Rwandas government shuts down over 8,000 churches, following new laws.

Earlier this year, the Rwanda Governance Board issued new regulations for the religious community. These included basic requirements in terms of "safety, hygiene, infrastructure, and legality."

So far, not less than 8, 000 churches have been closed. According to a report by Rwanda's KT Press, the number of closed churches is going to get higher.

"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," an anonymous local analyst told World Watch Monitor.

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Concerning the enforcement of these laws, the anonymous source said, "in one village the church was closed while a wedding was ongoing. The couple and all the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed."

The analyst continued, "Another church was stopped from having services and other meetings (such as home groups) in a school hall as an alternative after all the churches in that parish had been closed. The church had timber instead of a metal door and window frames, and was told the roof also needed to be elevated 'just a little.'"

Reportedly, these laws have not been approved officially but this has not stopped authorities from imposing the regulations on churches, who are expected to make the required changes within the given time frame of 15 days.

"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 also said. "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."

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Everything you need to know about the new laws

Here are 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.

Explaining the need for these regulations, Prof. Anastase Shyaka - Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Governance Board said, "In fact, we discovered that the number of churches were bigger than the number of villages in the country."

According to him, "The number itself is not a problem but in some buildings, three or four different denominations would hold prayer services at the same time, resulting in unbearable levels of noise and unsafe environment for occupants."

He also responded to critics who say the government is either pushing secularism or targetting certain religious denomination.

"All prayer houses including Catholic, Adventists, Muslims and born-again Churches had issues. They were all assessed and those found not meeting standards were closed down," Prof. Shyaka told KT Radio.