Last week, a Nigerian pastor of Jesus Dominion International Church was arrested in Durban, South Africa, and accused of sexually abusing teenage girls in his church.
The pastor will face several charges including rape and trafficking of more than 30 girls and women from various parts of South Africa to his house in KwaZulu-Natal for the purpose of sexually exploiting them.
This is not an isolated case of men of God misbehaving. The number of rogue priests is on the rise.
On September 12, 2018, a pastor in Mwingi West raped a 17-year-old girl and impregnated her. DNA test ordered by the court show that the pastor is the father of yet to be born child. He is out on a 200,000 bond.
In Kaiti constituency, Makueni, a pastor raped a woman congregant of his church. The pastor says he was exorcising evil spirits from the woman. The matter was reported at Nzaui police station in Makueni County.
In June this year, priest was arrested for sodomising a 17-year-old teenager who worshiped in his church. The incident took place in Gonda village, Kigumo constituency, Murang’a County.
Church members had been suspicious of his activities with young men, so much that they kept watch until the incident took place.
Many similar cases of sexual exploitation go unreported for fear of upsetting churches but a sense of betrayal lingers in the minds of victims.
Most of these sexual exploitation incidents happen at church vigils popularly known as Kesha nights.
A pastor from one of the leading churches told me that they no longer encourage vigils after they discovered that the term was used as euphemism for sexual orgies.
It is not just sexual escapades that is giving a bad name to religious organizations. It is no secret that several of the non-traditional churches are out to make money.
Some of these churches have a menu of services they offer for a price. For instance, in some of those churches, a prayer for passing examination Sh5,000, Promotion Sh10,000, business performance Sh20,000.
Although a prayer is between an individual and God, these crooked people have decided to create intermediation services for desperate and vulnerable people.
These people wield enormous amount of power over unsuspecting citizens through indoctrination and heightened sense of guilt.
The frequency of bad behaviour by men of God now is at the point where some level of regulation is necessary.
The little time I had with two victims of this unfortunate betrayal revealed that they continue to carry the burden of guilt like a heavy malignant cancer that remain manifest in them with serious lifelong consequences.
Underneath the skins of seemingly happy churchgoers lies a sense of unworthiness full of sins (some brought unto them by rogue church leaders) that some are simply mental cases waiting to explode.
Irrational behaviour patterns are not uncommon. Some church followers are known to have sold their entire earthily possessions to pay God’s debt (accumulated tithe) leaving the entire family in shambles. Meanwhile, the pastors in charge move around in private jets.
Indeed, the richest pastor in the world, David Oyedepo of Winner’s Chapel, has a net worth of more than $150 million (see also Forbes’ richest pastor in the entire world).
With investments in 45 countries in Africa, Oyedepo has some of the spikiest private jets to move around the continent.
Locally, some of the richest Kenyans are pastors of churches that did not exist two decades ago.
Although the Kenyan constitution guarantees freedom of worship, like individual liberties, there must be limits or else we create thousands of religious organizations taking advantage of the most vulnerable people.
At the minimum, let there be proper governance of contributions by the faithful to the church.
If it is not possible for the church leaders to imitate the simplicity of Jesus, then let there be a regulatory regime to save the vulnerable from being exploited by a few opportunists in the name of God.
My proposal for regulation of religious groups is not entirely new. In 2016, the then Attorney General, Githu Muigai, proposed the Religious Societies Rules to govern the religious sector.
Unfortunately, the regulations were ahead of their time and it seemed absurd to regulate religious organizations. President Uhuru Kenyatta stepped in to withdraw the rules after meeting with religious leaders.
The debate for and against regulation of religious groups continues to excite many Kenyans. This debate should be encouraged and supported by evidence.
At the minimum, the religious leaders should not wish away some of the emerging offences against young people.
They should at least begin a discourse around how they should behave just like any other professional organization registered under Societies Act.
They should for example, develop a self-regulation framework that could protect the citizens from their rogue members whose aim is to financially and sexually exploit the most vulnerable people through indoctrination.
Richard Dawkins once said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.”
We should perhaps be working to make our children think for themselves.
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.