Kenya has closed five churches that the government says are linked to dangerous cult-like activities following the arrest of a leader who is being held responsible for the deaths of 400-plus people.
Kenya’s Associations Registration Office on Friday said it had canceled the license of Good News International Church, which is led by controversial pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who authorities say told his followers not to eat so they could expedite their face-to-face meeting with Christ. The case shocked Kenyans after the discovery of “corpses in the Shakahola forest near the coastal town of Malindi,” Africa News reported.
Mackenzie is in prison and facing multiple charges. All total, 425 bodies have been found. Many are those of children.
“Although most of the victims died of starvation, autopsies have also revealed that some, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated,” Africa News reported.
The Associations Registration Office also closed the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, which is led by Mackenzie-linked televangelist Ezekiel Odero, according to Africa News.
Mackenzie is being investigated for murder, aiding suicide, radicalization, and money laundering.
There are more than 4,000 churches registered in Kenya.
“Some of these groups lack the features that make a church,” Rev. Joachim Omollo Ouko, a Catholic priest in the Kisumu archdiocese in Western Kenya, told 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 checked.”
Although some Kenyans are calling for more regulation of religious groups, others have resisted such suggestions, citing freedom of religion.
“We find the narrative being driven that churches and by extension religion need to be regulated is a façade meant to divert on the real problem – that the state has failed to play its role in dealing with a crime,” said Catholic Bishop Martin Kivuva Musonde, according to RNS.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Oleksii Liskonih
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star, and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.