Registration of churches and regulation of church finance’s will help with curbing the exploitation of citizens through religion, Professor Nico Horn said.
The Patriot recently reported on the growing concern of the mushrooming of churches in the country and how some churches are convincing their members to donate all their belongings to the churches. Church owner Jacques Sumpi from the Democratic Republic of Congo made headlines last year when a raid was done on his church following questionable activities at the church.
Sumpi attracted attention again this year when one of the members of his church, Aline Amutenya, wrote a letter stating that she is leaving all her property – fixed and moveable – to the church. The decision to leave the property to the church came after Sumpi preached that all church members will be leaving the earth through a rapture. Amutenya’s family are not the only ones who felt that the church has robbed them of their family members through brainwashing and exploitation.
Horn who holds a doctorate in Law and Theology said that the exploitation of people through religious practices is as a result of little to no regulation when it comes to the registration of especially charismatic churches.
He also said that the lack of regulation of church financial gains is also a contributing factor to many “false prophets leeching from those desperate to have some sought of hope in a better reality than what exists for them”.
“Most of these guys are independent people who come into the country on their own, do not belong to any structure and are therefore not accountable to anybody. They do what they want and do not have to answer to anybody,” he said.
Horn said that Namibia is not as strict as they are supposed to be with regards to the registration of churches and the foreign “chance takers” take at advantage of this.
He further said that governement must also become stricter with the prosecution of those who run unregistered churches.
He added that regulators must even go as far as closing down some of the churches that are not properly registered and also investigate and take actions against those that are suspected of engaging in unlawful practices.
He said that while applying strict regulations of only allowing those with Theology qualifications to pastor churches may be advised, it may disadvantage those pastors who don’t have the qualifications but are truly teaching the word of God. “These pastors have no theology training, they just read a book or two of one or the other prosperity preacher and then become a man-of-God for an hour a week”.
Horn agreed that there is a need to also look into the legality of the constitutions and operating documents of the religeous organisations as they too may be unlawful, but are presented to citizens as legal documents that they need to follow as members of that certain church.
The professor said that there has always been a lot of sceptism around prosperity preaching and it only makes sense that with the popularisation thereof, a closer look needs to be taken into the finances of the church. He said that pastor’s salaries must be taxed just like any other person who works pays tax through Pay As You Earn.
He said that it has become a common practice for churches to create associations and engage in money-making activities, which they then want to avoid paying tax for under the disguise of being a religeous organisation that is exampted from paying tax by law.
“Churches have started to engage in many other money making activities, so they too should be taxed like any other business for any funds obtained from a profit gaining activity”.
Finance Minister Calle Schletttwein’s last year announced plans to have welfare organisations such as churches to register as tax payers. Schlettwein this year followed through on these plans.
Coming to Namibia
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Home and Immigration, Sakeus Kadhikwa told The Patriot that the ministry is fully aware of the fact that most of the non-traditional churches said to be engaging in concerning activities, are headed by foreign pastors.
He said that they have trouble with controlling the activities of these pastors as they sometimes only become these pastors after crossing the borders.
“There is an immigration selection board that sits to look at the applications for different permits. Pastors apply for work permits just like any other person seeking employment in the country so all requirements apply to their applications too,” Kadhikwa said.
He added that the application to get a pastor from outside the country, is normally accompanied by a motivational letter by the church they will be serving at and that is why it at times is strange how new churches are created with foreign pastors. “The way forward to dealing with this problem is to just educate our people to stop allowing these people from coming into the country and taking advantage of those who are vulnerable,” Kadhikwa said.