In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations (UN) reached an agreement on the new global sustainable development agenda. In a highly publicized event in New York, world leaders, countries and stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, pledged their support towards implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. This global development agenda” contains 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable as well as combating climate change.

Whilst the nations of the world were crafting new global development goals, I could not help but scan local newspapers in search of a “Kingdom development agenda”. What I found, to my dismay, was that churches in the nation’s capital were dominating news headlines for slightly different reasons, allegedly, for feeding grass, snakes, hair and rodents to unsuspecting congregants. What blew the cover was live video footage on social media, which showed “prophets” literally feeding church members snakes and giving them petrol to drink. Apart from the obvious shock and horror (and embarrassment), what drew my interest was the socio-political fallout that ensued between the church, government and communities in the aftermath of these horrific incidences.

The first proposal tabled by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) which I did not know existed until now, was that religion should be regulated. Another proposal by the South African council of churches (SACC) called on the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to investigate possible human rights violations. And some political parties even insisted that the prophets should be forced to eat the snakes themselves as a practical demonstration of Luke 6:31 which says “do unto others as you would have them do to you”. What a mess!

As tempting as it is to question how the state plans to regulate the church or how human rights violations can be attributed where adults consented to the acts; What I do want to know is whether it is reasonable at all for one to expect that there should be a national debate led by the religious community on why these incidences continue to occur and how they should be curbed in future. Before you agree or disagree with me, the reality is that we would probably struggle to even identify the organization that should legitimately “host” such an event. However, to avoid the probable denominational clash, I suspect that the state, as a neutral mediator would once again play referee. Even if the hosting issue was sorted, there would still be a barrage of other difficult questions to answer; who would determine the agenda? who would determine the terms of reference and remit of such a national church debate? who would chair the sessions and make a ruling where differences in opinions arise? who would carry the mandate to operationalize the resolutions of the gathering (if we would be lucky enough to reach that stage)?

Snakes and rats aside, the church is not new to controversy and this is certainly not the last time it will make headlines for the wrong reasons. We have always heard of stories of pastors sexually abusing young girls and prophets emptying congregant’s bank accounts or selling holy water to exorcise demons; this rat and snake stuff is just a new twist. The entire world is full of similar problems, albeit in different forms, but somehow it seems that countries have found a platform through the United Nations (as imperfect as that platform is) to reason through the multiple developmental challenges the world faces and to explore emerging solutions and jointly develop targets and goals which each country should aspire to.

Would a UN approach be a feasible option for the religious community? The old argument about differences in doctrine, just does not hold water for me anymore. The Nations of the world have different constitutions, laws, values, economies and social dynamics, but they are able to put those aside (to a limited extent) in order to find a cause that unites them. Why cant the church do the same? Should there be a “Kingdom Development Agenda”? If so, who would be included in this “Kingdom” and what issues would the development agenda address?

I suspect I am dreaming here and getting way ahead of myself. After all how can we even think of global development issues when we are still trying to grapple with the issues of snakes and rodents locally? To some extent though ut seems to me that unless we have a much bigger and broader agenda, we will always be waiting for the next local scandal to break out. For those of us who are desperately looking for a more proactive approach, please tell us, “Where is the Kingdom Development agenda behind which we should rally our resources, time and talents?