Millions of Americans flock to churches every week to freely worship the God they serve and partake in Christian fellowship. Unfortunately, many Rwandans no longer possess the ability to do so.
Recently, the Rwandan government shut down approximately 700 churches. Government officials blamed the decision on noise pollution and a failure to comply with building regulations. Most of the places of worship closed were small Pentecostal congregations in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. However, one mosque was also ordered to cease having services.
According to the BBC, Pentecostal places of worship, frequently led by charismatic ministers claiming to be able to perform miracles, have expanded rapidly in numerous regions in Africa in recent years. Some of these churches are huge, welcoming thousands of worshipers every Sunday while others consist of small structures constructed without planning permission. Ministers have sometimes been berated for utilizing noisy public address systems in order to recruit worshippers.
Regarding the church closings, Rwandan government official Justus Kangwagye informed the BBC’s Focus on Africa that churches were only required to satisfy “modest standards.” Kangwagye told the Rwandan New Times that some places of worship subjected attendees to unnecessary risks and might “cause danger to those worshipping.”
On February 21, 2018, the Rwandan Governance Board reported it wanted to evaluate the original governing regulations for places of worship. This organization cited “irregularities” in the method various congregations functioned as the reason for its desired investigation.
Professor Anastase Shyaka commented, “Some churches conduct their worship services in shoddy and unclean structures; to the detriment of people’s health and safety. Cases of noise pollution have also been reported while some operate without the required operation permits.”
“Some Churches are torn apart by internal wrangles, this should not continue. If we are Christians, where we worship must meet standards showing respect for God.”
Despite the fact that nearly all of the closures are of Pentecostal churches, Lutheran Bishop Evariste Bugabo maintained the closure command didn’t target any one denomination according to Religion News Service.
“It is a matter of hygiene and security for the church members,” the bishop stated. “While churches have mushroomed too quickly in Rwanda, those that have met the requirements are safe.”
Nearly 1.2 million people reside in Kigali. Rwanda’s capital city contains more than 1,300 places of worship.
Harshly criticizing the number of churches in his country, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said, “Are these boreholes that give people water?” He added, “I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? This has been a mess.”
David Himbara is a Rwandan international development supporter based in Canada. He feels the Rwandan government’s excuse for closing the mind-boggling 700 churches is unfounded. In a piece he wrote for Medium, Himbara proposed Kagame simply wants to keep a tight rein on religious freedoms in Rwanda.
“Kagame tightly controls the media, political parties, and civil society at large,” he said. “The churches constituted the last open space. Kagame knows this. The localized community of churches offered a slight space for daring to imagine and talk about change.”
Himbara believes Rwanda’s small churches play a vital role in the lives of their worshipers.
“In Rwanda’s context, churches meet their members’ spiritual, emotional and physical needs in these troubling times under Kagame’s dictatorial and traumatizing regime,” he added. “Irrespective of church size, each Rwandan church provides some meaning, counselling, and outreach services to its members.”
Not buying the government’s hygiene reasoning for church closures, Himbara said, “The entire Kigali City is unhygienic — with open sewers running through homes and neighborhoods. A city of over one million, Kigali does not have a sewage system. There is no treatment plant — raw sewage is dumped into the national and regional water systems.”
On March 6, 2018, Rwandan authorities announced the arrest of six “masterminds” conspiring to disobey the government’s order to shut down their places of worship. The government accused the religious leaders of meeting in order to talk about how to best resist the closure order. All of those arrested were Pentecostal.
~ 1776 Christian