NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) Led by charismatic preachers and self-proclaimed prophets, African churches are swelling with promises of miracle healings, signs and wonders.
But in recent months, governments across the continent are trying to rein in these churches.
Africa’s experience with Christianity has for the most part been positive. About 63 percent of Africans identify as Christian, and Christian denominations founded and still run schools and hospitals. They have played critical roles in helping to keep communities together and stitching together a fraying social fabric.
But while trying not to trample on religious freedom, governments are increasingly frustrated with tales of clergy fleecing their followers and are proposing a raft of new measures to protect unsuspecting church members from corrupt or immoral schemes.
Take Kenya. Recently, a Nairobi pastor banned women from wearing undergarments and bras to church. The Rev. Njohi argued that the women should be free in body and spirit to receive Jesus.
Or take Kenyan preacher Victor Kanyari. He admitted to a scheme whereby followers were asked to pay him in return for his cleansing them of their sins. As proof their sins were forgiven, the pastor said the water in a “miracle basin” would turn red after he prayed over it. Later, church leaders admitted adding chemicals to the water.
Or take South Africa.
Last year, a pastor in Pretoria made members of his congregation strip naked and rode on their backs as he prayed for them. Another Pretoria pastor, Daniel Lesego, made his congregation drink petrol and eat grass. Pastor Penuel Mnguni, based in northern Pretoria, capped it all when he declared a live snake a chocolate bar and commanded the congregation to eat it.
Governments are responding with a series of initiatives:
In January, Kenya unveiled a number of rules designed to regulate religious groups and prevent youth radicalization by Muslim terrorist groups.
After bitter protests by church leaders, the attorney general withdrew the rules, including one that would have required all clergy to hold theological degrees. But President Uhuru Kenyatta indicated it remains his intention to rein in rogue preachers.