For the average believer living here, persecution of one’s faith is not felt overtly – but globally the tide has been turning and “judicial persecution” is the new order of the day – specifically in watershed legal cases that inhibit the legal and personal freedoms of Christians to preach and teach Biblical values.
An attack on religious freedom
In South Africa alone, we have several legal cases pending (initiated by atheist lobby groups and people propagating the homosexual agenda) that seek to drastically curb Christian religious freedom. The cases range from ‘so-called’ discrimination of Christian adoption agencies (that stipulate Biblical criteria for couples to be eligible) through to Christian owners of wine-farms being accused of ‘hate’ because they politely decline to permit same-sex ceremonies on their private property.
Avoid turning a blind eye
The latest challenge that has stirred keen media interest (and perhaps even woken the sleeping giant, the Church), is an investigation by the Human Rights Commission into the Biblical teaching manual and practices of Joshua Generation Church in Cape Town, led by Pastor Andrew and Emma Selley.
While the issue of spanking (so as to discipline one’s child) is the specific focus of this investigation, the greater battle for religious freedom, the authority of the Bible to govern Christian living, and the privity of family life is ultimately what is at stake. We interviewed Andrew and Emma to find out exactly why ‘the spanking issue’ is so important, and what Christians should be doing about it.
Andrew, tell us a little about your church...why have you been singled out?
My wife and I felt called to Tableview 14 years ago (from PE) and moved here to start Joshua Generation. We began with four people in our lounge; today we have 3 500 attendees and 16 congregations across Cape Town and the Southern Cape. We work closely with other churches and consider ourselves to be a Bible-based church, passionate about the Lord and authentic Christianity.
You ask why we have been singled out, well, I don’t specifically think JoshGen was targeted for persecution, so much as the general Body of Christ who teaches and preaches Biblical Christianity. There is an agenda by various lobby groups against Christian guest-houses, businesses, churches etc, and ours has now landed on their radar.
A complaint was laid against the church for teaching that parents may spank their children. Can you share the specifics with us?
Much has been reported in the media about the whole “spanking” issue - specifically that it is a form of child abuse and that our church endorses this through our parenting manuals.
Though some of the actual details of the complaint are not known to us (as this has been withheld from us by the SAHRC), the basic facts of the case are that a couple (who do not belong to the church) laid a complaint with the SAHRC, about one of our parenting manuals that discussed the issue of spanking and gives guidelines to parents on how they should discipline their children.
How did this end up with the Human Rights Commission?
As far as we know, the complaint was escalated by the organisation to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and they initiated an investigation by sending us a letter to clarify three things, namely:
(1) The church doctrine accepts and requires the use of corporeal punishment by means of a rod.
(2) The church implies that corporal punishment does not negatively affect the child.
(3) The church’s purposeful promotion of corporal punishment is also published in its teaching materials.
The HRC regards this (spanking) as emotional, physical and psychological abuse, and thus would need to take action against us abusing children or teaching it. I am not sure if JOY! readers know this, but our government has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - which promotes the outlawing of spanking in schools and in the home by signatory Countries like South Africa.
Therefore governments who sign have to act on this and investigate any cases in contempt of this law.
If the government has to act on this, why has it never come up before?
At the moment, freedom of religion has been protected by the constitution. Having said that, there is an inherent tension within the constitution to protect the rights of children, and at the same time allow for the rights of Christians and the Church (and other religions for that matter) to teach what they believe to be true.
The challenge comes though, as mandated by the United Nations, that the rights of children supersede the rights of a religion (to teach or practise a certain thing), if it is found to be detrimental to the child. Obviously if a church or religion taught child abuse, this right of religious freedom would not be greater than the rights of a child to be safe and protected. BUT - and most important to note - Joshua Generation Church (and the Christian Church) do not teach or advocate child abuse. We teach the Biblical principles for disciplining children. It is not the same thing.
I was shocked to learn that the couple who laid the complaint were not from your church, but actually a part of an atheist lobby group...
Obviously it was concerning for us to receive the letter, and we were curious to know how and why this complaint had arisen. Upon investigation, it became clear that the complaint was not made by any member of our church, nor a person that had specific dealings with our church.
It was sad for us to see that this was part of a strategic agenda of certain parties to undermine the Bible and try to inhibit Christian teachings.
What course of action did you take after receiving the letter?
We immediately called a prayer meeting with our eldership team. We also referred it to our lawyers, who recognised this as a bigger issue. I felt the Lord gave us a two-pronged strategy for response - specifically to rally the Body of Christ so as to present a united front. We should have solidarity - if you touch one of us, you touch all of us. There are enough Christians in this country to stop what is brewing here, if we would all just stand up for what we believe.
