A fortnight ago, the President met a cross section of the Born-Again Church leadership at Lugogo to address them on Operation Wealth Creation. At least that was what we were told was the agenda. He didn’t say much on this and apparently, we did not have any presentations to make in the form of project proposals and/or expectations. It was such a casual visit, one that smacked of cordiality, warmth, sincerity and close affection.
It is undeniable that the President has a soft spot for Balokole (Born-Agains). He had no prepared speech. If you understand protocol, it was easy to smell a rat when neither line minister, PS, PPS nor PPA was in his company.
He discussed the shallowness of traditional religious groups and the laziness of those that formed the core of his audience! He told one of his usual ‘bush time’ stories, one of the cadre who was dying of Ettalo (cellulitis) swellings which occur when certain types of bacteria enter the skin through a cut or crack.
He was candid in educating us that in the same way, his cadre did not know what he was suffering from, and the possible cure, which was a couple of doses of anti-biotic pills, one can actually die of ignorance. His analogy was that if anything will kill the Born-Again Church, it will be the lack of assimilation, absorption, properly understanding information and/or ideas.
During and after his speech, it became evident that the President had been fed with information that “a lot” of Balokole were unhappy with the religious and Faith-Based Organisations (RFBO) policy commonly branded as The Lokodo Policy.
It is interesting to note that even with news reporters, that was what was carried the following day! The best that came out of that get-together was that the President promised to bring the matter up for discussion in a more elaborate and inclusive forum. All senior religious leaders of the major denominations in the country will be invited. If you wish, this will be an Inter Religious Council of Uganda meeting! And yes, several pots and mugs of milk (ebyantsi by’amate) will be served.
I do not know the President’s sources, which should account for the kind of response he gave on the now thorny policy. Whether he was informed by his advisers, a few of our pastors who have his ear or some of blue-eyed informers, is a guess. But what seems to be of essence here is the fact that the entire policy has been condensed, and in effect trivialised to the inconsequential matter of training for ministry. If the RFBO policy is about education or the lack of it, then who needs one?
Nonetheless, anyone who has seen the September 2019 edition of the RFBO Policy (called Final Draft) by the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity, which will be discussed by the heads of Religious and Faith Organisations, Inter Religious Council Executives, Judges, Members of Parliament, Members of the Inter Agency Forum, Registration Bodies, media houses and specially handpicked VIPs, will agree that there are many pertinent and important issues than the worry of whether one has any training or not.
The proposed policy introduces, among others, the issues of Transparency and Accountability in the operations of the RFBOs, revisiting the registration process, strengthening the partnership between the State and RFBOs, and promotion of unity in diversity.
These issues are not captured anywhere in the laws under which we used to register our establishments.
There are other issues, on the Born-Again churches’ grapevine like the possibility of taxation of Balokole churches, the rumours of stifling the activities on evangelism and church planting, the possibility of arrest and subsequent imprisonment should one say anything that may offend another religion, the presence of government officials’ on the local RFBO (church or mosque) Board, say an RDC, the inequality of all RFBOs in the sight of government and many others, are all still debatable and, I hope, changeable.
It is, however, interesting that whenever these issues are raised, there seems to be no response from government on them. It is as if the rumours are actually true! We need assurance on those and the following:
First, a statutory guarantee for the Perpetuity of Born-Again Churches. In 1977, the Born-Again Church experienced great tribulation when president Idi Amin abolished our churches. Members began to have home fellowships in order to keep the body of Christ alive. Many Christians were imprisoned. A repeat of the same ordeal is possible, unless pre-empted by an actual legislation.
Secondly, there is need for a one-stop centre of registration and licensing. There seems to be no rationale for double or even triple registration. What needs to happen is on successful registration, all other permits and licenses, including marriages, should be encapsulated in that one document or if they need to be numerous, be issued together on that one occasion.
Thirdly, a statutory guarantee for the self regulatory status of Born-Again Churches. The issue of self regulation is of cardinal interest here. We have two great opportunities for our faith communities to show a seriously concerned public that all abuses will now be permanently ended. We have come, as a community, to a point where we must self-regulate or government will do it for us.
Before we run to the President, in order to self-regulate, we must begin to exhibit the highest ethical standards ever. We need to identify the core of the moral principles and values that we all share, and speak the same language.
Mr Serwadda is a pastor