OpEd, Politics

Watch Out!

By Peter Pal Chuol


Did that capture your attention? Albeit yes! But wait, what are we watching out against? You will find out shortly, just read on. Let me start with a Bible verse specifically Matthew 7:15 which states that, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”.

Almost the same message can be found in Jeremiah 23:32, and it states, ‘’Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness when I did not send them or charge them. So, they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord’’.

Surely this piece of writing looks like a sermon, but just like they said what you see depends on where you stand, I will leave the interpretation to you, whether it is a sermon or not. But, either way, I want you to get the message.

Of late there has been a rise in the number of churches in Juba and other parts of the country, and it is not orderly. The way churches are established in South Sudan leaves a lot to be desired. Religious fanatics will think that the growth in the number of churches is an indicator of serious evangelism and preaching of the word. But guess what, worryingly it can also mean the brewing of serious disaster.

In a world where the love of and for money, corruption, sexual immorality, and all types of sins are common occurrences even in the mainstream churches, extreme and religious cults have spread like wildfires and their teachings have had deadly repercussions. On 17th March 2000, over 500 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in Uganda inside a church where it was believed they locked themselves inside and set the church on fire. They all perished!

One might be forgiven for thinking that was the worst that could have possibly happened, but sadly, it was not. Recently, a pastor known as Paul McKenzie from Good News International Church shocked the world when over 400 bodies as of April were exhumed from his huge Shakahola land with over 600 still missing. Many of the dead including children were starved to death, some were found to be killed through strangulation. Those who were found alive and rescued were horribly wasted. It was demonic and horrific. Very sad to see how the mental brainwash of those who were rescued went through. Some did not want to eat or be treated because they wanted to die and be with Jesus.

Space will not be enough to cite all examples where religion has been used to brainwash people to the extent of loss of lives. This is a fate we can avoid in our country. But how do we do regulate that? It is tricky because one must tread carefully between respecting people’s rights and freedom to worship and curbing those that tend to radicalize and brainwash them. I have seen a lot of churches here in Juba where they preach water and drink wine. Their words do not match their actions. Many of the churches are nothing but an advancement of religious fanaticism and cultism. If the government, South Sudan Council of Churches, and other religious authorities do not watch out, we should not be surprised if Shakahola is replicated in South Sudan.

The government of Rwanda knows this very well that churches and other religious institutions when left unchecked can be a source of national insecurity in extreme cases. However, in minor cases, the churches can be and have been used to perpetuate division, hatred, sexual offenses, corruption, nepotism, favoritism, fraud, and violence. That was why in a move that was highly criticized, the Rwandan President Paul Kagame closed more than 6,000 churches and 100 mosques in April 2018 for failure to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations. His government also added that the move was to tighten rules on registration and the functions of churches thus reducing the numerous fraud cases against religious leaders who take advantage of their brainwashed impoverished followers.

There is a mad person in every market, so goes the saying. It is equally true specifically speaking, that there are false prophets in every Christian denomination here in South Sudan. They might not be at the same level as Paul McKenzie, but they fight over leadership, they are involved in corruption scandals, they have multiple sex partners, they have many wives while lying that their marriage is holy and monogamous, they have children outside marriage, they incite violence and in Bible’s terms, ‘’they are wolves in sheep clothing’’.

This is it! since this article cannot go on forever, the point I am making is that, there is a surge in the churches that are being established in South Sudan and the South Sudan Council of Churches in collaboration with the government must clearly lay out registration guidelines not only for churches but all religious institutions.  If this is not considered carefully, religious indoctrination will one day prove to be a thorn in the flesh of the South Sudanese, and it will be too late to act like in Shakahola. I am urging the government of South Sudan to help, although I know it does even have a Ministry of Religious Affairs to critically deal with the issues of the religious institutions. But it is an open secret that some of these religious institutions are being used to ideologically indoctrinate our people, some as venues of fraud and corruption, some as grounds for sexual immorality, some as places for raising money that is channeled for private gains and many others. The government through the religious leaders’ fora must set guidelines for and maintenance of registration to avoid those dreaded outcomes, otherwise, we will head the path of Uganda and Kenya, and I believe no one wants that. We cannot have churches with funny doctrines getting established here in South Sudan.

One final call, the government of South Sudan should consider establishing a Ministry of Religious Affairs to deal with issues as such, I mean, there are quite a few redundant ministries that South Sudanese do not even know exist. It will do no harm to establishing an institution that will sort a few messes here and there. Now you know why you should WATCH OUT.

The author is the former Chairperson of Anti- Corruption Commission in Jonglei State

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