New religious movements in Cameroon are promising quick fixes to the many problems facing the country, but established churches are concerned that the newcomers are offering people false hope.
In addition, the government is having trouble controlling the spread of the illegal churches.
Judith Fon, a worshipper with one of the new churches, Winners Chapel International, told ENInews that she left the Catholic Church when her father died two years ago.
“I needed comfort that the Catholic Church couldn’t offer. And at that time, my marriage, too, was in disarray. I went to many denominations and when I came to the chapel, I think I got a message that comforted me,” she told ENInews. Similar stories are told by thousands of youths who leave the mainstream churches to worship with Pentecostal movements.
“The lure for these sects lies in the fact that they promise easy solutions to their followers,” said the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bamenda, Cornelius Fontem Esua.
The lead pastor of Winners’ Chapel International, John Nchamukong, said in an interview with ENInews that “there is nothing God cannot do, so we tell those without jobs that if they come to us, we will jointly pray with them to procure jobs. To the sick, they don’t need the hospital because Jesus is the supreme healer, and to the lame, we make them whole.”
According to the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment in Cameroon stands at 30 percent and poverty is at 40 percent. Esua said the lure of quick fixes is “perfectly understandable.”
But he is not comfortable with the quality of Bible teaching in the new churches. “It is a complete misinterpretation of the Bible for someone for instance, to tell the sick not to go to hospital for treatment. This is what some of these Pentecostal pastors preach. They tell their sick followers to stay at home and pray, and people end up dying at home,” Esua said.
The government is more concerned about the fact that many of the churches are operating illegally.
“I urge you to guard against the proliferation of associations and groups that have a religious character,” the minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINATD), Rene Emmanuel Sadi said in a news release, listing 47 legally-authorized religious associations. These include the Roman Catholic Church, the Faith Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Full Gospel Mission.
Pierre Abessolo, sub-director of public freedoms at MINATD, told ENInews that legal churches have submitted a stamped application, copies of their statutes and regulations and a signed engagement to respect the laws governing freedom of association in Cameroon.
But loopholes in the law have made it difficult to control the proliferation of illegal churches.
“The law provides that a church can be suspended or dissolved in case it goes against state laws. But legally speaking, you can only sanction what exists. If a religious association is not legally registered, then it cannot be sanctioned because it doesn’t exist,” he told ENInews.
The law does give authorities the right to sanction any group that disturbs the public peace, which is how officials in the Mfoundi are of Yaounde closed down over 12 churches in March. “Curiously, those churches all turned out to be illegal,” Abessolo said.
Winners’ Chapel International does not appear on the list of authorized churches. Nchamukong admitted he has no legal papers, commenting, “God’s work doesn’t need a license, does it?”