Originally published in Faith Wire
Rwandan authorities have continued to carry out a government directive which called for the forced closure of thousands of churches.
A new set of strict requirements was laid out at the beginning of the year, which the government claimed included basic requirements in terms of “safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality.”
According to the pro-government KT Press, some 8,000 congregations have been shut down since the start of the year. “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 told Christian persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor (WWM).
WWM also reported that one church had been shut down while a wedding ceremony was underway. “The couple and all the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed,” according to a report.
Other churches have been closed down for minor cosmetic reasons, such as the roof being a tiny bit too low, or the window frames being wooden instead of metal.
“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 continued. “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.”
The ramifications of the harsh new restrictions have been severe. Many churches have been forced to close up for good, with others relocating to premises miles away from their original place of worship. One congregation is now forced to walk 20km to attend church in a neighboring community after falling victim to the government crackdown.
Earlier this year, when commenting on the exceedingly large number of churches currently functioning in the African nation, Rwandan President Paul Kagame argued that Rwandans “do not have the luxury and means to sustain such churches,” according to the East African.
WWM detailed some of the new requirements:
- 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.
Incredibly, churches are given just 15 days to make the necessary changes, which is almost impossible to achieve.
The Rwandan government, led by Paul Kagame, has become increasingly secular over past years. The government no longer allows prayer meetings within its institutions, and any words referring to Christianity in the constitution have been deleted.
During the commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, in which Kagame played a key role, priests are no longer allowed to preach or speak publicly.
Many of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party’s activities are scheduled for Sunday. Some of the political events, led by Kagame’s government authorities, are compulsory to attend.
Kagame has been in office since 2000 following several constitutional amendments that have allowed him to legally extend his presidency. Under the latest amendment, voted through by a 2015 referendum, Kagame could hold the presidency until the year 2034.