The second prong of the strategy I had was to extend an olive branch to the HRC and government at large. We all know there is a problem of child abuse in the country, and we all want to see this cease. I felt that our response as a church should be to see how we can work with the government to try and become part of the solution. They can’t police every home or intervene in every situation, but together with the Church, we can hopefully find workable solutions to bring about a value shift in people’s lives and protect the children of our nation.
You seemed to have made quite an impact on social media and in the news with your story...why did you choose to go public?
For too long Christians and church leaders have worked in isolation from one another. We have all been focussed on our own agendas and programmes. But in the world we now live, we have to work together - as Jesus said in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”
I felt in my prayer time, that this case could be a tipping point for Christians - there are several cases out there that could hinder Biblical teaching, and should any of these cases be lost, we could see a precedent set that would severely limit and impede the rights of believers to preach and teach the Bible. When Creare Training Centre (a Christian ministry) lost their case (of discrimination against homosexuals), a small ripple of concern went through the Church. But it is not enough - we should all be praying, speaking out and standing up. Creare have appealed the ruling, but the point is this - the onslaught is only beginning.
Many lobby groups are gathering resources and people so as to build cases against the Church. We cannot sit back in our pews, or on our couches and just watch from the sidelines. We need to put our stake in the ground and stand firm. Time is of the essence.
We must remember, we do not war against flesh and blood - this is satan’s agenda - so we need our spiritual weapons of prayer, and the Word of God, to resist evil and advance the Gospel. We love people, and we care for the lost, that is why it is imperative that Christ-ians win these legal battles - so that we may have liberty to preach the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jesus Christ).
It was for these reasons that I decided to specifically and vocally drum up support in this case, to get the word out on social media, engage in conversations on the blogs, and to answer any critics as transparently and sincerely as possible. Working with other Christian leaders and media (such as Errol Naidoo), we arranged key meetings with church leaders and the best Christ-ian legal minds in the country. There is so much at stake for the Body of Christ and we must act now!
Did you face any resistance or criticism from Christian leaders?
We have been blessed and encouraged by all the support we have received. Yes, there have been critics both inside and outside of the Church...even some close friends have questioned my decision to ‘pro-actively’ do something about this case (rather than allow the law to take its course). I understand their concerns, but I feel that this case could be a watershed moment for our country - and we don’t want to end up like the rest of the Western world who sat back, passively watching the judicial persecution and only now have woken up to the reality of the legal limitations placed on the Gospel.
Fortunately it seems that South African Christians and Church leaders are recognising the threat. To date we have the confirmed support of leaders representing over 8.9 million Christians. We have signed petitions that have been submitted to the HRC as well as a database of leaders who will stand with us. To God be the glory!
Andrew, why do you think God chose you to spearhead this campaign?
It is amazing how the Lord prepares you before hand. God was speaking to me 24 years ago when I got saved. He told me then that I would be part of leading a church in a time of persecution. He told me that He will give a voice to speak and represent the Church.
Interestingly, British theologian David Pawson called me a few weeks before I received the letter. He spoke with me and said that he was so concerned about the state of Christianity in England - that no one spoke up about the prejudices. He told me that the church over there was sleeping, and that now it’s too late. I felt at that time when we spoke, that it was God’s voice saying “Don’t let this happen here.”
Throughout my Christian walk, I have received a number of prophecies indicating what is now taking place...even prophecies that said I would speak before parliament. It is amazing how this is coming to pass now.
Where do things stand now?
We met with several lawyers who crafted a legal document to help churches. Professor Koertzen and many other lawyers and religious leaders compiled a Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms for churches and Christian entities to sign, which outlines what religious freedom entails and advises churches on how to structure their organisations.
It will provide a framework from which to work and hopefully prove to be a very helpful document for churches to fall back on should other legal cases arise against them. We hope to get this Charter recognised as part of our Constitution under Section 234 of the Constitution of SA. I want to encourage every pastor of every church to sign that.
We have also formed a legal body, The Public Justice Institute, who will fight the Christian cause in Court in order to develop our Constitutional law to include and protect Religious freedom in our Country. This will protect the Church and create jurisprudence - not just in defence of complaints, but rather adopting a proactive approach to creating laws that will help Christians.
What can our readers do to support you?
First please pray with us for supernatural favour. Pray with the churches in the country. I encourage pastors to set aside minor doctrinal issues and rally together. Please spread the word to all pastors and leaders to sign the Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms. The legal body also needs financial donations.
This case has cost over R100 000 already and could run into the millions. The sooner we set the legal precedent, the greater the chance of limiting further legal challenges against Christians.
For more information and ideas on how to fight this battle with us, please email: Redflag@joshgen.org