Cult deaths prompt Pentecostals in Uganda to regulate churches
KAMPALA, 16 May 2000 (Newsroom) -- The Fellowship of Born Again Churches in Uganda has launched a program to regulate the operations of Pentecostal churches in the wake of a government crackdown on cults.
Since the deaths of an estimated 1,000 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult earlier this year, the Ugandan government has cracked down on churches it believes to be cults and issued new registration requirements for all religious groups. Approximately 17 million of Ugandaâ€™s 20.6 million people say they are Christian.
Pentecostal churches in particular have been singled out for scrutiny, and many have been closed. Pentecostal pastors meeting earlier this month to write a constitution for the fellowship blame Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Uganda for the government crackdown that has included the banning of evening prayer services.
"These people are jealous of our activities, and they are the ones encouraging the crackdown on our operations," said Pastor Simeon Kayiwa. He said that mainstream churches are jealous because of their continued loss of members to Pentecostal churches.
A member of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), who asked not to be named, denied the allegation that the organization is behind the governmentâ€™s crackdown of Pentecostal churches. The council is the umbrella body of Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox believers in Uganda.
Kayiwa said the mass killings of members of the doomsday cult cast a bad image on Pentecostals, who in Uganda call themselves "born-again Christians." The Fellowship of Born Again Churches in Uganda is the umbrella body for Pentecostal churches in the country.
"Many people believed the Movement for the Restoration of the Commandments was a Born Again Church, but it is not true that any religious group which is not Protestant, Catholic, or Muslim is automatically Born Again," he told Newsroom
In any case, said Geoffrey Katumba, of the Redeemed Society of the Lord church, "followers of the doomsday cult were confessed Catholics, and their doctrine was based on the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Leaders of the Fellowship of Born Again Churches say they are writing a constitution that will enable the group to set standards for pastors, decide church doctrine and teachings, and regulate church activities.
Until the Kanungu incident, where an estimated 530 people burned to death in the cult compound in March, Uganda enjoyed absolute religious freedom under the 1995 constitution. Churches sprung up so frequently and numerously that no one knows their exact number.
Ugandan authorities have been widely criticized for failing to stop the mass killing of the doomsday cult. The government has cracked down as a result, ordering churches to reregister.
Churches previously registered as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Approximately 2,000 churches have reregistered so far, including 380 Pentecostal churches in Kampala. Leaders of the Fellowship of Born Again Churches expect that 15,000 to 20,000 Pentecostal churches will register with the government.
Kayiwa told Newsroom that the fellowship has commissioned 50 people to go around the country to register Pentecostal churches and check on their activities.
"It has not been compulsory in the past for newly established born-again churches to first register with the fellowship, but since now we want to know every detail about the operations of these people, they will be required to register first," he said.
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