The Kenyan government has turned the heat on evangelical churches in the East African country.
Through a raft of proposals that require all religious bodies to register and for preachers to have police clearance Attorney General Githu Muigai, said last week he would hold public consultations on the matter before drafting of the legislation.
The proposals include among others, all preachers having to undergo theological training at a reputable seminary; certification from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission that clergy are not corrupt and, for foreign pastors to have a work permit and a recommendation from their government. Also, all religious institutions would also be required to submit their statements of faith to a government-backed body for examination.
According to the media, the proposals seem to target self-proclaimed Christian prophets and faith healers whose influence is growing, as well as Muslim preachers who promote extremism in a country where militant Islamist group al-Shabaab is active.
But the evangelical churches are up in arms against the proposals, with the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya condemning the move and saying it is aimed at stopping the growth of the evangelical churches.
“Registration of churches was stopped since 2014. We believe this is meant to stop evangelism and growth of the church since other societies are being registered freely,” said EAK chairman Bishop Mark Kariuki.
The EAK said it would launch a campaign to obtain three million signatures to block the government from enforcing the proposals, and Bishop Karuiki warned that the EAK would urge its followers not to vote for the government in elections next year if it implemented the proposals.
“2017 is very close and we will not hesitate to use those [voter] cards,” He said.
However, Anglican Church of Kenya cleric Bishop Beneah Salah welcomed the proposals as an attempt to end the ‘commercialisation’ of religion, and said government intervention was needed because the church was not in a healthy state.
“Horrible things are happening in the church today. There is a lot of commercialisation of the gospel with this prosperity gospel,” he is quoted by the media as saying.
“Perhaps God is using the state to punish the church as he did in the past, where he used kings or nations to discipline the church,” he added.
The head of the tiny Atheists in Kenya group, Harrison Mumia, said the government had a responsibility to protect desperate Kenyans from faith healers who took advantage of them.
Christians form the majority in Kenya, while Muslims are the second-largest group.
Their main body, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, was also opposed to the proposals, warning they could violate ‘freedom of worship and amount to a clampdown on religious institutions’.
The Catholic Church – the largest Christian denomination in Kenya and to which President Uhuru Kenyatta belongs – has not yet commented on the proposals.
in a related development, last week Kenya’s Communications Authority published new broadcasting regulations which will ban preachers from soliciting money on air.