When religious faith becomes toxic

Worshipers during a church service. (Net photos)

Earlier this month, one Theodore Dushimimana, an evangelist and resident of Bumbogo sector, Gasabo District, was apprehended after he was found with two sisters he had locked inside his prayer room for almost a week.

The girls believed they were possessed by evil spirits and that is why they sought deliverance from the pastor. With help from the neighbours, the girls were rescued by the police. They were found tied up and were unable to eat.

Religion has for decades been one of the beliefs people have relied on for a sense of direction, among other reasons. Believers ascertain it is a source of salvation and hope for the afterlife. 

For some, however, religious practices have gone to the extreme.

Take for instance renowned regional pastor Elvis Mbonyi whose ministry has been subject to outrageous controversy. His power to perform miracles has wooed his ‘sheep’ to worshiping him — literally — to the extent of ‘kissing his feet.’

More to this, a few years back, the world was brought to alarm after followers of Penuel Mnguni, the leader of End Times Disciples Ministries’ church in South Africa, allegedly declared a snake a bar of chocolate for the congregation to eat.

They obeyed in faith for he allegedly told the church he had the authority to change everything into anything and it will obey because of his authority.

These are just some of the many scenarios of how deeply instilled religious beliefs and customs can have grim effects on society. But what does this mean for society?

Fr Phillipe Habakurama condemns such ways of worship, warning believers to first understand ‘the word’ rather than put their trust in preachers.

He blames such depraved acts on the mushrooming religions in modern society, saying that they have a big role to play in this.

Some religions and religious leaders tend to come in the name of God yet in reality, they have personal interests. In the end, you find religions that stop people from getting together or being part of community work. But all of this is deviation from the truth of God we should be preaching, Habakurama says.

“The problem is with the preachers who pass on false teachings to their followers. Believers, however, should also be in the position to distinguish what they have been told and know whether it is the truth or not, that’s what the Catholic Church teaches, we teach people to be vigilant.”

People are misled because they do not read the word of God, religious leaders say . Net photo 

He counsels ministers to preach what is in line with the word of God and also resonate with the kind of life people are living, and for believers to be wise and watchful as well.

Reverend Jean Pierre Uwimana of Jesus Reigns Ministries’ church says speaking in tongues and interpreting it is a gift from God, but doing it in the name of winning many souls to a church is wrong.

He adds that whenever you notice a church leader that has just started operating and gets rich so fast, like in about a month, exchanging cars and is extravagant, do not believe them because the work of God takes time.

A true pastor, preacher, apostle, evangelist, is the one called by God, but not one who calls himself; and when God calls you, He gives you the anointing to serve Him.

Love of God or desperation?

According to Dieudonne Mbonigaba, a Christian at Church of Nazarene, Remera Parish, people move from one church to another with different expectations like miracles and much more. When their expectations are not fulfilled, they keep on moving. The purpose for going to church should be spiritual, not based on material gains.

He explains that there is too much confusion, ignorance and laziness amongst Christians because they forget that the constitution of Christianity is the Bible, it is for this reason that everyone needs to pray and ask God to save them from lies.

“Some churches are a mess, the pastor is like a small god, when he is away, people do not come to church. Is our source of strength from the pastor or God? Let your basis be Jesus since it is Him that works in preachers,” Mbonigaba urges.

For Sheila Mutesi, religion has contributed much in retarding society, especially in Africa.

People have been promised miraculous healings and riches and are now solely waiting for the promises to be fulfilled. Poverty is pungent among the youth because instead of working, they are seeking solace from churches, she says.

It is this that causes desperation, hence people end up doing bizarre things in the name of faith, Mutesi adds.

“Prayer is not in the equation of success and can never be correlated. While youth in Africa are filling up churches, youth in America are in silicon valley inventing app,” Mutesi says.

Doreen Iradukunda is perplexed by the way in which people practice religion nowadays.  She says it is hard for her to get what to say about the strange religious acts because to her, it is total insanity.

“If someone has the capacity to think I doubt they would fall prey to such stunts pulled by some pastors. I just don’t understand what problems people have. I think some have been traumatised to the extent that they would do just about anything for them to be delivered from whatever demons they are trying to chase,” she says.

Iradukunda on the other hand blames the way religion is set up, saying that it is the fear of going to hell that makes some do what they do because to them, they are trying to honour what the word of God says.

Need for discernment

Pastor Maurice Klebert Rukimbira says for such scenarios to happen, in most cases preachers change the context in which ‘the word’ was originally written which leads to relaying the wrong message.

Some teachers get verses from the Bible and misuse them.  Mark 16:18 says ‘They will pick up snakes with their hands, and if they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them.’  But Jesus meant there will be divine intervention to people in times of trouble (by accident) but if you do it as a demonstration of your power then it will be a misinterpretation of the Gospel, Rukimbira says.

He points out that people shouldn’t believe in whatever miracles they see, for they could be a source from evil power.

He says that what Christians need is the Holy Spirit to help them discern the truth from lies.

“Believers need to pray to receive the Holy Spirit for discernment, combined with other things such as understanding ‘the word’ because without it, you cannot tell if a preacher or prophet is in line with God’s word or not,” Rukimbira says.

False prophets and preachers are a big challenge to believers, and that is why we need genuine servants of God to rise and embark on preaching about Bible scriptures. People are misled because they do not read the word of God, says Tom Gakumba, a pastor at Healing Centre Church, Remera.

He says that believers should be able to identify false prophets as they entice followers based on what they want to hear. Timothy 4:3-4 teaches about how the time will come where people will turn their ears from the truth and turn to myths of a great number of teachers.

Gakumba notes that false preachers are a bad tree that bears bad fruits, if a preacher is not after winning your soul to Christ but minds about the money, then his preaching is a business. The gift of God is not for sale.

He explains that you should dwell in the Word of God as it brings light, it is this light that will help you discern false and wrong preachers.

In some churches, you hear preachers say every time, “God said”, or “I see someone with a headache,” but can the whole congregation fail to have someone with a headache? Be aware that God does not speak anyhow, or every time, or to everyone, if God is to heal, He does not need to know your name, where you stay, or your background, like the way some pastors put it. Take note that it is God who performs miracles, not men of God.”

Gakumba encourages not to fast for the sake of it, or before consulting your doctor about any medical condition, because you might collapse or even die while fasting.

He further says that partial fasting requires one to take some water for energy to carry on with tasks. However, for dry fasting, it can take some days, maybe two or three, though not everyone can handle it.

“Have a purpose for which you fast and prepare enough for it, the Bible says people perish due to lack of wisdom,” Gakumba says.