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700 noisy churches

Some local religious leaders have supported the closures.

Bishop John Rucyahana, a retired Anglican Bishop is reported by The New Times newspaper to have said that churches ought to serve as positive examples to the rest of the society on the importance of obeying the laws of the land and meeting required standards.

“The work of the Lord is not inferior that it can be done in sub-standard places. It has to be safe for occupants,” he said.

Bishop Rucyahana pointed out that Rwandans ought to confront and castigate religious leaders they find to be manipulative or operating below required standards.

“Why should we wait for the government to close down these churches? The government has a lot to do in other aspects of development. As Christians we should know what is the standard and acceptable for a place of worship and confront and avoid religious leaders who do not. We should also do the same for those we consider to be manipulative religious leaders,” he said.

Pentecostal churches have grown rapidly in many parts of Africa in recent years. According to the BCC which has offices in most countries on the continent, some are massive, attracting thousands of worshippers each Sunday, but others consist of tiny structures built without planning permission. Church leaders have at times been criticised for using loud public address systems to attract worshippers.

These are led by self-proclaimed prophets or messengers who are believed by their millions of devoted followers to have the power to perform a range of miracles from healing the sick, curing Aids and even raising the dead.

Some leaders, such as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta have recently called for the regulation of churches.

“They are thieves and not preachers. We have to consult and know how to remove them,” the president is quoted as saying by Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation.

When approached for comment on the scepticism around their sometimes bizarre practices, the church leaders response is often a variation of “we are being targeted” or “the Bible says the man of God will face opposition. Christ himself faced opposition”.

Nigerian evangelist TB Joshua made news following a building collapse at his Synagogue Church of All Nations church 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 Joshua’s church denied this, instead blaming the collapse on a mysterious plane which had been flying above the double-storey building shortly before it was reduced to rubble.

Of those killed, more than 80 were from South Africa, illustrating the international nature of some of the bigger churches.

In South Africa, two churches – Rabboni Ministries and End Times Disciples Ministries – made headlines here when the churches posted images of their leaders feeding followers snakes and rats, or instructing congregants to drink petrol and eat grass. The images caused a nationwide outcry.

At the time, the man dubbed the “snake pastor” by local media, Prophet Penuel Mnguni, said he was “doing God’s work and didn’t need to explain God’s ways to people”.

But his church in extension 13 in Soshanguve, a township outside Pretoria was burnt down by residents.

The South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CLR) summoned 40 churches and criticized the commercialisation and abuse of people’s belief systems.

“The sector needs to be regulated,” CLR chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told the BBC.

“We’ve found that other religions such as Islam and the Jewish religion are systematised for disciplinary codes and monitoring but Christianity, because of its volatility in terms of anyone being able to start up their own church, we feel there is a need for regulation, self-regulation,” she said.

Pastor Conrad Mbewe, of the Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia, says charismatic churches have a stronghold on the continent because “Africans are hugely spiritual”.

“Africans do not question the existence of God as in the case with many in the Western World,” said Mr Mbewe.

“It is believed that there needs to be a conduit that enables communication between humans of the various layers of spiritual beings, which include angels, demons and spirits. They see these prophets as messengers from God,” he said.

He said financial swindling and sexual abuse were a concern for church leaders in Zambia.

“We have been made aware of incidents of sexual abuse, which is said to take place when they attend overnight church gatherings.”

“Issues of poverty and unemployment are at the core of people’s reliance on these types of churches. We’ve found this group is incredibly desperate and will do whatever they are told to do if promised that it will change their lives.”

This is not to say all evangelical churches are bad, the same way we cannot say all orthodox churches are good and without controversy.

“There needs to be at the very least, a bare minimum standard that we as Christians can set and adhere to and any church found to be operating outside of that needs to be stigmatised. We would have failed as church leaders if we do nothing,” said Reverend Nthla.

Religion in Africa:

63% Christians

30% Muslims

3% Traditional religions (many also mix traditional beliefs with Christianity and Islam)

Of the Christians:

57% Protestant (includes members of African Independent Churches and Anglicans)

34% Catholic

8% Orthodox

1% Others

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Source: Pew Research Center

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