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MODERN ERA CHURCHES GRAPPLING WITH EVOLUTION OF SOCIETY

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Sir,

It is certainly not my intention to problematise the denominations or doctrines of churches but rather to highlight the negative behaviours of those within churches. After all, this is what a church is truly comprised of – the people. Historically, the sacred institution that is the church has been centred on the development and transformation of societies. The church would be central to the advocacy and upliftment of the downtrodden and underprivileged, the weak and the weary. Jerry Pillay’s (2017) article on the church as an ‘agent of change’ and transformation attests to the significance of churches in the development of acceptable norms, values and structures of society, as well as the church’s position as the traditional protector of the underprivileged, oppressed and less-fortunate fellow beings.

History

Throughout history churches have been central in the strengthening of nationalism, cultural solidarity and the overall communal development of their immediate communities. For their congregations, they have been a key force in their physical, psychological and spiritual nourishment. In the modern era, churches have noticeably grappled with the evolution of society, especially with maintaining their historic sentiments in the contemporary age. In our nation, not only have modern day churches needed to re-examine their relationship with society at large, but they have also needed to transform themselves to cater to the needs of contemporary society as it evolves. Those in positions of power in churches are underscored as exempt from punishment for their unethical practices. Some people have reported being part of churches that had financially exploited them, emotionally abused them and, at times, sexually violated them. Many of these victims were silenced, dismissed, and others were completely ostracized.

Repulsive

Such stories about religious institutions are not a new occurrence. It is utterly striking that such repulsive and violent characters exist in institutions that are not only open and vulnerable but central to their communities. It is more horrific that such unethical behaviour takes place at the very heights of spiritual institutional leadership, which should set a prime example.
The church, as an institution, should, by definition, be a place of refuge. Unfortunately, the image of the church today has been battered almost beyond repair. Many church members end up being financially influenced to contribute exorbitant amounts of money and undertake specific business dealings that solely benefit the church. It is appalling to imagine that some women, those who so pertinently need financial, emotional and communal support, are so vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation, especially by the church.

Nowadays, churches have become particularly susceptible to devious individuals who not only prey on vulnerable worshippers but also exploit this pertinent institution at the expense of unsuspecting pure-hearted members. At the end of the day, the church is not the building, the leadership or its popularity. But the church is comprised of its people, the members who seek spiritual counselling, upliftment and community above everything. Immoral and nefarious characters should be named and shamed, and church members should uphold the responsibility of ensuring a safe space for all.

Deceive

Those who have been bestowed the honour of spiritual leadership should not deceive and exploit innocent followers. Everything that is given by the congregation is for the betterment of the parish members and their community. The onus is on the congregation to ensure that their church is an equitable, reassuring and secure space that facilitates spiritual growth and wellness. It is not the church that is negative. It is the ‘wolves in the sheep’s skin’ who are sometimes found in churches that are damaging to the image of the institution. I believe that those that seek out spiritual communities should not be discouraged by the ‘rotten apples’. Rather, they should be encouraged to continue to seek a better spiritual environment and to undertake the spirit of discernment as they advance into new spiritual relationships and spaces.

T Makoe  

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