Because the groups have tax status as churches, they are not required to file tax forms open to public inspection.

The critical question is - when will their followers quit being gullible and foolish. Or is that a necessary prerequisite to being a traditional American Christian?

Mmmmm... Kind of makes one wonder whether they are reporting false profits, or if they are just false prophets!?

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Friday
Oct122007

An appeal for help - Life in Zimbabwe is murder these days


The poster above, which is in South Africa, reads "Life in Zimbabwe is Murder these days. Just remember your country still needs you - come home at election time and vote for FREEDOM"

I was born in Zimbabwe. It is a beautiful land.

It is so sad to see what has happened there. It is time to start helping out!

I have a colleague who drives up to Zimbabwe from South Africa with a trailer full of basic food stuffs and stationery for ministers and their families about once every two months. He smuggles in things like pencils, powdered milk, nappies for babies, a few sweets and treats, hand cream, rusks, coffee and many other things that I take for granted. Of course it is not that these things cannot be bought in Zimbabwe, they can be bought, but usually one needs to barter on the 'black market', and payment can only be made in South African Rand, or US dollars.

Well, I want to help him as much as I can. Naturally it would not be a good idea to share who this person is on the internet. However, if you're eager to help then please make contact with me off the blog and I'll be sure to put you in touch.

I shall be donating the proceeds of the sale of my little book "A guide to prayer for use during examinations" to this cause - so, if you want to buy a few copies to give out as gifts, the proceeds go to a worthy cause! Just search for 'pre-order', or drop me an email, and I'll send you as many as you need.

Monday
Jul232007

Double speak...

Frere Maternity Ward report.....

Do a google search for the words above... You'll find a remarkable example of 'double speak'. In recent months 43 babies have died in the maternity ward. Our minister of health, the notorious Manto Tshabalala Msimang, suggests that while there are severe staff shortages (at the time of a recent visit, just one nurse and one nurse's assistant on duty to care for 32 babies), and outdated and poor equipment, these DID NOT lead to the deaths of the babies... I seem to remember someone saying, I have come to proclaim healing...

Yes, and Zimababwe has plenty of food, fuel, and the healthiest economy in the world! Who the heck are you fooling!? Whilst your words may say one thing, we can see the truth. Was it not the Christ who said: I have come to preach good news to the poor.

Kliptown... As I watched the news this evening it might as well have been 30 years ago!! What I saw were scenes that reminded me of the kind of oppression we faced under the Apartheid government. Scores of police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets at civilians who are expressing their dismay at poor service delivery. How quickly the liberator is turning into an oppressor. We have much work to do, and sadly the voice of the Church is silent. Yes, that same Jesus said: I have come to proclaim freedom...

Let us never forget!

Today I also heard double speak from within the Church. A document arrived for me, sent by three of my Methodist colleagues, the document encourages Christians to sign their names in support a view that excludes persons from the hospitality and generosity of God's loving grace. This double speaking document encourages Christians to declare that the Church should choose whom the God of grace wishes to bless... It says that certain persons are not welcomed by the open arms of Christ, that they are not accepted unconditionally. This document encourages Christians to exclude people, and to withhold blessing, in the name of the Christ who died to welcome and bless all people! This is double speak. This kind of ungracious exclusion is just two steps from the hate that led to the rape, torture, and murder of Sizakele and Simone in Soweto, on a Sunday, just two weeks ago... After all, if the Church says they're an abomination, and God doesn't love them, why shouldn't we kill them? Thankfully there is a Lord who said: He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted...

Thankfully there is great hope! Today that hope came from a magnificent and challenging sermon delivered by one of the senior students at our seminary, the Rev Christian Mokone. He reminded us of God's desire for mercy, justice, grace, and our responsibility to honour God through social holiness, before we claim that God is honoured by personal piety... Let your holiness be reflected in the society in which you live. Don't say that you love God, but don't love those whom God loves - that is double speak! Jesus came to:

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners, [a]

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor. (Isa 61:1-3)

Surely a Christ follower should actually follow the way of Christ? I pray for US! We are a sinful people, and I am a sinful person who wants to honour God both in what I say, and in what I do, and in how what I say and do helps other to passionately do what Jesus did. I pray that we would have enough love to love the people that Jesus loves... I want to belong to a Church that would much rather bless people, than bless their pets, that would much rather live the values of God's Kingdom than engage in empty words that try to draw lines, exclude, condemn, and limit God's grace.

Could God ever find glory in double speak? Hear what Amos had to say (Amos 8:4-12)

4 Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,

5 saying,
"When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"—
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,

6 buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

7 The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.

8 "Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.

9 "In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

10 I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

12 Men will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD,
but they will not find it.

Pray, work, love, and have the courage to live as Jesus did. My friends, there can be no greater passion, no greater sacrifice, no witness greater, than living as Jesus did... That's what is means to be a Christ follower!