/ 28 February 2019

Churches want code against cons

This week
This week, yet another scandal was created after “resurrection” pastor Alph Lukau claimed to have raised a man from the dead.

Religious leaders across South Africa are wanting the adoption of a code of conduct in response to incidents where “false prophets” have raised concerns across the country.

The code, which is currently in draft form, is expected to be discussed and adopted at a national consultative conference in October. The development comes after calls within church communities for regulation of the sector because of alleged cons.

This week, yet another scandal was created after “resurrection” pastor Alph Lukau claimed to have raised a man from the dead. A video, shot at Lukau’s Alleluia International Ministries church in Sandton, shows the pastor standing over a seemingly dead man, dressed in a white suit and lying in a coffin. Lukau places his hands over the man’s body and suddenly he sits up in the coffin, allegedly “resurrected”.

The church initially backed Lukau’s version of events, but has since claimed that the man had already been brought back to life prior to the pastor’s intervention.

While South Africans have reacted to the saga with both humour and astonishment, churches around the country, including the Rhema Family Churches, have responded with disappointment.

“We have seen the exploitation of people, and the sexual and emotional abuse of people — all these and many other things have tainted the image of the church and put us in a very bad light,” said Reverend Ray McCauley of the Rhema Bible Church North in a statement.

The Council of African Independent Churches also voiced its dismay, with deputy general secretary Bishop Thami Ngcana saying the incident was “clearly staged”.

Pastor Giet Khosa, a member of Rhema Bible Church, was the organiser of the Religious Summit held on February 13. It was at this summit, attended by almost all major churches and leaders, where a code of conduct was drafted to take action in the sector so that there is an “accountability system” in place.

“We gave draft copies of a code of good practice and a code of conduct so they can go and discuss it with their local churches and their structures,” Khosa said.

“We’re hoping that, out of that code of conduct, we can hold people accountable. Whether you have signed it or not, it doesn’t matter. You will be held to account,” Khosa said.

The summit took place after two powerful church leaders, Shepherd Bushiri and Tim Omotoso, faced charges of money laundering and sexual assault respectively. There was also “prophet” Lethebo Rabalago of Mount Zion General Assembly Church, who sprayed insecticide in congregants’ faces.

Lukau was not at the summit. “People like that don’t attend these meetings,” Khosa said.

While the code of conduct is expected to deal with how pastors should behave and how they must be trained, it does not yet have any measures in place to discipline pastors found guilty of misconduct. Khosa says, however, that there “will be a disciplinary process”.

Legal experts will also weigh in on the document before it is finalised.

“What we are encouraging people to do is that when they are seeing people in the communities that are [suspicious] … you can contact us or you can go to the police. People must not be quiet,” Khosa said.

Lukau faces charges after a bishop in Hartbeespoort accused him of fraud and three funeral parlours opened a case against him at Jeppe police station. The parlours allege that they were misled into providing their services. The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities is also summoning Lukau to make a statement under oath for its own investigation.

The pastor continues to post Bible verses on social media. Images and videos showing the pastor living a seemingly luxurious lifestyle of high-end cars and private planes have since emerged.

For Khosa, who hopes that a system of self-regulation may avert dubious figures from entering the sector, it is the religion and its followers that remain the most exploited.

“You’ve got to ask yourself what is the motive behind this. The motive is [that] people want to make money out of people. Then if you see people are being raised from the dead, the person will say, ‘give me R50 000, I’ll raise your uncle from the dead.’ Fortunately, this thing didn’t go that far,” Khosa said.

Planning for the national consultative conference is currently under way.