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OPINION: Why Uganda Might Soon Need an Agency to Regulate Errant Religious Operators

By: Dennis Owachgiu

Religion is ordinarily a matter of personal conviction to a deity, page and as such shouldn’t necessitate any form of third-party human meddling.

But the trickiest part of contemporary Ugandan churches is that even conmen have discovered a lucrative goldmine in setting up Churches purely for economic motives. It’s hard to tell whether some conmen have become pastors or some pastors have become conmen.

While everyday street conmen can be easily busted with the help of law enforcement officials, dosage a conman owning his church can fleece people unimpeded for years.

Citizens are visibly fed up with some their religious leaders but they have few options to settle their grievances. The worst part of it is that faithfuls are lately getting inclined to unorthodox means such as arson, and other crude violence means to show their discontent.

Most of these behaviors are outright criminal and should be discouraged.  Here are samples: In Kisoro they pricked the butt of their Bishop with a needle, In Kabale they torched the official residence of a Parish Priest, in Kitgum they locked up their Anglican Bishop. In Arua the Christians staged a “walk-to-work” style demonstration against their Catholic Bishop.

Even atheists are getting bewildered by the recent state of defiance in churches.  Here are a bunch of people preaching forgiveness but they can hardly forgive each other in practice. The point of contention is that whoever raises out their otherwise valid concerns and grievances implicating a church leader is likely to be brushed aside as a tool being used by the devil to taint the image of the “man of God”.

The religious leader in question would boldly declare “Any [Satanic] weapon formed against me would not prosper”. To their benefit, Religious books have diversity of scriptures which anyone can interpret to suit their circumstances.

There is something much more complicated happening to Muslim Clerics in Uganda. Very many clerics have so far been shot to death in an almost analogous fashion. While the actual killers remain to be known, each time a cleric is killed, other Clerics would be arrested as suspects.

While others are behind bars and arraigned before court, the trend in killings seems to continue unabated. Speculations are rife that there must be other hidden hands behind the deaths of these clerics apart from the suspects so far on detention. If the now detained suspects were the sole instigators of the killings, there wouldn’t be further killings now that they are behind bars.

The radicalism continues to rage in is an unprecedented magnitude. In Kyegegwa, a religious sect orchestrated a full-blast attack on a church, in very much the same way Boko haram has been doing in Nigeria.

How do we solve such complex maters? The ultra-radical and extremist solution to the problem would be setting up a Religious Police like Saudi Arabia. A liberal solution on the other hand is through a loose network such as Interreligious Council through which different religious institutions would come together for dialogue. Uganda already has that later but they haven’t been quite successful at resolving conflicts among different religious groupings and factions.

Some evangelical pastors, the segment with wildest capitalist orientation, are becoming synomimous with trading accusations and counter-accusations against each other via different media channels. Some have so far dragged each other to court although they all preach about forgiveness in their churches. The love for money among some of them can only rival that of drug dealers and mafia organizations.

It’s noteworthy that there can never be 100% consensus on matters of religion and each one is entitled to faith. Even within the same religion, new factions will always sprout up, just like Tabliqs within mainstream Islam, Evangelicals from Anglicans, Charismatic from the Roman Catholic Church. That said, in situations where the actions of unscrupulous individuals are likely to adversely affect other people, there ought to be a mechanism for regulating the erratic ones.

While we can in no way tell who a fake pastor is, we can see them by their fruits. Financially impropriety is one area that makes it is possible to separate the seeds from the waft. Others have had police cases lodged against them and subsequently convicted. There should be a means of restraining the thugs from ever owning a church again.

Obviously unhappy with the skyrocketing conman-ship by pastors,  a section of citizens are now suggesting the drafting of a private members bill that will create Religious Institution’s Regulatory Authority. The proposed Authority will not interfere with constitutional guaranteed freedom of worship per se, but will strive to stamp out commercialization of Churches. The growing number of conmen who masquerade as pastors to fleece desperate citizens will finally be restrained.

It is suggested that while Churches will not be taxed, they will be legally required to regularly declare monies received in their churches to the congregation. It would also be imperative to require them to file returns on the amount of income (tithes and offertories) collected to the Authority. This data could be useful for Bank of Uganda for planning purposes, as there is currently no means of estimating the exact amount of money Churches collect from their flocks.

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