Let's pray churches toe the line

Although the decision to allow worship gatherings is well-intended, the practical implementation of it may, at best, be counter-productive, and at worst, disastrous the writer says.
Although the decision to allow worship gatherings is well-intended, the practical implementation of it may, at best, be counter-productive, and at worst, disastrous the writer says.
Image: phartisan/123RF

There can be no doubt that spiritual fellowship is a crucial part of the wellbeing of many people in this country who practice religion.

Therefore, in principle, promoting fellowship in times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, is in itself a legitimate form of support, social and otherwise, to those who believe in it.

Only in this case there is a very real chance that although well-intended, the practical implementation of it may, at best, be counter-productive, and at worst, disastrous.

On Tuesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that regulations banning religious gatherings would be eased, allowing people to return to places of worship - but under strict conditions.

These included limiting the number of congregants to 50, keeping social distancing and wearing masks at all times.

The decision followed consultations with the religious sector which ultimately convinced government that their offering was essential.

There are a number of issues that arise from this.

One is that declaring fellowship essential on the basis of its value to its constituencies opens the door for all other social mechanisms which may hold similar meaning to people to expect the same easing of regulations, if government is to be seen to be consistent.

Further, the decision raises legitimate questions about how government plans to monitor that churches, regardless of size, can and will adhere to the new conditions of their operations.

When asked this question, minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu said churches had agreed to follow protocols.

This suggests that government has this decision in good faith, expecting that all churches understand what needs to be done and will comply.

Indeed, for some this may be.

However, it would be naíve on the part of government to expect that some within the religious community who have a questionable, reckless track record, would comply.

This decision, regardless of its intentions, may indeed come back to bite us.

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