The Ugandan government is trying to crack down on false prophets and con artists by passing legislation that would require a minister to have a theological degree from a recognized institution in order to lead a church. The proposed law would also require churches to be forthcoming with their finances. While some church leaders see this as a responsible move by the government, others, mostly in Pentecostal churches, see the move as the government overreaching into their work.
“Once God has called you, he has positioned you in that area to preach the word of God. You know by the Spirit what to tell to people. I don’t think you need to go and study to be a pastor or what,” Kezia Koburungi, a follower of Prophet Elvis Mbonye, told Deutsche Welle.
The new policy would mostly affect Pentecostal churches, many of whose pastors and evangelists lack formal theological training. Other faith leaders in the country, including Muslim imams, Catholic priests, Seventh-day Adventist pastors and ordained Pentecostal ministers will not be noticeably affected by the proposed law.
Amos Mugabi, a Pentecostal minister, says the policy represents Satan “fighting the church.” Mugabi points to the example of Jesus to rebuke the government’s proposed law: “We have great men in the Bible including Jesus Christ who preached the gospel, but they didn’t have a bachelor’s degree in theology. It’s time we all follow the Bible.”
The Government Cites Concerns With Ministers Taking Advantage of the Faithful
Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity told Religion News the government is trying to save Ugandans from “being exploited by unscrupulous clerics.” The Rev. Simon Lokodo explains, “Some churches ask youth for money before they will pray for them to get jobs—this is against the word of God.”
The government is also concerned about so-called ministers staging miracles to take advantage of people. Their concern is not only limited to Christian-looking “ministries” and false prophets, but Lokodo also cites concerns over cults, beast worship, blood sacrifices and witchcraft.
The concern seems to be coming from the President himself, who warned citizens about false prophets “as pronounced by Jesus in the Bible” in 2015.
One does not have to look far to see the reason for the government’s concern. Taking a glance at Prophet Elvis Mbonye’s website certainly raises some questions. The minister claims to have predicted several monumental events such as the devastating 2004 tsunami and terrorist bombings. His about page explains:
It all started in 1998 after an awe-provoking encounter with the Person of the Holy Spirit in which Elvis’ “old” identity was virtually dissolved, supplanted with a new nature in Christ. Subsequently, the world of unusual dreams, visions and prophetic revelations was open to him.
The prophet’s page also includes an offer to “partner” with him in prophecy by donating to his ministry. The site promises that “when you partner with Prophet Elvis Mbonye, you become a sharer in the matchless grace that the LORD has lavished upon him.”
What Will Come From the New Policy?
The proposed policy has been in the making since 2009, according to Uganda Christian News. Apparently, some religious organizations including Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims, the Orthodox Church, Church of Uganda, the Catholic Church and Baha’is bought into the policy early on. These religious organizations also have established higher education institutions that they can utilize.
Still, some faith leaders are concerned the government could use the policy to stymie ministry in the country. Some leaders such as Pastor David Kiganda of Christianity Focus Ministries says his organization of over 70,000 Pentecostal churches is ready to go to court to challenge the policy if Parliament passes it. “They should leave Pentecostal churches (alone),” Kiganda says.
In Rwanda, the government passed similar legislation in 2018. Besides requiring ministry leaders to have a degree in theology, the Rwandan policy also articulates requirements for church buildings. Several churches in Rwanda have closed due to the new restrictions, which some believe are really just a cover for the government’s attempt to secularize the nation.
If Rwanda is any indication, several churches in Uganda will be forced to close due to the new policy. Some churches will likely continue meeting in people’s homes. It is unknown when or if the policy will go into effect. The Parliament was supposed to review the matter in March, but the vote has been delayed.