THE closure of thousands of places of worship in Rwanda has been defended by the country’s Anglican Primate, Dr Laurent Mbanda, who said that “the picture being painted is different from what we see and know in the country.”
About 8000 official and unofficial churches, and 100 mosques, have been closed for failing to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations, says Christianity Today, which reports that legislation adopted last month stipulates that pastors must have a degree in theological education from an accredited school, and must not urge their followers to fast for long periods. Churches must also explain their sources of funding, and donations must be kept in a known bank account.
The Secretary General of the Rwandan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr Martin Nizeyimana, told the Catholic News Service this month that “most Catholics are shocked and disappointed. . . If measures are taken to protect the safety of people, this is good, but they should be explained, so people don’t just arrive and find their church closed.”
A government statement said, however, that the closures “address the alarming proliferation of places of worship in dilapidated and unhygienic conditions, as well as troubling behaviour by unscrupulous individuals masquerading as religious leaders. The latter have, among other abuses, defrauded innocent followers, broadcast insults against women and other religions, and forced followers to fast to the point of death from starvation.”
In a statement issued by GAFCON earlier this month, Dr Mbanda drew attention to the explosion in the number of faith-based organisations in the country, and said that, since the establishment of an institution to regulate them, “our relationship with the government, which is built on mutual respect, has grown, and enjoyment of freedom of worship expanded.”
Regarding the closures, he noted that more than half the 15,465 places inspected had not met standards, “posing a serious threat to the safety of occupants, and becoming a public nuisance”, and that more than 15 per cent of these had since reopened. Many organisations had been involved in the parliamentary debate on regulations, he said, and “from many religious leaders’ perspective, the new law is a step forward, not a step backward in exercising the freedom of worship and the religion.”
He confirmed that the Anglican Church was one of six bodies that had established the Rwanda Interfaith Council to “have one voice, ensure self-regulation, and keep our collaboration as well as advisory role to the government on the matters relating to religious freedom”.