Let’s pray: I pray to be counted worthy to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man.
More than 8,000 Rwandan churches closed following government directive
The Rwanda Governance Board continues to close churches it says fail to meet requirements laid down at the beginning of the year. New requirements set in place for those congregations that want to continue ministry are also complicating efforts to comply. Many see the closures as part of an effort by the government to make its aggressive secular stance clear.
According to a report by Rwanda’s pro-government KT Press, more than 8,000 churches have now been closed, and the number keeps growing.
“On checking which churches were included, we learned that all churches are suffering the same fate, and that even churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close,” a local analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor.
World Watch Monitor learned that in one village the church was closed while a wedding was ongoing. The couple and all the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed.
Another church was stopped from having services and other meetings (such as home groups) in a school hall as an alternative after all the churches in that parish had been closed. The church had timber instead of a metal door and window frames, and was told the roof also needed to be elevated “just a little”.
“It seems that the local authorities in the different districts initially had some freedom about the degree to which they could enforce the new requirements,” the local analyst said. “However, it now seems that those who were more lenient have been rebuked and have become stricter. In one district authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, and congregants are not even allowed to meet in home groups.”
One congregation now meets in a church building in another neighbourhood. Another congregation’s members walk 20km to attend church in a neighbouring community after their church was closed.
Many new requirements not originally included in the directive have now been added, including:
- Toilets being a certain distance from the church entrance. In one instance local authorities entered the church halfway through the service and ordered the people to leave because the church would be closed. This church has fulfilled 80% of the requirements and was not aware of this new requirement.
- Congregations have been told they also need to install a certain kind of canvas ceiling, even though that material carries a considerable fire hazard.
- One church was told it needed to change its roof and rebuild one of the brick walls. This will be hard for them to do as they have already been forced to make loans and depend on the goodwill of businessmen to meet the initial requirements.
- Church access roads as well as church compounds need to be paved.
- The inside walls and ceilings in the church must be plastered and painted. Exposed brick is not allowed anymore.
- All churches must have lightning-conductors.
- All pastors now need to have a theological degree. This was already communicated as a requirement, but now the degree needs to be from an accredited institute.
- Another new law states that only institutions that also teach science and technology can teach theology, meaning that few of the many (often highly regarded) theological institutions or Bible schools are regarded as valid.
This law is being enforced even though it has not yet been approved officially. In most cases it is almost impossible for churches to make the required changes within the given timeframe of 15 days.
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About 8,000 official and unofficial churches, as well as 100 mosques, have been closed in Rwanda for failing to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations. This includes 4 in 10 congregations belonging to a nationwide association of 3,300 Pentecostal churches.
And authorities indicate such shutting down of houses of worship in the East African nation will continue until congregations meet the strict requirements of a new law adopted by Rwanda’s parliament on July 27.
The latest requirement: Pastors must now have a degree in theological education from an accredited school. The law also prohibits church leaders from urging their followers to fast for lengthy periods—like Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness—in order to better secure God’s blessing; authorities claim this is a form of starvation.
Many churchgoers look at the new law as a form of harassment and restriction on freedom of worship. But many also fear to speak out, saying it’s a directive from the government and Christians should not oppose authorities.
The law also requires churches and “prayer houses”—unofficial places where Christians gather to pray and worship—to explain their sources of funding, while donations received must be kept on a known bank account.
Lawmakers even debated imposing limits on how much churchgoers could tithe to their church, given the numerous complaints about pastors who collect money from impoverished worshipers while living luxurious lives. The Council of Protestant Churches in Rwanda even “declared war” on such “bad pastors” last year.
We’ll close one church every week, Indian Christians told
Christian villagers in a rural district of India’s Maharashtra state have been told that one church will be closed down every week because they have been “destroying” local tradition and culture by “luring” others to convert to Christianity.
Since June, over a dozen houses belonging to Christians have been attacked by local extremist groups across five villages within Gadchiroli district.
Christians in the villages of Halwar, Tekla, Bharagad, Kospundi and Alenga have also been told that if they pursue with Christianity, they will be cut off from local water supplies and will no longer have access to government-subsidised groceries.
The latest incident took place on Sunday, 5 August, in Kospundi, when a local Christian, Gallu Kowasi, was badly beaten by locals demanding he renounce his faith.
According to a trusted local source, the extremists are being “propelled” by the government in the name of a law on self-governing in tribal areas: the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1998.
Several Christians have received death threats or have been threatened with expulsion from their village, while new converts to Christianity face being ostracised from both their family and local community.
“If one person in the family is converted to Christianity, the rest of the family unites with the village and all of them immediately socially boycott that person,” World Watch Monitor’s source explained.
“The new Christian convert will be given no job in the village and no-one will come to help him with his work. The social boycott is just the start. Thereafter the new convert is threatened constantly to leave his faith; he can be easily attacked and his house attacked.”
UN tells Algeria to ‘guarantee freedom of religion to all’ after church closures
The UN Human Rights Committee has urged the Algerian government to stop harassing its Christian minority, after several churches and other religious institutions were closed down in recent months.
Since November 2017, six churches have been forcibly closed in the Maghreb country – three were later reopened – as well as a Christian bookshop and day-care centre for Christian children. Dozens of other churches also received notifications ordering them to close.
The UNHRC was reviewing Algeria’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and, in its concluding observations on 26 July, said it “remained concerned” over the closures.
The UNHRC called on Algeria to “guarantee the full exercise of their freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all”.
It also said the Algerian government should “refrain from obstructing the religion of persons who do not observe the official religion, in particular by the means of destruction and closure of establishments or refusal to grant registration of religious movements”.
The issues faced by churches in Algeria were presented in a new report by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
In its report, submitted to the UNHRC in June, the WEA explained that the church closures were justified according to a 2006 ordinance, which stipulates that permission must be obtained before using a building for non-Muslim worship, and that such worship can only be conducted in buildings which have been specifically designated for that purpose.
But in practice, the authorities have failed to respond to almost all applications from churches for places of worship. In view of the authorities’ failure to respond to applications, it has become standard practice for churches to rent premises and inform the local authorities that they have done so.