Why should Organised Religions not be licensed and monitored as any other Industry in SA?

17 years ago I served as coordinator for the National Standards Body on Religious Practices at SAQA, the South African Qualifications Authority. We made some progress in establishing a common framework for Religious Practices but unfortunately the majority of religious groupings were noticeable by their absence from these very positive activities.

The reality is that today nearly two decades later, we have a multitude of factions present in almost every traditional religious grouping with no cohesion, standardization or control. Just the way those at the helm of these movements like it because in chaos “they shall reign”. It is an open secret that the “Billions” donated by Parishioner’s, which is seldom accounted for, circulate amongst the very few, more-often-than-not for personal gain by demigods who claim to be Gods Messengers and offer very little in return.

I am not amazed at the furor, which has risen up as a result of Parliaments latest investigation into religious practices in this country. I for one welcome this investigation, not just into the fringe “religious organisations” which are obviously off-the-wall and which should immediately be banned but importantly I think it is time to look at how all Religious Organisations conduct their affairs, raise funding and indeed spend that funding.

I have interviewed Professor David Mosomo, Deputy Chairperson of the Commission for the promotion and protection of the rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, twice now on my programme, The Afternoon Fix on 1485am. The second occasion was after a court decision was obtained for these proceedings to be opened up to the public whereas previously they had been held behind closed doors. This interview can be found at https://soundcloud.com/conbussa/prof-david-mosoma-on-what-a-registered-and-licensed-religion-should-look-like

What has struck me is the fact that almost all of those who were summoned to appear before the CRL Commission felt under threat and have very loudly deplored Government poking around in their religious practices. I, on the other hand have seen no attempt by the Commission to do this.

All that I have witnessed is a legitimate attempt by the CLR Commission to review current practices, particularly in-terms of the capacity and ability of each Religious Organisation to self-govern, applying transparent standards and processes against which practitioners are licensed, funds are collected and spent and legitimate public grievances are investigated. In other words what I have seen is a clear attempt to treat each Religious grouping as-if they were a legitimate Professional Body dealing both with the individual practitioner as well as with the company (the Church, Mosque, Synagogue or Temple) offering Professional Designations and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for practitioners be they Imams, Priests, Rabbi’s etc., Grading Services for the Institutions and Behavioral monitoring and policing for the public i.e. their parishioner’s. What is wrong with wanting to see this enabling environment in-place given the multitude of problems, which have arisen without such procedural standardisation to-date?

Ultimately we are staring down the barrel of a centralised “Statutory Body for Religious Practices” which is constituted of formalised Professional Bodies registered with SAQA for each Religious Grouping. If a grounds-up approach is adopted there is absolutely nothing to fear by any particular religious grouping because the whole is constituted of the parts and this gestalt will have rules and regulations which are democratically created, accepted and enforced through regular, standardised and consistent application, monitoring and reporting.

That is if….. If Religious Organisations accept that they do not operate within a vacuum. That if we are talking Christians as an example, there is general consensus that despite hundreds of group operating under the banner of Christianity, there can only be one integrated and all-encompassing Professional Body for Christian Practitioners and Institutions. The same applies to institutions, which are Muslim, or Jewish. This is the challenge.

Why is it so difficult to contemplate let-alone achieve? Money. One single reason. It is the source of antagonism, confrontation and opposition to standardisation because at the heart of each religious organisation is an income source which cannot, should not and will not be threatened. However, it will require acknowledgement and as far as SARS and other organisations are concerned income will certainly need to be accounted for. Why should it not? These are after-all businesses.

What are more interesting however than money, are the Qualifications on-offer and the Professional Recognition of Practitioners amongst these various religious groupings. What is referred to colloquially as “Ordination”.

Let us be honest, a Bank Teller is a Bank Teller is a Bank Teller. A Priest is a Rabbi is an Imam. Surely? There is at least 70% commonality amongst these practitioners when it comes to their pastoral responsibilities. They run communities. They offer inspiration, personal counseling, they support parishioner’s who are grieving, they officiate at celebrations and they involve themselves in teaching the word of God. Whether they are Jewish or Christian, this is what they do. So why if there is so much similarity, are there no standardised and national qualifications and centralized instruments on the NQF or if-fact on the T/O Framework? Because to-date, there has been no culture of working together for the common good. To be factual despite there being a Presidential Advisory Body for this purpose, there is no actual work-product looking inwards. There is a lot of outward posturing and lip service but nothing being done to get this house in-order.

So what do we now see as the result of religious practice being akin to the Wild West? We see opportunists jumping onto the bandwagon where they should never be allowed to participate. We see administrators setting themselves up as referee and player in various religions. We see front pages of national newspapers evidencing the interference in community matters by religious Beauracrats who should themselves be subject to the control, regularisation and standardisation by a Professional Body of their peers. And it all boils down to….money. Wrest control from the legitimate practitioners so that you become the de-facto head of a religious grouping.

The CLR Commission has to be quick. It has to institute structures, which do not succumb to power, influence or money. It has to be general where it needs to be and specific where such specificity is warranted. It has to have the power to force a multitude of Christian groups to work in unison, Jewish Orthodox and Reform Groups to share commonalities, and Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups to sit around the table and agree on boundaries of what is general and what is strategically endemic to each religion.

The question is however, do we as South Africans have the maturity and the political will to want to enter into such complex engagement?