Rwanda’s parliament on July 27th adopted a new law to regulate religious organizations on health, safety and noise pollution. So far about 8,000 official and unofficial churches, including 100 mosques have been shut down in Rwanda for not complying with the regulations.
The law which was drafted by the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), suggests that Pastors must now have a degree in theological education from an accredited school. The law also prohibits church leaders from urging their followers to fast for lengthy periods—like Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness—in order to better secure God’s blessing; authorities claim this is a form of starvation.
This closure also includes 4 in 10 congregations belonging to a nationwide association of 3,300 Pentecostal churches. For instance, Association of Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda had 1,381 of its 3,300 congregations closed. Pastor Charles Ndimubayo, leader of the association’s northern region, confirmed to that 300 have since reopened.
Authorities have indicated that such shutting down of houses of worship in the East African nation will continue until congregations meet the strict requirements of the new law.
According to discoveries by the Rwandan Governance Board, the number of churches is more than the number of villages.
In some buildings, three or four different denominations would hold prayer services at the same time, resulting in unbearable levels of noise and unsafe environment for occupants.
The RGB, which drafted the new religion law, accused Rwandan religious leaders and other religions of forcing followers to fast and most times “to the point of death from starvation.”
According to a report by KT Press, a pro-government newspaper. The right to religion is guaranteed in Rwanda’s constitution, written in 2003 and amended in 2015. But the latest RGB report on faith-based organizations stated the constitution’s relevant Article 37 has led to the founding of too many churches and the establishment of too many religious denominations: 1,000 as of 2017.
The new law amends Article 37 and its regulations on churches, mosques, and other faith-based organizations. World Watch Monitor including where churches must locate their toilets and how roofs, walls, parking lots, and other infrastructure must be constructed. Churches in turn have complained about the high cost of such improvements, as well as the short turnaround which is 15 days.
The government gets irritated when you start preaching the type of American prosperity gospel which many African preachers are learning from American television and YouTube,” Charles Mugisha, founder and chancellor of Africa College of Theology, recently told CT’s Quick to Listen podcast. “The government becomes protective of its citizens if a church or preacher begins to manipulate it.
Anastase Shyaka, head of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), says the government body is in charge of regulating faith-based organizations, the government is not targeting churches. He said the closures are only aimed at keeping Rwandans who visit these churches safe, since some buildings are in poor condition and life-threatening.
The law also requires churches and “prayer houses”—unofficial places where Christians gather to pray and worship—to explain their sources of funding, while donations received must be kept on a known bank account.
Lawmakers also considered imposing limits on how much churchgoers could tithe to their church, given the numerous complaints about pastors who collect money from impoverished worshipers while living luxurious lives of which the Council of Protestant Churches in Rwanda has even declared war some time ago.
Robert Kayitare, a businessman who attends St. Peter’s Anglican church in Kigali’s Remera neighborhood, believes the law by the government will sort out such pastors. “The source of the money must be known and how the money collected from churchgoers spent should be known,” he said.
Many church people see this move as an infringement on their freedom to worship, but are afraid to speak up.
The closures do not infringe on the freedom to worship, but rather address the alarming proliferation of places of worship in dilapidated and unhygienic conditions,” the RGB stated on July 27, “as well as troubling behavior of unscrupulous individuals masquerading as religious leaders.
Bishop Murekezi Masasu, leader of the Christian Churches’ Forum in the Rubavu district of Rwanda’s Western Province, said the government’s intervention was timely because many of the unofficial prayer houses were in disgraceful condition and needed to be closed.
I don’t agree with some pastors who say the action is a form of harassment,” he said. “You cannot turn your house into a church and expect the government not to act.
Pastor Jonas Matabaro, representative of the Restoration Church in Rwanda’s Northern Province, says the safety of churchgoers is important, and a degree in theology is necessary.
I support the government’s action to have all poor structures used as prayer houses be closed. We need also to have pastors who are trained in theology, so as to teach the right doctrine,” he said. “Churchgoers and pastors ought to know the government is doing all this in good faith.
While some of the religious leaders applaud the government for such timely move, others criticized the move, saying that preaching is a calling and not something learned in school. According to them, Jesus was a great preacher while on earth yet He had no degree in theology like the government is now imposing on religious leaders.
News Source-Christianity Today
What’s your opinion, do you think the Nigerian government should also regulate the practice of religion in Nigeria or are there other alternative to regulating religion?
Is this law right or is it an infringement on the right of citizens?
Comment your opinion.