South Africa has entered the Consumer Protection age with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) due for implementation on 1 April 2011. Whether one provides a service, sells goods, or buys what is on offer, every South African should become familiar with his or her rights and obligations under the Act.
All parties in the supply chain are brought into the equation, which means that the consumer can ‘follow the money’ as they say. If the immediate supplier is a small, one-person operation, unable to recompense one for ‘pain and suffering’ endured, one can go after the wholesaler or the manufacturer.
Among the requirements of the Act is that consumers be given full and unambiguous information about products and services they are to receive, and that they should have access to redress. Estate Agents and the Holiday Club industry, for example, may have to re-word their more cryptic descriptions.
We are looking at it for our business of course, but during a recent seminar on the CPA my mind began to wonder to the Church whose task is to encourage the purchase of property in heaven (“setting up treasure in heaven” is how the guide-book puts it).
The problem is that the property is not clearly defined. The book of Revelation describes a city whereas in John 14:2 we read, “In My Father’s house are many mansions…. I go to prepare a place for you.” But there is ambiguity about what the consumer is actually getting. Some translate the word as “mansions”, others as “rooms” while others just call them “dwelling places”. Eugene Peterson (The Message) throws it wide open in his translation: “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.” I mean, what sort of room? Standing room? A place to sit?
It’s important to know these things because, being part of the supply chain, we are the ones who are likely to be targeted. The Owner of the property is beyond the reach of the courts.
The CPA also requires us to be clear about whether we are offering a product or a service. Some churches are clearly into products, with promises of wealth, new cars, and happiness here on earth but I haven’t heard of these offers being made in the poverty-stricken townships around South Africa. Perhaps that’s just the type of sales pitch from which the CPA is trying to protect us. Others focus very heavily on the riches and property in heaven part. But, as already stated, we simply don’t have the brochures or detailed descriptions.
I would suggest that our real offering is neither a product nor a service; it’s a relationship. A service is something one provides to a customer and, when that customer has what he or she paid for, one moves on to the next. A service in other words, like a product, has its limits. We can always explain those limits to the Ombudsman or the Commissioner and point out the relevant paragraph (fine print is no longer allowed) in our brochures. If we stick to the Ten Commandments we can clearly and unambiguously say, “I did not murder him, your Honour, or steal or covet his new Lamborghini.” But a relationship, unconditional love? There are no protective limits there. What if our neighbour wants more than we are ready or willing to give? What if the poor and the sick and the needy come knocking on our door because we advertised love and care and compassion? “Well, you see, that’s not quite what I meant” doesn’t work under the CPA.
The Ten Commandments and other such lists give us security. We know what is expected of us and, when we’re done, we can go home. But Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” and, “Love one another as I have loved you.” What? Without limits?