Karl Marx once declared that religion is the opium for the masses; sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. however it is something personal that varies from person to person. Faith is a very good thing; but when mixed with ignorance it is a killer.
My cousin once asked me for rwf 50,000 to cure his son of malaria; I told him that medication cost only rwf 500 plus rwf 3,000 for a net for the prevention of future illness.
He said he’d tried all that before but this was the third time he had been sick in a year and he wanted it resolved once and for all. His pastor wanted rwf 50,000 for a 3-day prayer session where he would exorcise the demons causing his illness.
When someone desperately believes that spirits and not paramecium from the anopheles mosquito cause malaria then you have a problem.
The majority of pastors are honest men but some are prone to human weaknesses like greed and exploitation. In this post-industrial age, we have moved from a “one size fits all” approach to highly customised faith based on a one-to-one relationship with God, with the Church no longer being the conduit between man and God.
So walk around in any deprived suburb with Africans in this world and you see churches and more churches; the Zion Baptist Tabernacle, Baptist Abyssinian Temple, Pentecostal Fire Tabernacle, Alpha worship temple, and these are all in Europe.
Rwanda has a dilemma in how to deal with this problem; we can try to legislate our way out of it or deal with them case by case.
There has recently been a bill presented at parliament regarding the issue but questions arise regarding the suitability of such legislation; the contentious elements are firstly to make it a prerequisite to have a degree in theology and to have 100 signatories to start a church.
When reviewing any potential legislation we should judge it on three main criteria. Is it in line with our constitution? Our constitution grants freedom of worship to all Rwandans; will we have to changed that?
Does the legislation achieve what it aims to achieve? I doubt whether we will end the scourge of unscrupulous preachers or even worse they’ll go underground. Lastly; is it enforceable? What do we do when we see a small group of old women worshipping without a license?
When we look at Rwanda, there are so many aspects that need urgent legislation, I wonder what made lawmakers focus on religion?
We need stand-alone legislation on gender-based violence (which is in the pipeline but needs more amendments) on data-protection, on freedom of information, on consumer rights, on land rights, on water rights, and integration into the East African Community.
Some of these are already in development but lawmakers need to focus more on laws that will help us develop and I don’t see how this law would help that.
As a Christian, I pray that we can strike a balance between protecting people from unscrupulous conmen while fostering good churches that do so much good in our society.
We all know that having a degree in theology does not make you a good preacher; when I hear a great pastor I look into his word and his aura, not his degree in theology.
Imagine if a future great leader like Gitwaza or Masasu was not allowed to reach their potential because of a law meant to foster religious rights.
What will most likely happen if this law is passed in its current wording is churches will band under umbrella-organisation/churches and carry on as before.
It would be sufficient to merely require all pastors/imams/ to register; this will allow us to monitor them and prosecute them when crimes of exploitation happen.
We cannot throw the baby out with the bath-water here, as much as I dislike conmen who masquerade as preachers, we cannot tarnish the good.
When they die they will answer to God but here on earth they must face justice for their crimes under existing legislation that already restricts all the things that this law is trying to prevent.