In the wake of rising cases of worshippers accusing their pastors of extortion, fraud and other dubious conduct, born again city businessman John Katto has spoken out to reveal the schemes employed by some Pentecostal clerics to "keep followers inside" a web of ignorance.
In an interview with Sunday Monitor, Mr Katto, who became a born again Christian in December 2004, revealed how some pastors have used the "manipulation plus intimidation and judgement" equation to keep their congregations blinded and unable to leave churches that are clearly suspicious. "We have a few good pastors and many bad ones."
Mr Katto, a trailblazer who led several initiatives in the Ugandan media, said "In fact, many of these [pastors] cannot read or even be able to tell you a few verses in the Bible."
New converts, he said, are the most vulnerable to manipulation, especially when pastors claim that "you will be cursed" if tithe is not paid. According to Mr Katto, 47, "people end up paying tithe using even borrowed money" because of "coercion". Even those who need counselling, Mr Katto explained, "are expected to pay money and the bigger their problem the more money they are expected to pay".
The church of one Muwanguzi, a cleric with a fearsome reputation, has been accused of commercialising church proceedings. According to Mr Katto, "at Pastor Muwanguzi's church, on Entebbe Road, they have envelopes. If your problem is big and you need to be prayed for quickly, the amount of money is Shs100,000".
According to Mr Katto, the basic trick of the manipulative pastors is to project themselves to their victims as substitutes to God. "Then you are judged, especially when it comes to things like finances, and giving."
Mr Katto, who converted to Pentecostalism at Pastor Isaac Kiweweesi's Kansanga Miracle Cathedral, said after the pastors have projected themselves as glorious "substitutes" for God, they inspire fear and loyalty among followers who are likely to be desperate for quick miracles.
"When [pastors] start churches, they feel that for them to grow they have to pull people in and when they are in, to find a way of holding them in," Mr Katto said. "So instead of using the church to liberate them from the oppressions they have been facing, they instead add a few. So [people] are held in."
In recent days, there have been reports of alleged crimes involving pastors, the most bizarre of which was the allegation by a 26-year-old man that he was sodomised by Grace Kitaka, a pastor at Liberty Worship Centre. Kitaka's accuser, Mr Julius Kitaka Lukyamuzi, contends that the pastor, who adopted him and made him change his surname to Kitaka , performed violent acts of sodomy on him.
Mr Kitaka has since resigned, and the National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostal Churches (NFBAPC) is already investigating his lifestyle for evidence of "sexual perversion". According to Pastor Alex Mitala, the overseer of NFBAPC, Mr Kitaka will be expelled from the fellowship if found culpable and there is also a possibility that Ms Namutebi's church could be blacklisted.
The NFBAPC says that although there are 20,000 churches for born again Christians countrywide, only 1,020 have joined the fellowship. Within NFBAPC, there is agreement that because the activities of the Pentecostals are not regulated and monitored, "dirty" undertakings have gone unreported.
Interest into the activities of churches for born again Christians peaked last week after the arrest at Entebbe Airport of Obiri Yeboah Kojo, the Ghanaian born Kampala pastor who was interrogated by police over an "electric touch" gadget that he attempted to clear into the country.
Police suspected the gadget, which is marketed on the Internet as a miracle-maker, was to be used by Mr Kojo to shock unsuspecting worshippers to make them falsely believe the Holy Spirit is entering them. Some pastors, including the crusading Solomon Male, have called for an independent inquiry into the activities of the Pentecostals, going beyond merely probing Kojo and Kitaka.
According to Mr Katto, "we have come to that tragic point" where pastors have turned the Church into a "money basket". He said pastors "sale of miracles" has enabled them lead flamboyant lifestyles, including the ability to become "the best clients in Kampala's boutiques".
Said Mr Katto: "Pastors have made themselves look like substitutes for God and so people look to pastors for their needs rather than to God. Fortunately, I have been lucky to be open-minded, so I have not fallen for these [tricks]."
Mr Katto pioneered private radio broadcasting in Uganda by setting up Radio Sanyu in 1993. He also introduced colour newspaper printing by bringing the first colour separation equipment that all the city's papers used before developing their own capacity. Katto now manages a printing business.
Concluded the media trailblazer: "Born again Christians are better off "building personal relationships with God the dependence we have on pastors is just not right".