The Rwandan government has moved to tighten rules on registration and function of churches in the country amid rising cases of fraud.
This comes as faith-based organisations expand their activities including investing in media, schools and hospitals.
However, a recent case involving Amazing Grace FM, a Christian-run radio station accused of engaging in hateful sermon against women, has put churches in the spotlight.
In the sermon aired live on January 29, local pastor Nicolas Niyibikora vented against women calling them “evil” and “against God’s plan.”
The radio station has since been temporarily closed and fined Rwf2 million ($2,340) for undermining state security and Rwandan culture.
Now, the Rwanda Governance Board — that registers faith-based and civil society organisations — has moved to seal loopholes in the current law, which is deemed not strict enough to address the issues that emerged after its enactment in 2013.
Anastase Shyaka, RGB chief executive officer said the law allowed churches to open without registering first, while preachers do not go through a vetting process as there are no specific requirements regarding who should practice.
There are also no standards for places of worship and their management among other things.
RGB cites incidence of preachers who mislead the public not to take medical treatment like blood transfusion, or use family planning methods, taking oath of office or using government symbols, among other misleading messages.
An on-going crackdown on “non-compliant” churches carried out by local officials last week saw over 200 churches closed in Kigali alone.
Officials said the affected churches were located in dangerous zones, having turned former pubs and residential houses into places of worship, while others operated in tents or sites without aeration and sanitary facilities.
The Ministry of Local Government and RGB held meetings with representatives of religious leaders in the country where concerns about the way churches operate were discussed.
Some of the leaders said the scramble for followers had seen churches opening or expanding in different corners especially in Kigali City.
They also attributed the increase in churches and preachers to internal wrangles that result in new and existing churches splitting.
“We request RGB to first find out where church founders are coming from and whether or not they are a faction of existing churches,” said Bishop Denys Rutayigirwa, head of Baptist Churches’ Union in Rwanda.
Official figures show the country has over 1,500 churches of which only 700 are registered.
Mr Shyaka said the revised law is expected in June this year while some directives would come into force next month.
Some of the provisions are to do with accountability of churches where they will be required to declare wealth especially external funding.
Justus Kangwage, the head of political parties and civil society organisations at RGB said accountability would, among other things, end disputes based on conflict of interests.
RGB said the new regulations should not be interpreted as hindering churches from operating, but rather preventing rogue ones.