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Why cults have continued to attract many followers

By Kamotho Waiganjo | December 14th 2014

The unfortunate quadruple murders and suicide of lawyer Paul Magu’s family in circumstances linked to strange forms of worship, happening so soon after the Pastor Kanyari expose must lead to serious introspection by those of us who subscribe to the Christian faith. The two events point to a growing number of “faith” groups whose doctrine and rules of conduct are generally aberrant. Despite their deviant teachings and practices, these new groups amazingly continue to attract followers in their thousands.

When the sort of occurrences publicised in the last few weeks happen, our natural tendency is to condemn, not just the crooked “pastors” but also the numerous “flock” falling prey to their manipulation and exploitation. It’s no wonder that our gut reaction has been to call for application of criminal sanctions and for strict regulation of the church to rid it of miscreants.

I have even heard it suggested that we should require all faith groups to operate within established alliances much like the way we required matatus to operate within Saccos if they are to be licensed.

For many of us, these few rotten apples are mutations that are but expressions of human greed that must be quickly expunged so that they do not contaminate the Church. In reality, however, the situation is more complicated. In the history of the Church, there have been many moments when completely new movements have morphed away from the mainline Church and grown exponentially, totally surprising the main line church. Not all these movements grow into dangerous aberrations; the Protestant community that left the Catholic Church and the Evangelical movement that broke away from the Protestant church have been responsible for the explosion of the Christian gospel in ways that would not have been imagined. 

If one were to trace these “break away” movements, it is clear that they are usually a reaction to inadequacies of the existing faith community.  For this reason whereas I believe that there is room for criminal sanctions against those that are obviously involved in criminal conduct and that some form of regulation of the religious community is both necessary and inevitable, these recently publicised occurrences provide an opportunity for the mainline Christian community to ask deep questions about the gaps in their teachings and practices that may have created a need that these new churches fill. In my humble view, one of these gaps is the failure of the main line Christian church to adequately address people’s daily and very real challenges. Due to the collapse of effective social interactions, the average congregant today attends church not just for spiritual nourishment but also to search for answers for their daily trials. These could be joblessness, ill health, marital problems, childlessness or just social disconnection.

No wonder Jesus Christ, who fully understood the human condition, first fed the crowds and healed their sick. He met more receptive crowds once their human needs were addressed! Having been a regular attender of mainline churches for most of my life, I remain worried that the response given to these bread and butter questions are inadequate, many times uncaring and do not reflect the full teachings of scripture. What these new “shepherds” have done is to provide “answers” to these questions. And to their credit, many of the churches do respond effectively to these issues. Naturally, others will pack their answers with deception, but they are answers all the same! They make the otherwise troubled and apprehensive flock feel cared for and keeps them hopeful, which is sometimes all that a human being needs to face a tough existence. It is this gap that the main line Church must find a way of addressing; biblically, but in a way that expresses true concern. I believe the Christian faith has real answers to these issues of human need.

Communicating these answers to a desperate congregation requires shepherds who feel the pain of their congregations and more contextualised exposition of the gospel. For as long as the Church appears not to touch where its congregation is hurting, those who appear to provide some answers will continue attracting numbers, even where those answers are exploitative.

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