RNS reported Tuesday that the government in Nairobi, Kenya will begin regulating religious groups concerning the qualifications of ordained religious leaders. Christian and Muslim leaders are now protesting the new legislation, claiming a violation of religious freedom.
The Kenyan government published several rules this month, including requiring religious leaders to possess formal theological degrees. Additionally, all religious groups must submit to the government, a clear and concise statement of faith outlining the beliefs of the organization.
The new set of rules were apparently inspired by reports that some religious leaders were defrauding followers with unsound faith information; and some mosques were beginning to radicalize people attending the place of prayer.
The Master of Divinity (MDiv) is currently the standard graduate level degree for professional ministers serving in both the United States and Canada. It is unclear exactly what level of education will be considered the minimum requirement for Kenyan ministers.
Roman Catholic Bishops apparently expressed shock at the Kenyan government’s move to require proof of formal theological education for all ordained ministers. The Bishops believe that this ruling can “impede the work of evangelization.”
It may be a telling note that these religious regulation changes come on the heels of a recent visit of Pope Francis to Kenya (photo, November 2015).
Kenyan pastors are concerned about disaffecting the young people in Kenya who are forming their faith under duress. Kenyan Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a news conference Tuesday (Jan. 12), that “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…”
More than 1,000 pastors attended a meeting in Nairobi, where Bishop Mark Kariuki, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, said that these new rules were a form of discrimination and persecution against the church and believers. “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.”
Renown African American Mega Church Pastor, preacher, teacher, author, producer, and leader, Bishop T.D. Jakes gives a moving testimony of how the first time he entered a theological college, he was teaching classes; and the ministerial students were “following him from class to class.” Bishop Jakes was called to ministry at an early age and studied Psychology in college; however, he never attended a formal theology school as a student in ministry.
On Monday, Kenyan Evangelical and Pentecostal church leaders threatened protests across the country in response to the new degree requirements.
Kariuki also complained that churches were being denied official registration. More than 7m00 churches were denied registration in 2014. Not one single church was formally registered in 2015.
The Kenyan government is also describing the giving of donations as fraud. Though “donations” are a “new and voluntary trend,” the government is cracking down on these offerings and seeking to regulate televangelists through new legislation restricting public broadcasting.
The Rev. Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, a Protestant group, “warned the government not to provoke churches.” Karanja told journalists that, “Christians are voters, and it will be tragic to provoke the church into asking whether they voted for the right government.” Sheikh Adan Wachu, chairperson of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims said that the regulations, “violate freedom of worship.”