Authorities have closed more than 7,000 churches across Rwanda, including 714 in the capital city of Kigali, in the span of two months for failing to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations.
Underscoring the seriousness of the campaign, a lightning strike killed 16 worshipers and injured 140 at a Seventh-day Adventist church that had not installed a mandated lightning rod.
Lawmakers are now debating new regulations in an attempt to prevent fraudulent behavior among the East African nation’s mushrooming churches.
President Paul Kagame welcomed the shutdowns but was stunned at the scale: “700 churches in Kigali?” he said during a government dialogue in March. “Are these boreholes that give people water? I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? This has been a mess!”
Kagame said his country doesn’t need so many houses of worship, explaining that such a high number is only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them.
Many church leaders disagree, and six Pentecostal pastors were arrested for organizing protests. Rwandan authorities maintain the churches were in such poor physical condition that they threatened the lives of churchgoers.
The majority are small Pentecostal gatherings. Many are shepherded by charismatic preachers who draw followers with promises of signs and wonders. Often, such churches meet in houses, tents, or crude structures that lack adequate water systems. They often blast sermons down streets through megaphones and loudspeakers.
The existing law on civil society organizations permits Rwandans to open churches and register after a period of months and doesn’t require pastors to go through any training. By contrast, a new law specific to faith-based organizations will require potential pastors to get a theology degree before they plant a church.
Under the new law, expected to be adopted by year’s end, churches must also obtain government certification that building requirements—such as adequate plumbing and parking—have been met and renew it annually.
Some evangelical leaders understand the motivation for the crackdown, saying protecting churchgoers equates to protecting life.
“With the rise of the prosperity gospel, many people tend to ignore theological training and start churches,” said Esron Maniragaba, president of the Evangelical Free Church of Rwanda and a leader with the Evangelical Alliance of Rwanda. He supports the government’s effort to “have qualified, trained leaders who know what they are doing and teach right doctrine.”
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Source: Christianity Today