New Era (NE) sat with the acting general secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) Ludwig Beukes (LB).
NE What is the mandate of CCN?
LB: CCN is an umbrella body, which comprises of churches through membership. The aim of the council is to meet the needs of its members. Before independence, CCN played a totally different role because at the time we were in a crisis. It was a war situation and the role then was implementing and spearheading on behalf of its member churches. After independence, the role changed. The member churches came together to discuss another role for CCN and that is the role of facilitating and capacity building of member churches, for them to implement and take action.”
NE: Build capacity in which areas?
LB: We are dealing with HIV/AIDS and we build capacity for churches to implement programmes on HIV/AIDS after giving them training on how to set them up within the church. How to run it, take care of sick people, and how to write reports.
It is our role to inform our member churches about human rights issues, to understand government policies, like we invited someone from the Office of the President to explain the Harambee Prosperity Plan. So that church leaders can be up to date on the plan and identify the church’s role.
CCN and the government signed a memorandum of understanding to say we are here to partner with government on different activities.
CCN is helping the government in the drought situation, it is also on the committee on anti-corruption, and we are involved in the liquor amendment act. There is now a committee on the children of the liberation struggle and we are there as well.
NE: What is CCN’s stance on sexual minorities?
LB: As churches we need to discuss this issue because some churches do not have the understanding of gay and lesbian issues. We are organizing a workshop and are getting people to give input on this issue, and then as churches they will reflect on it theologically.
From there they need to decide how they will understand and address this issue, because each church has its own doctrines and there are differences.
The constitution says it is open for people to be whatever they want to be. We will invite experts to talk about this issue, including from the LGTBI community and medical fraternity.
In the past some churches never discussed this and saw it as an abomination, until they started to get information, and awareness was created. This was the same with HIV/AIDS.
NE: Who funds the CCN?
LB: Before independence it was better – after independence it became difficult to get funding. The first level of funding is our own members that is a very small percentage. Secondly, we rent out facilities and thirdly, our funding is based on the proposals we put to donors on different programmes, like that on HIV/AIDS.
NE: Who are CCN’s members?
LB: Not all the churches in Namibia are members of CCN. We have 16 members. We have the mainline, which are the traditional churches like the Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics and the AMEs, and then we have corporate members which are churches with a minimum of 5 000 members.
We also have those that are applying for observer status and these are churches that do not have that number [5 000].
We have associate members like the bible schools and other Christian organisations.
NE: What is CCN’s position on the state of the nation?
LB: As a church we are concerned when you talk about the morals in the country. We have the issue of killings, corruption, which is affecting the nation, people stealing money from the government.
It seems that moral values of people in the country are depleting. Look at alcohol abuse, people drink to get drunk, then start to cause harm to their own families, and then there is the issue of men sleeping with toddlers.
Maybe we put too much focus on creating jobs and building schools, but what type of people do we have?
We have issues like the drought that we cannot control but the social values and morals of the people are breaking down.
NE: How does CCN handle the proliferation of churches, some of which have defrauded and misled people?
LB: We have to look at the issues broadly, because even government sometimes says CCN must do something but most of the churches, even those doing these things, are registered with the ministry of trade.
Anyone can start a church and call themselves whatever they want to, there is no law that says what you are preaching is right or wrong.
Our people are desperate, we have unemployment, marital problems, so they exploit these situations in which people find themselves. They are very strategic and people are flocking to them.
Our constitution created that openness but somewhere government needs to come up with a guiding framework. It is freedom of association, worship and religion but within this, there is a need for some sort of guidance.
CCN is not a legal entity to tell churches what to do, but we are saying that we are willing to work together with government to come up with something where churches can be regulated.
You have professional councils which regulate certain professions – I think that when it comes to religion, we need some guiding principle to regulate these groupings.
NE: Would you propagate for the return of religious studies in the school curriculum?
LB: We are in a continuous discussion with government on how we can bring back religion to schools. Even if we start with the 10 Commandments.