CAMEROON – The government of Cameroon is severely cracking down this month on Pentecostal churches, vowing to shut down nearly 100 congregations.
Paul Biya, the president of the western African nation, says the closures are an attempt to prevent Pentecostal pastors from conducting “criminal practices” that allegedly threaten Cameroon’s national security. Thus far, at least 50 churches have been shuttered by government officials, but more forced closures are on the way.
Cameroonian officials claim these Pentecostal churches are a menace to their country’s well-being because of fake healing attempts and other controversial spiritual activities. For instance, the government is citing the death of a 9-year-old girl during a prayer session last Sunday, when a Pentecostal pastor was attempting to cast out demons from her body.
Mbu Anthony Lang, an official with the Cameroonian government, told CNN that only 50 of the 500 Pentecostal churches in his country are technically legal.
“We will get rid of all the so-called Christian Pentecostal pastors who misuse the name of Jesus Christ to fake miracles and kill citizens in their churches,” he vowed. “They have outstretched their liberty.”
According to Operation World, 54% of Cameroon’s 20 million residents describe themselves as Christians. 800,000 Cameroonian Christians are Pentecostals, but that number is growing at an annual rate of approximately 7%.
Though the country is technically a secular nation, Cameroon’s constitution provides for religious freedom, and says “freedom of religion and worship shall be guaranteed.”
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” the constitution states. “This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Boniface Tum, a bishop at a Cameroonian Church of God, told CNN that the government’s crackdown on Christian churches violates basic human rights.
“Authorizing only the Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Muslim, and a few other churches, is a strict violation of the right to religion,” Tum said.
After his church was shut down last week, Pastor Elie Pierre encouraged churchgoers over a loudspeaker.
“We have the right to defend ourselves!” he exclaimed.
Following the reports of church shut-downs, some were pleased. One commenter called the development “good news,” and said “I hope the rest of African countries do the same. Well done Cameroon.” Another posited, “All countries should get rid of all churches and ban those vile books called [the] Bible, Koran, etc. Religion has no place in a civilized world.”
However, Theres Nchanji, leader of another Cameroonian church that the government recently shut down, explained that all countries need Christian churches.
“No state can do without a Church and the Bible says whosoever calls the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved,” she said, according to Voice of America. “The Bible says that our weapons are not carnal—they are spiritual. When the devil attacked Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus said it is written, he never picked a stone to face the devil.”