Pentecostal movement riddled with scandals: Will Caesar bring sanity to God's temple?
While the traditional churches in Uganda are governed under the Trustees Incorporation Act, which imposes a strict regime of accountability, just a handful of pastors from the mushrooming Pentecostal churches have set up trustees.
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First published: September 19, 2007
In Uganda, while traditional churches are governed under the Trustees Incorporation Act, few pastors employ trustees to manage the property and affairs of their respective churches in trust of their congregations.
About 2007 years ago, a man came to Jesus with a coin and asked him whether he should give money to God or to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Jesus asked the man which image was on the coin. Then the man responded that it was Caesar's. Then Jesus told the man: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God, what belongs to God."
This drew the line between what God wants his people to give to him and what should be given to the state. It also showed that the state has a role to play and should be obeyed for as long as it does not sway people away from God. Today the church performs roles like conducting marriage rituals on behalf of the state. In Uganda, the traditional churches have always been controlled by the state through legislation. However, this legislation does not apply to the new Pentecostal movement in the country, which is now riddled with many scandals.
While the traditional churches in Uganda are governed under the Trustees Incorporation Act, which imposes a strict regime of accountability, just a handful of pastors from the mushrooming Pentecostal churches have set up trustees to manage the property and affairs of their respective churches in trust of their congregations. According to this Act, the trustees of public associations or organizations such as churches are responsible for the property that comes into their hands and are answerable and accountable for their own acts, receipts, neglects and defaults. The law also makes it an offence to favor one beneficiary at the expense of the others and the trustee has a duty to act impartially and hold the scales evenly between all.
However, this is not the case with Pentecostal churches that are often one-man shows. There is no accountability at all among most of them and because they are not registered under any law, it becomes difficult to sue any one for any civil breaches. Many self-proclaimed men and women of God have mastered their conning trade very well and preach the exploitative, coercive gospel of giving back to God woven around imaginary powers that perform miracles and excite their gullible audiences. At the end of the day, they selfishly enrich themselves while impoverishing hundreds of thousands of their followers who, because of their social and economic problems, rush for 'miracle healing'. Well-planned messages delivered by high school dropouts 'guided' by the Holy Spirit are becoming so contagious that there are allegations of pastors seeking powers from sources other than God.
Today, church leaders in many traditional Christian churches preach to empty pews that their flock abandoned for the 'greener pastures' in the Pentecostal churches. To many desperate people, it does not make sense to stay in a church that does not offer practical solutions to their social and economic problems. In the Pentecostal churches, they found solace. Now in many such churches that dot every hill and valley, especially in and around Kampala city (including the city malls where lunchtime prayers are usually held), the message is consistent: Sow and you will reap. The more you sow, the more you will reap. Believers move from church to church, looking for miracles in the form of wealth even when they do not work. Christians know too well that God can do all this. But so can Satan.
Uganda's first lady, Janet Kataaha Museveni, MP, is involved with Pentecostal Churches in the country.
This mix of wolves and sheep was only waiting to explode. The latest reports indicate that greedy pastors, who want to live a luxurious life at the expense of their flock, are using all kinds of ways to woo more followers into their churches. Their methods include, but are not restricted to advertisements in the media and 'performing' miracles by all means. It begun with accusations and counter accusations amongst the Pentecostal leaders about witchcraft and sodomy against each other. Now the Uganda Police is warning Ugandans against conmen and women who use bogus spiritual titles to rob unsuspecting people of money and material property including cars and land. "Can you imagine a pastor went with a victim to an ATM to pick money?" wondered the Police spokesperson for Kampala Extra region, Simeo Nsubuga.
This was on July 5 after Ugandan Police held Ghanaian pastor, Yeboah Nana Kojo at Entebbe International Airport over the importation of an 'electric touch' machine that is believed to deliver the 'Holy Spirit' to believers. The user's manual of the confiscated gadget says the user needs to be 'creative' with the machine while an internet advert declares: "Without any doubt, you will shock people."
However, this is not the only allegation leveled against the pastors. According to Uganda Police Spokesperson Asan Kasingye, the Ugandan Police is to investigate all allegations about the misconduct of pastors ranging from sodomy to fraud. Following the announcement, the association of churches that governs born again Christians in Uganda announced that it was probing the activities of another pastor and member of the association, Grace Kitaka, who resigned his post following accusations of sodomy. On July 12, Pastor Alex Mitala, who doubles as the overseer of the National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostal Churches (NFBAPC) told a press conference that Kitaka would be condemned if evidence of what he called perversion were found. "We have received information that Mr. Grace Kitaka, who of recent has been connected to sodomy has decided to resign from his position as pastor, pending investigations into the case. We applaud the step as it promotes the integrity of the born again church community, and we hope that the truth will come out and appropriate justice will be administered".
As this was being said, the Ugandan Police spokesperson revealed that his department had already opened a file on Pastor Kitaka. The Penal Code Act in Uganda criminalizes sodomy or homosexuality, and a convict is liable to life imprisonment.
Judith Babirye, one of Uganda's top gospel musicians is from the Pentecostal church.
This is just a tip of the iceberg. The cases against Ugandan pastors are so many and it is only now that the Ugandan government is waking up to put in place measures to regulate the activities of religious groups in the country. This is exactly what many Ugandans have been calling for, ever since thousands of people died in an inferno during the Kanungu Massacre in 2000. Hitherto, the only measure that the government had taken to regulate the activities of the 'born again' churches was to have them registered as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Top leaders in the Pentecostal movement have always opposed this measure, saying it provided room for fake pastors to infiltrate the church.
The Government of Uganda has started consultations expected to result in a policy that will regulate the activities of the Balokole (as born again Christians are known in Uganda). "I met the pastors at the beginning of the year and we discussed the matter," says Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, (who is a born again Christian himself).
Ethics Minister behind new regulations.
So, will Caesar bring sanity to the temple of God?
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First published: September 19, 2007
Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.