JZ and the Rhema platform

Posted: March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Well, well, well. The latest stir to be caused by the venerable Mr Zuma is not entirely of his own making. As reported by a wide variety of news sources, he was invited to attend Rhema Bible Church (Johannesburg’s biggest church) on Sunday morning and was then given time to speak at the pulpit. He proceeded to hold the floor for anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes and, while stopping short of calling for votes for the ANC, was certainly in electioneering mode. Pastor Ray Macauley prayed for him afterwards.


Was this right? Certainly, I can’t say I’m inherently comfortable with it. While I am as interested as anyone to hear parties speak ahead of the elections, I don’t think this was either the right platform, audience or content. Many of the congregants clearly felt ambushed and chose to walk out during Zuma’s address; using the pulpit for electioneering is definitely inappropriate – the pulpit’s association is (or should be!) with inspired messages and not propaganda, and the most that should have been allowed would be an examination of the person who stood up there, not his party policies or promises. Even then, a specific event should have catered for this rather than a time slot in a traditional service.

What troubles me most, though, is the apparent blurring of church and state. Too close an association between the two has never showed the faith at its finest, in my opinion, and this feels like a few too many steps down that path. Right from the time of Constantine through to the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and an association like that of the Nationalist government and the NG Church, it seems always to be the state that benefits and the church that compromises rather than the other way round. True application of the principle of separation of church and state will guarantee religious freedom and also acknowledge a role that the church may have in maintaining individual conscience – any faith, actually, though I’m obviously most concerned with the Christian one.

I can’t blame Zuma for these actions – he’s a politician on the campaign trail, after all, and rightfully takes any opportunity he can to proclaim his message. The point is that he was invited and that it is thus the church which is beginning the blurring of the boundaries. The point may be made that, if Christians are not prepared to invite politicians onto their stage, they should not be expected to be invited onto the political stage. I’m happy with that, actually: it’s ultimately a small price to pay to maintain the important principle of separation of church and state.

  1. wonker says:

    Interesting blog, I’ll try and spread the word.

  2. P.A.N says:

    Quite frightening to see a great church which once really preached hope and commitment becoming politicised. Is coercion the name of the game?

  3. veethree says:

    I think the disturbing thing is that there doesn’t seem to have been coercion at all…

  4. Grant says:

    Politics is dirty – bottom line.

    But then again so are sport, big business, the media etc.

    I feel that the church does need to be relevant and face the issues of society such as poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, racism and whatever other issue is relevant to the society, or part thereof, around the congregation. I do not object to JZ being allowed onto the Rhema stage – I do however get a little concerned that the “I’m a Christian” mantle was used to garner votes rather than to further God’s purposes. And a Sunday service was probably not the right forum for a politician to speak – I would have been more comfortable (as a congregant) knowing the JZ (or George Bush, Graeme Smith or Jack Welch) would address those interested in the auditorium at a special meeting rather than a normal service. This maintains the relevance but distances the act from a normal congregational meeting.

    • veethree says:

      Yeah, the normal congregational meeting thing is what bothered me most. As a follow up, it seems that every political party in the spectrum is now requesting stage time at Rhema and they’re having a hard time denying it because they insisted they were taking a neutral approach. At this rate they will have to replace the term “Sunday service” with “political rally” for the next month or so…

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