On Thursday, 29 May 2014, some of the most influential Christian leaders from around the country met in Johannesburg to reflect on 20 years of democracy and in particular to discuss the current threat to religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church in South Africa. The meeting, which was convened by FOR SA leaders Michael Cassidy, Moss Ntlha and Andrew Selley, was advertised on Gateway News as a “crucial meeting” for church and Christian ministry leaders.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a number of laws that will be considered by Parliament in the next few months that, if left unchanged, would make it illegal for pastors to preach the full Word of God and limit the ability of the Church to govern herself and live out her beliefs. Also on the agenda, was the growing number of cases being opened up against Christians, and lost by them, for trying to live out their beliefs, clearly indicating that religious freedom is already being lost in South Africa.

It was encouraging to see that Christian leaders  were willing to stand united around the principle that, while Christians may disagree with each other on the interpretation of certain Scriptures, they agree that it is not proper for government to say what they may believe, preach and how they should live out their faith. For this reason, FOR SA is able to represent a large demographic of Christians with vastly different beliefs.

Amongst those present at the meeting in Johannesburg, were pastors representing some of the largest denominations in South Africa, as well as representatives of various political parties, theological seminaries, international prayer networks, as well as the Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission).

At the outset of the meeting, Michael Cassidy who was not able to attend in person but addressed the meetingvia video message, commended the establishing of FOR SA as an organisation working to protect and promote religious freedom and the autonomy of the church in South Africa, and emphasised that “this was a critical time for the Church in South Africa”. This sentiment was echoed by Moss Ntlha, who facilitated the meeting.

During the course of the day, Andrew Selley along with Advocate Nadene Badenhorst (Legal Counsel to FOR SA) gave examples of the current loss of freedom on the international plain before setting out the various Bills and legal cases in South Africa that threaten Judeo-Christian and family values. (For a list of the Bills and cases, see http://gatewaynews.co.za/if-not-us-then-who-if-not-now-then-when/).

Advocate Badenhorst explained that although the Constitution protects religious freedom as a fundamental human right and although the Constitutional Court has already recognised that churches have a certain degree of autonomy to govern their own internal affairs, in practice, religious freedom and church autonomy are being eroded as a result of the “balancing” of these rights against other competing human rights.

FOR SA appealed to the meeting to give the organisation a mandate to speak on their behalf, so as to present a strong and united voice on behalf of the Church in South Africa, to government on issues affecting religious freedom in the country.

In this regard, Andrew Selley explained that in order for FOR SA to make submissions to government or another forum on any issue affecting religious freedom, the leadership of FOR SA (consisting of Michael Cassidy, Moss Ntlha, Nadene Badenhorst and himself) have to be in full agreement. Once the leadership has made the decision to proceed, churches and organisations who support FOR SA will be notified regarding the particular issue and standpoint that FOR SA intends to take, and will at that stage have the option not to support the particular submission if they deem it necessary. In this way, accountability and transparency towards those churches and ministries who have joined FOR SA, are ensured.

Towards the end of last year, Andrew Selley managed to secure the signed support of leaders representing 12 million people in South Africa on an issue relating to religious freedom. FOR SA is confident that it will be able to rally at least the same number of people behind the organisation, which will make Christians a definite force to be reckoned with and a powerful united voice that cannot be ignored by government as it makes the laws that govern and shape our society. For this to happen though, Christian leaders need to sign up without delay, as the laws and precedents that threaten to undermine our beliefs are coming frighteningly quickly. (Sign-up can also be done electronically on the FOR SA website – www.forsa.org.za/contact-us/join-us/).

Churches, leaders of Christian organizations as well as representatives of legal and academic entities and the media, were also encouraged to endorse the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms (SACRRF). The Charter expresses what freedom of religion means to those of religious belief and religious organizations within a South African context, and has been signed by all major religions in South Africa with signatories continuing to be added. If passed into law, the Charter will ensure that the rights of religious believers are clearly defined and protected. (For more information, see www.CRRF.org)

Christian leaders from many cities across South Africa extended invitations to  FOR SA to come to their cities to speak to gatherings of multiple city ministry fraternals about the loss of religious freedom and about FOR SA. Many were outraged at the present situation the Church is being placed in, and felt it prudent to inform their networks of the status quo so that churches might respond before it is too late.

Given the overwhelmingly positive response and requests, FOR SA will be arranging similar meetings for pastors and Christian ministry leaders around the country over the next few months to educate and mobilise the Church regarding the current loss of religious freedom and the need to stand together to protect it in South Africa.

In August 2014, FOR SA will hold another meeting in Johannesburg and also in Bloemfontein. (The exact dates of these meetings will be advertised on Gateway News shortly). Pastors and leaders are encouraged to spread the news to their respective fraternals and denominational networks so as tocreate awareness and enableresponse as quickly as possible, as action is needed before the end of this year around a number of pending Bills and court cases.

As stated by Michael Cassidy during his video message, “Christianity is by far the majority religion of South Africa according to census statistics. The State must not think it can tread lightly on Christian conviction and belief, and tell us what we may believe, how we should live or raise our children… We are saying that we are not prepared to accept this interference. We are going to stand our ground, whatever the price or cost of that may be.”

This article also appeared in Gateway News: http://gatewaynews.co.za/christian-leaders-unite-to-protect-religious-freedom-in-sa/