A recent altercation between Pastor James Ng’ang’a of Neno Evangelism Centre and his ministry leaders has brought to the fore the question whether the church in Kenya should be regulated by the state. Ng’ang’a accused his junior prelates of disrespecting his wife. As a consequence, he threatened closure of the churches that he had helped them start; disdainfully calling them kiosks.
When Archbishop Arthur Kitonga volunteered to mediate, Ng’ang’a spurned him. As reported in the media, Kitonga retorted: “If you have any problem with your bishops or any other leader in the church, it can be settled amicably…”
Kenya’s recent church denominational explosion is mind boggling. Many of these entities are stand-alone churches, whose doctrine teaching is suspect.
Such church inflation is usually caused by doctrinal and/ or administrative differences, conflict, competition and eventual disintegration of a mother church or even denomination. Some churches are, pure and simple, established as commercial enterprises by "churchpreneurs".
Many churches preach prosperity gospel so as to lure poor followers, while top leaders enjoy lavish lifestyles. There are thus many reasons for the proliferation of churches and congregations in our country. And although 80 per cent of Kenyans confess the Christian faith, it is said that our Christianity is many miles long, but one inch deep.
One must then ask: should the state regulate churches or the proper solution is self-regulation by church umbrella bodies?
Kenya’s Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion in Article 32. Article 8 provides that, “There shall be no state religion.” Freedom of religion has ensured that churches enjoy relative autonomy. This means that churches have a right to self-governance. They can issue regulations to administer themselves so long as these don’t offend the country’s laws.
In the 1990s, when the Church opposed President Daniel Moi’s authoritarianism, the power to recommend registration of protestant churches through the National Council of Churches Of Kenya (NCCK) was withdrawn and exclusively vested in the Attorney General’s office. Kenya’s Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, African Traditional Religions and a few other faith streams were not afflicted by serious divisions so as to require strict governmental regulation.
Churches in Kenya are deemed not-for-profit entities registered by the Registrar of Societies under section 8 of the Societies Act. The Act does not expressly state who may register a church. This implies that any person, regardless of their theological background, can apply to register a church making it possible for some conmen and women to register churches. Perhaps there are those who in the past have registered churches only to later give cover to mushrooming churches for a fee or tithes sharing. In January 2016, then Attorney General Githu Muigai unveiled the proposed Religious Societies Rules, 2015 calling for their public debate prior gazettement.
The above rules largely targeted the church. Examples of the proposed regulations included: the requirement that a religious society be a member of an umbrella religious body, and the umbrella body must be registered with a membership of not less than 2,500 religious societies (congregations) ; the submission of a copy of its constitution containing its statement, doctrine of faith, programmes, ministries, charitable and educational activities as well as the list of the people coordinating these activities; a religious society be open to the Registrar of Societies’ inspection at any time; a religious leader to have a theological certificate from an accredited theological institution and so on.
These rules were not supported by stakeholders and hence they were never officially approved.
Rwanda has recently enacted legislation aimed at regulating faith-based organisations. The Rwandan law requires that pastors should have a theology degree or an added theology qualification where a minister has a non-theology first degree. Further, faith-based organisations are required to declare financial and other grants to the Rwanda Governance Board. Also, any financial support to a faith-based organisation must be channelled through the organisation's account in a bank or a financial institution in Rwanda. Additionally, for each church or congregation, a proper church structure should be built on titled land. Social ministry or development activities must accompany teaching of the Word.
The collectivity of the churches which profess Jesus Christ as the Saviour is called the Body of Christ. This Church with a capital C is Christ’s beloved bride. The bride must have impeccable character. Hence the proper regulation of the Church in any country is critical.
To avoid the charge of discrimination against Christians and to buttress the separation of state and religion, there should be a law which introduces the self-registration and general regulation of churches through their respective umbrella organisations.
For Kenya’s protestant churches, this could be the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya; and the Organisation of African Instituted Churches. The Seventh Day Adventists is not affiliated to the foregoing umbrella groups. Any protestant church outside these formations could opt to join any of the above two or accept to be directly regulated by the state.
Church income must be accounted separately from the income of the founders or leadership. We should borrow the analogy of a company and its shareholders.
The practice of life tenure church leadership should be discouraged. Church doctrine must be clearly enunciated and its derivation from the Bible source authenticated. Parasitic registration through a mother church should be discarded because under the above suggested framework each church will be eligible for own registration. I return to the original question; who will effectively regulate the church and how? If the Church does not expeditiously argue for self-regulation, the state could develop an appetite for regulating the faith sector.
An umbrella body should be able to punish an errant church or its leadership and membership. Progressively each church should have a dedicated social ministry wing. Each church congregation must establish structures that meet official building standards. Most critically theological training must be mandatory for those who serve as church ministers.
The writer is the Governor of Makueni County.