Pentecostals reject President Ruto's task force to probe churches

L-R: Bishop Hudson Ndenda, Bishop Dr Robert Mutemi, and Bishop Dr Elizabeth Thuiya speaking at a press briefing in Nairobi on Tuesday, May 9 on the gazettement of the presidential task force on the review of the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organizations in Kenya. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Organisations representing Pentecostal churches have rejected a task force formed by President William Ruto to look into the conduct of religious organizations.

The 17-member team, led by former National Council of Churches of Kenya secretary-general Mutava Musyimi, will look into the legal and regulatory framework governing churches in the country, according to its terms of reference.

The committee members are Bishop Mark Kariuki, Bishop Eli Rop, Archbishop Maurice Muhatia, Judy Thongori, Rev (Dr) Alphonse Kanga, Bishop Philip Kitoto and Dr Faridun Abdalla.

Other members are Musili Wambua, Joseph Khalende Wabwire, Mary Awuor Kitegi, Charles Kanjama, Leah Kasera, Nancy Murega and Wilson Wanyanga. Martin Ndiwa Talian and Maria Goretti Nyariki will serve as the secretaries.

But the Church and Clergy Association of Kenya, which is made up of different umbrella bodies representing Pentecostal charismatic churches, has opposed the committee, gazetted on May 5, 2023, saying it was un-procedurally constituted.

The umbrella bodies representing Pentecostal churches want Ruto to revoke the gazettement of a task force meant to review laws governing churches. They said Ruto should have come up with a task force with representation from Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.

Detectives loading an exhumed body into a police car at Shakahola in Malindi, Kilifi County, on March 21. [File, Standard]

The religious leaders termed President Ruto's move to gazette the committee as a knee-jerk reaction to the massacre of members of a cult in Shakahola, Kilifi County.

"The President's move is likely to affect freedom of worship. The Head of State should revoke the committee and come up with an all-inclusive one. Membership of the task force will determine its results. The results are as good as the membership," Bishop Hudson Ndeda, the chairman of the Church and Clergy Association of Kenya, said.

He added: "To this end, we are apprehensive that failure to include us in the task force will prejudice and oppress the Pentecostal and charismatic churches. As Pentecostals, we vehemently oppose the task force.

"The said task force was established without any consultation with the Pentecostal umbrella bodies and was ill-advised. None of the people gazetted are from our collective association. For this reason, we feel the final report might be biased against Pentecostal and charismatic churches," Ndeda said.

Ndenda noted the church is already regulated, under the Societies Act, and that there are other measures to ensure self-regulation.

"That is why we feel it is unfair to form a team to come up with new regulations every time an individual is found to have committed an offence. We do not see the same approach taken when dealing with, let's say, rogue doctors, lawyers, and teachers," Bishop Ndeda said.

Also present at Tuesday's briefing in Nairobi were representatives from the Association of Registered Churches Kenya, Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches and Ministries, Beulah Clergy United Association, House of Clergy, Hope of Kenya Pastors and Charismatic Churches of Kenya.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga addressing the public after he was denied entry into Shakahola forest on May 5. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Others were the Federation of Evangelistic and Indigenous Churches of Kenya which was represented by Bishop Samuel Njiriri, the United Christian Churches of Kenya, Zoe Prayer Movement and the EAK Starehe sub-county.

Bishop Njiri said: "Kenya has umbrella bodies of churches and their work is to regulate the churches. President Ruto should have picked one representative from each umbrella body to sit on the task force to ensure the outcome is fair to all."

The task force was formed following the shocking discovery of over 100 bodies of worshipers at controversial pastor Paul Makenzi's church that had been buried in shallow graves in Shakahola forest.

Reportedly, the followers were under instructions to fast to death so as to meet the maker in what has been termed as cultism.

Thus the task force's task will include drafting legal changes to various laws so as to enable the government agencies to effectively tackle crimes committed as religious acts.

It will also be required to recommend what actions may be taken against individuals and groups suspected of founding, leading or taking part in religious extremist organizations, sects, cults, and other similar outfits.

Ruto said the task force will be required to identify gaps that have allowed extremist religious organisations to set up shop in Kenya, as well as formulate a legal framework preventing radical religious entities from operating locally.

Mr Paul Makenzi, the alleged mastermind of the Shakahola massacre of followers of his Good News International Church, at Shanzu Law Courts on May 5. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Bishop Elizabeth Thuiya of the House of Clergy said none of the gazetted persons is leaders in the collective association. "The report will definitely be biased against Pentecostal and Charismatic churches," she said.

Azimio has also challenged President Ruto's appointment of a judicial commission to probe Shakahola deaths.

The team led by Raila Odinga argues Ruto has usurped the powers of among others the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Judiciary and Parliament.

Azimio's lawyer Paul Mwangi argues that Ruto has hijacked the criminal justice system without the powers to do so, and appoint judges without reference to Chief Justice Martha Koome which he said is illegal.

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