January 12, 2016

Kenyans protest new rules requiring clergy to hold theological degrees

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Bishop Philip Anyolo addresses the media during a recent news conference in Nairobi. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Bishop Philip Anyolo addresses the media during a recent news conference in Nairobi. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) A government plan to regulate religious groups is shaping into a bitter fight, with Christian and Muslim leaders protesting that it tramples over religious freedom.

The government published a set of rules this month that require religious leaders to have theological degrees and religious groups to submit a statement of faith.

The rules come amid concerns that some pastors were fleecing followers and some mosques were becoming centers of radicalization.

Roman Catholic bishops expressed shock at the rules, saying that if implemented, they would impede the work of evangelization.

Bishop Philip Anyolo addresses the media during a recent news conference in Nairobi. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Bishop Philip Anyolo addresses the media during a recent news conference in Nairobi. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

“Similar attempts to regulate the procedures for Christian marriage have led to a major drop in young people coming to church to celebrate the sacrament,” Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a news conference Tuesday (Jan. 12).

On Monday, evangelical and Pentecostal church leaders threatened countrywide protests against the rules.

At a meeting in Nairobi attended by at least 1,000 pastors, Bishop Mark Kariuki, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, said the rules were a form of persecution.

“Requiring pastors to obtain a theological degree is presupposing that all ministers of the gospel are learned,” he said. “There are some who are called and yet do not have the benefit of formal education.”

He also complained that not one church had been formally registered in 2015 and that in 2014 more than 7,000 churches were denied official recognition.

“This is manifest discrimination and persecution of the church,” Kariuki said. “We will not take it anymore.”

He added that churches are not opposed to reasonable regulation after proper consultation.

Describing it as fraud, the government is also seeking to stop a new and voluntary trend where Christians send offerings or “seed money” to pastors via mobile phones. The government also seeks to control preaching on television through new rules governing broadcasting.

“The church is in the business of spreading the gospel. It is offensive to tell us we cannot invite people to make decision for Christ (on TV),” said Kariuki.

The Rev. Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, a Protestant group, warned the government not to provoke churches.

“Christians are voters, and it will be tragic to provoke the church into asking whether they voted for the right government,” Karanja told journalists.

Sheikh Adan Wachu, chairperson of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, warned that the regulations violate freedom of worship.

(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent based in Nairobi)

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  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    When it comes to the conflict between African church leadership and the West, this, of course, is the elephant in the living room everyone has been choosing to ignore. Many or most or the Anglican bishops in Kenya, Uganda and other places aren’t prepared to deal with modern social critique, biblical criticism, or even critique of their own histories. They have no idea what they’re talking about when they blather about “biblical truth,” the “decadence” of Euro-American culture and religious thought, and the impact their untutored perspectives has on the discussion of such issues as the place of gay people in the church, or even the greater community. The nonsense they preach suggests that, at best, they poorly understand the nature and history of the colonialism that sought deliberately to keep African people in a subjugated position with respect to white people. It’s so deep and so complex that I almost despair of even the Holy Spirit’s ability to unravel it.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    Time for Anglicans and Roman catholics to formulate a set of Best Practices when it comes to admitting people to Holy Orders.

  • edward

    The various denominations setting educational standards for their pastors is one thing, but government setting those standards is something that is totally unacceptable in a democracy. In either case no set of man made rules can determine who is acceptable to God as a minister of the gospel.
    Unfortunately, most who declare themselves to be ministers are in it for the money, not for Truth.

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