This week, it has been brought to the World’s attention that about 700 churches have been closed down in Rwanda for failing to comply with building regulations and for noise pollution.
Government official Justus Kangwagye told the BBC‘s Focus on Africa programme that they simply required the churches to meet “modest standards’ and that some denominations have already reopened after they were approved by inspectors.
While the move has been recommended by many who don’t agree with the nature and some of the ‘bizarre’ practices of some of these ‘new church sects’, it has also stimulated the question of religious freedom in Africa as this occasion is not the first time African governments have encroached into Christianity religious freedom in recent years.
Their argument is that this occasion serves as a wake-up call to us all to this alarming erosion of religious freedom as many African governments want to extinct Christianity, especially given that it is the dominant religion in Africa with a wavering percentage of 63%, according to Pew Research Center.
But inasmuch as we cry foul of these infringements, some of the concerns which have been raised about some church practices are quite bothering. Let’s do a quick rundown.
Over the years, the continent has seen a significant proliferation of one man churches (part of African Independent Churches), mostly operated by self-proclaimed ‘Men of God’ or ‘Prophets’. These prophets have succeeded in luring people to their churches through the performance of miracles. They claim to have the power to protect their congregation from witchcraft, black magic, provide them with employment, heal their sicknesses including HIV/AIDS, and even bring back the dead to life.
Yet, by virtue of their authority, these prophets have become so powerful to the extent that the gullible congregants (we) believe anything they say without questioning them, and will also consent with their bizarre practices even if it faults us. Now, thanks to the new technology, some of their practices are being exposed and as a result, some governments and organizations in the continent are starting to think that these churches and their operators should be held accountable to the people they claim to serve.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently called for the regulation of these one man churches, saying the move aims at stamping out ‘fake prophets’ who put the word of God as a mask, perpetrating all kinds of crimes.
The Daily Nation quoted him saying:
“They are thieves and not preachers. We have to consult and know how to remove them”.
In Ghana, where a church investigation was carried out, it was revealed that many of the prophets who operate these one-man churches have been fingered in horrible violation of human rights that includes sexual abuse. Some too claim to have the power to secure European or American visas for their congregants but end up swindling the congregants of huge sums of money.
These practices by the prophets have incited a public outrage. The Ghanaian government has therefore tasked the Christian Council to draft a proposal that will ensure that these churches are regulated by the laws of the country.
In Nigeria, ‘the mother of all miracles’, the situation is worse. Most churches there has influence that precedes their national borders.
Four years ago popular television-evangelist, TB Joshua made news following a building collapse at his SCOAN in Lagos, which killed 116 people. A coroner’s report blamed the collapse on shoddy work, saying the structure had not met safety standards but Mr Joshua’s church denied this, instead blaming the collapse on a mysterious plane which had been flying above the double-story shortly before it collapsed.
In August 2013, reports were made that Cameroon’s President Paul Biya ordered the closure of nearly 100 Christian churches in key cities, citing criminal practices organized by Pentecostal pastors. Biya used the military to shut down about 50 Pentecostal church denominations in the nation’s capital, Yaounde, and Bamenda.
CNN quoted Mbu Anthony Lang, a government official in Bamenda saying,
“We will get rid of all the so-called Christian Pentecostal pastors who misuse the name of Jesus Christ to fake miracles and kill citizens in their churches. They have outstretched their liberty.”
Recently in South Africa, two churches, Rabboni Ministries and End Times Disciples Ministries, made headlines in the media. The churches posted images on Social Media in which their leaders were feeding followers with snakes and rats, instructing congregants to drink petrol and eat grass to be delivered from evil spirits. The images caused a nationwide outcry.
One of the prophets involved, prophet Penuel Mnguni nicknamed ‘snake pastor’ by local media said he was doing God’s work and didn’t need to explain God’s ways to people. He has since been chased away by local residents, who have become angry with his bizarre practices.
There is also Pastor Lethebo Rabalago, a self-styled prophet who sprayed his followers in the face with insecticide, Doom as a supposed cure for illnesses.
In January, the Botswanan government reportedly shut down Prophet Shepherd Bushiri‘s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church (ECG) in Gaborone, over ambiguous concerns of the so-called miracle money and in the same month Tanzania threatened to revoke the registration of religious organizations that “mix religion and politics”.
These are just a few cases where churches have been clumsily crossing lines with authorities. There a lot of them, but that’s not the thrust of this issue. The issue is, are churches going too far in their conducts as religious organizations, or are governments poised on stamping out Christianity, or they just don’t agree with the directions it’s heading?
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