Taming rogue pastors: Church and state at a crossroads

Proposed bill states that churches are to file financial returns each fiscal year, besides declaring their assets and liabilities

By Jonathan Teikan

Pastors will have to undergo mandatory theological training if parliament enacts a proposed Bill into law in an attempt to rein in pastors who fleece their congregants.

Kangema Member of Parliament Muturi Kigano is behind the Bill that seeks to set minimum qualifications for one to practice as a cleric. It also proposes punitive measures against preachers who “enrich themselves” at the expense of their followers.

Concomitant to that, the bill states that churches are to file financial returns for each fiscal year, besides declaring their assets and liabilities.

This is not the first time the Bill is being introduced in Kenya, but it has always elicited a strong backlash from church leaders.

In 2016, the government proposed guidelines to regulate religious bodies in the country.

The guidelines – which required registration of religious bodies, their financial audit, and government certification of foreign religious ministers – were heavily criticized by many, among them the Catholic bishops’ conference, which termed the move an “unwarranted encroachment on religious freedom.” Once again, the current Bill has again attracted harsh criticism by church leaders across denominations.

Speaking to Kajiado Star, Redemption Bible Church Senior Pastor Philip Topisia said even though the government could be having the welfare of the church at heart, it needs to approach the matter more judiciously.

Pastor Topisia has categorically faulted Kigano’s argument that for a pastor to be accredited, they have to undergo mandatory theological training. According to Topisia, “theological training does not authenticate faith.”

He added: “It does not necessarily mean that just because one has completed a theological training, then they would not fleece their congregants, and neither does it mean that just because a pastor has not trained, then they are swindling their followers.”

Constitutionally, the state and the church are separate. The Constitution of Kenya (2010) provides for freedom of religion, effectively ensuring that churches enjoy autonomy.

Topisia says the only way the government can succeed is by making use of umbrella bodies, namely the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), the Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), the Alliance of Registered Churches of Kenya (ARK), the African Foundation Churches of Kenya (AFCK), and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).

These bodies, he argues, are better placed to advise the government accordingly.

Douglas Kulei, the coordinator of the Isinya Rural and Urban Pastors Association (IRUPA), agrees with Topisia that the State should tread carefully, lest they be seen as interfering with the affairs of the church.

“What the government terms fleecing is not clear. In most cases, our congregants voluntarily finance church projects… if it is the case that the government is concerned about the money that leaders get from their followers, and would want the people to stop contributing towards the same, does it mean that the pastor will solely finance the church’s activities? Or will the government offer ways of funding the church?”

According to Kulei, the new trend where some quarters are commercializing the Christian faith is a sign of the biblical end-times.

Bishop Peter ole Mankura (pictured) of the Dominion Chapel Ministries International, on his part, says some misdeeds committed by purportedly Christian leaders are conspicuously out of order and the government’s move to tame the perpetrators is long overdue.

He agrees that the church’s autonomy is important, but only to some extent. “Cultism has seen many citizens lose their lives; some acts we are seeing in the churches today are outright violations of the law, and the law must always apply to all, whether they are pastors or not.” Mankura blames freelance preachers who are not subject to any spiritual authority but themselves for the hue and cry.

The freelance “pastors”, he says, have led to the mushrooming of churches, most of them bred out of competition rather than calling.

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