Ray McCauley and the Rhema Church exercise an inappropriate influence over President Jacob Zuma and seek to change South Africa’s liberal democratic Constitution. Though the relationship between Zuma and McCauley is not institutionally formalised, the Rhema founded National Interfaith Leadership Council, as Mandy Rossouw’s rigorous investigative reporting last week reveals, plans to challenge the Constitution: and it is the soft target of same-sex marriages they are gunning for first.
McCauley’s aspiration to exercise leverage over the incoming government — and, more importantly, the constitution — first came to the nation’s attention when he invited the ANC president to address Rhema ahead of this year’s general election. The party leaders of the next three largest parties were conspicuously not invited. This was odd when one considers that DA leader Helen Zille is known to be a committed Christian. IFP president and elder statesman Mangosuthu Buthelezi is a lay minister and a recipient of the Order of Simon of Cyrene, the highest order given by the Anglican Church. Cope’s presidential candidate, Bishop Mvume Dandala, is a highly regarded cleric and was the head of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Though McCauley is free to invite who he likes to his Sunday services, he was obviously punting the ANC.
I must accept, however, that in a liberal democracy it is the right of the president and religious conservatives within the ANC to consort with whoever they wish on an individual or collective basis. But it becomes a matter of public interest when these interactions potentially infringe upon the spirit and human-right provisions of the Constitution.
The beauty of liberal democracy is that it famously protects minorities from John Stuart Mills “tyranny of the majority”. The credo of liberal democracy is non party political. Liberal democrats, in this sense, are to be found in nearly all political parties. Our ruling party has a noble liberal democratic tradition and perhaps the nation’s oldest. The liberal democratic character of the Constitution was watered by the visionary non-racialism and egalitarianism of the ANC’s founding fathers. Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Helen Suzman, the new nation’s mothers, heartily sung liberal democracy’s sweet bird song. And the Buthelezi Commission, the Dakar process and the work of the Constitutional Assembly were presaged by the human-right cadences of the Kliptown Freedom Charter.
In today’s enlightened times we know, thank God, that oranges are not the only fruit and South Africans cherish difference and diversity. Is it not this same impulse which led the nation to throw its collective loving arms around Caster Semenya because, to us, she will always be gold? Going back to the Constitution, in the same way that the rights of the tiny minority of gay people who have opted to get married are protected by the equality clause, the Bill of Right guarantees the religious freedom of Rhema devotees. Here we clearly hear Voltaire’s clear-eyed dictum: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
This means that in our liberal democracy, McCauley has the right to declare homosexuality ungodly, not to marry gay people at Rhema and, in fact, to practise the entire fundamentalist-cum-conservative caboodle. Rhema members could, if they so wished, follow the Levitical instruction not to eat yummy shrimp, crab, lobster, clams and mussels (Leviticus 11v9-12) or obey the Pauline injunction that women must wear hats in church (1 Corinthians 11:15). They are also free, as they do, to allow themselves a little largesse and say these scriptures do not befit modern times and were time and culture specific (although the less-than-clear injunctions against homosexuality stays). But it is not permissible, to borrow St Paul’s phrase, for these religious conservatives to impose their double standards and limit other people’s constitutionally entrenched freedom.
This is not to argue, however, that the Judeo-Christian principle has no relevancy to contemporary SA. On the contrary, our Jewish community and Christian community have long played a prophetic role in our nation’s history. Last Sunday at Saint George’s Cathedral, for example, there was an interfaith service to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the time when thousands of Capetonians responded to Desmond Tutu’s call to march for peace against apartheid. This leads directly on to the theme of social justice, the most dominant one after personal salvation, which runs through the Bible and Talmudic texts: the idea of how people should live in relation to one another; to protect and defend those who are helpless and powerless. Though liberal democracy and the corresponding theme of social justice are not exclusive to the Judeo-Christian principle of living, they were to a large extent inspired by it. Thus it follows that McCauley, and all people of faith and none, have the God-given right to break bread in our participatory democracy.
In this lavish market of free thought, I think it is important for liberals, like me, and whose faith is hewn from a different part of the woods than McCauley’s, to try and empathise with the other. One of the practises of charismatic faith leaders like McCauley is to insert themselves and the nation into the biblical narrative (“to pray with the scripture”, as it were) and ask what God might be saying to them. It is a good idea and I think we should give it a go. So, to use McCauley’s catchphrase, “please turn with me” to one of the most searing passages about social justice in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 1. I have inserted in brackets the social evils that the prophet might have spoken about if he came amongst us today:
“How the faithful city has become a prostitute! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her — but now murderers! (SA has one of the highest murder rates in the world) … Your princes (ministers?) are rebels and companions of thieves (surely not!). Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts (you know where this is going, don’t you?). They do not defend the orphan (children orphaned by HIV-Aids?), and the widow’s cause (girl/ women-headed families and single mothers?) does not come before them … ”
Just taking the reference to bribes and gifts alone, I wonder what McCauley, in his privileged role as Zuma’s camerlengo, has said in response to Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda claim that her R2.4 million BMWs will help her deliver her mandate. Or did he speak out when Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele said that Zuma and the ANC leadership told him he could keep a luxury S500 Mercedes-Benz given to him by emerging roadwork contractors?
One could go on, but that would be cruel. SA is not a theocracy and McCauley’s selective approach to morality is arbitrary and dangerous. He and other religious conservatives who seek to change the Constitution must know that that they will face a mighty army of liberal democrats, inside and outside of the political process, who will fight them tooth and nail.