Nairobi, Kenya – In a series of unprecedented actions, the Kenyan government has ordered the immediate closure of five churches believed to be involved in dangerous and cult-like activities. This decisive move comes in the wake of the arrest of a prominent religious leader whose controversial teachings allegedly led to the tragic demise of over 400 individuals.
The Kenyan Associations Registration Office announced on Friday the revocation of the operating license for the Good News International Church, a congregation led by the embattled Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie. Authorities have implicated Mackenzie in advocating for a perilous form of fasting among his followers, with the purported intention of hastening their divine encounter with Christ. Shockwaves reverberated throughout the nation upon the shocking discovery of numerous bodies scattered within the Shakahola forest near the coastal town of Malindi, as reported by Africa News.
Presently, Mackenzie is incarcerated and facing an array of charges, the most grievous of which is his suspected involvement in the deaths of 425 individuals. Tragically, among the deceased are many children.
While the majority of the victims are believed to have succumbed to starvation, post-mortem examinations have also unveiled distressing evidence indicating that some victims, including children, suffered from strangulation, physical abuse, and suffocation, as outlined in the Africa News report.
In addition to the Good News International Church, the Associations Registration Office also ordered the closure of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, helmed by televangelist Ezekiel Odero, who is linked to Pastor Mackenzie.
Mackenzie’s legal predicament encompasses charges ranging from murder and aiding suicide to radicalization and money laundering. The ongoing investigation into his activities has sent shockwaves through the nation’s religious landscape, prompting questions about the accountability and education of religious leaders.
Reverend Joachim Omollo Ouko, a Catholic priest within the Kisumu archdiocese in Western Kenya, expressed concerns over emerging religious groups that lack clear theological foundations. “Some of these groups lack the features that make a church,” he stated in an interview with Religion News Service. “We have just seen them emerging. We don’t know which theological schools their leaders attended. We only see their leaders emerging and seeking to be glorified. These leaders should be questioned and scrutinized.”
As calls for greater oversight and regulation of religious organizations grow louder among some segments of Kenyan society, others assert their right to religious freedom and resist tighter controls.
Catholic Bishop Martin Kivuva Musonde commented on the ongoing debate, suggesting, “We find the narrative being driven that churches and, by extension, religion need to be regulated is a façade meant to divert from the real problem – that the state has failed to play its role in dealing with a crime,” as reported by RNS.
Kenya, home to more than 4,000 registered churches, grapples with the complexities of balancing freedom of faith with the need to safeguard its citizens from potentially dangerous ideologies and practices.