Religious leaders cannot usurp the functions of medical professionals when offering faith-based healing, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities said on Wednesday.
“It is not for the religious leader to encourage people to bring people to them who are extremely ill. Churches are not supposed to be hospitals; they are supposed to be places of worship,” Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission said told News24.
“We know God heals, yes, but he heals in many ways through doctors.”
Religious leaders, should rather tell those who are extremely ill to go to hospital and then offer to pray for them there, said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
Instead, she added: “People have reached a level of belief that is extreme.”
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva’s comments were made in response to an incident over the weekend in which a child died after being brought to controversial pastor Paseka “Mboro” Motsoeneng’s church in Katlehong.
She said that incidents involving children and religious practice were of particular concern, as religious choices could not usurp the
Constitutional and legal imperatives of the right to life.
“There are limits to the religious freedom; it cannot infringe on the rights of the child.”
She said, in the case of the toddler who died on Sunday, further investigation was necessary so that the circumstances of her death could be understood and so that it could be determined if there had been any kind of responsibility on the part of adults involved.
In the broader context, tighter management over the behaviour of religious leaders was needed, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva added.
Earlier this year, the CRL submitted a report to Parliament in which it made recommendations that legislation be passed to curtail exploitative practices carried out under the banner of religion.
“There ought to be a legal framework that will establish a peer review mechanism and force people to belong to an umbrella organisation,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
This would allow fellow religious practitioners to hold hearings if concerns over a particular leader’s actions were raised.
If the behaviour of a religious leader was found to be unacceptable they could be barred from further practice in the field.
“It [the peer organisation] should say: ‘You can’t be one of us…'”
She said the need for such action to be implemented was “time bound and it is urgent”.
Certain religious leaders “think they are above others”.
Instead, religious leaders should be considered to be professionals, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, who can be banned from practising if found to be acting in an unethical manner.
“We need to unhinge this power… [that certain religious leaders] have over communities… and set people free. And the only way we can do this it to treat them like ordinary human beings,” she said.