Should the State tell you who to avoid as rogue, fake pastor?

James Tamale

What you need to know:

  • The Christian church as foretold by God right in the pages of the gospel, is riddled with wolves in sheep’s skin who invoke God’s name in vain.

This publication in its January 17th editorial issued what read short of a proclamation to the state to deal firmly with men of faith that the Daily Monitor’s editorial board rightly sees as rogue pastors fleecing their congregation on empty promises. 

Given Daily Monitor’s viewpoint on rogue pastors, an Op-Ed prominently appeared in its Sunday edition with a similar call upon the government to take on fake pastors. To bolster the point that there are masqueraders and impostors disguising as men of faith in order to manipulate swaths of desperate followers eager to receive miracles of healing, marriage breakthroughs and prosperity gospel, the essay contributor took the reader through the pages of scripture to drive her point home. Good job!

But what is wrong with the state cracking the whip to rid the public of false prophets and preachers that seek to exploit their flock for their own selfish ends? 

The Christian church as foretold by God right in the pages of the gospel, is riddled with wolves in sheep’s skin who invoke God’s name in vain. Then what? To return to the editorial’s prescription and that of the essay contributor, may the state through its political appointees that may include a Resident District Commissioner (RDC), DISO or GISO, in weeding out rogue actors and fake pastors, be the guide posts in telling worshippers who to minister to them the gospel?

Adherents of state regulation of churches may point you to a neighboring country that has in the recent past put in place stringent pre-licensing requirements to open a church in that country, among which is possessing a college/university degree in theology. 

Never mind that that country’s democracy perception index may easily be the lowest in the region. Regulations of this kind make university deans at the School of Theology and Religious studies the perfect fit to preach the gospel in that country. If that is not insane, then what is?

Granted, the world over Pentecostal pastors in many societies live lavishly and lead affluent lifestyles that pale in comparison with much of their flock. From owning private jets to huge mansions, international gospel preachers, including Benny Hinn of Benny Hinn Ministries, have not been spared of accusations of being false prophets. 

May their state governments revoke one’s licence to operate a place of worship, say for instance his/her teachings are not rooted in the bible or Christian tradition? In our country, that may run afoul one’s constitutional protections from governmental/state intrusion in the church. 

In case one needs a history lesson, the church and the state have always been separate.

But does that mean that the state may not be in position to regulate churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship? It would be sheer madness to think that the church and or places of worship in general are above the law. 

Except by a facially-neutral law or regulation of general applicability, targeted regulations directed at the Christian church and designed to rid it of false preachers/ministers would have the unintended effect of resulting into disparate/different treatment and or disparate impact on the church as an institution and thus, may raise anti-discrimination concerns and worse, threaten the enjoyment of religious freedoms and/freedom of worship.

Implicit in the exercise of freedom of worship free from state control and or interference, the state may not cherry pick which man of faith’s religious teachings and sermons are rooted in Christian tradition, or if you want, if one has the anointing power of the Holy Spirit from one who does not, in weeding out impostors and false prophets. In a country such as ours, where constitutionally the church and the state are separate, it is not the role of the state nor its political heads nor its appointees to direct or guide the faithful on who to lead the masses in prayer, worship or in other religious celebrations. 

Part of the problem as I see it is that the loudest voices in asking the state to crack its whip on false prophets are people who subscribe to secularism and unbelief.

Is it not God who said according to the book of John 10:27-28 KJV that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand”.

Should a state that respects freedom of worship and religious freedoms lose sleep over where any free citizen chooses to worship or whom the people choose to minister to them the gospel or matters of spirituality? Traditionally, matters of faith are between man and God, not the state unless we treat these to be early signs of a shift towards creation of a caliphate.

To put it mildly, calls to rid the Christian church of impostors and rogue pastors in the name of protecting the public may draw in such other unintended groups including diviners, cults and native spiritual healers (abasawo abekinansi) and idol worshippers beyond the Christian church, for the state to apply a non-discriminatory regulation that has nothing to do with targeting a particular religious denomination but places of worship broadly.

Short of that, some among us as newspaper editors and opinion contributors who may be fretting about a repeat of Kibwetere inferno may begin to be viewed as mixing the church and the state. 

Next thing, the state would be allowed into our private space including our bedrooms and prayer rooms to tell us which scripture and Bible verse or Koran to read before bed or as we partake in our meals. Should we not ask when we get here?

Mr James Tamale, is an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda. 

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