The Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) has opposed government’s intention to introduce a law that will regulate church leaders saying having such a law will give government authority over the Church.

Last Tuesday, when Parliament resuming sitting, National Guidance and Religious Affairs Minister Godfridah Sumaili informed the House that government was considering putting up minimum standards that would be required for people to practice as clergy.

Rev Sumaili was responding to Kasama Central PF member of parliament Kelvin Sampa, who wanted to know what measures government was taking to improve the moral standing of church leaders following negative reports in the media about their alleged misconduct by some members of the clergy.

“Following the negative reports in the media about the alleged misconduct of the clergy, government is working very closely with the religious Church Mother Bodies to develop a regulatory framework which will among other things lead to the development of a standard and regulations which will guide their conduct. The framework is helping the ministry to develop a policy and legal framework. It is very important to ensure that people are protected, because these (the clergy) are the ones offering spiritual help and a lot of people look up to them. Our desire is to see that the clergy change their conduct. We want to see a real turn around among the clergy,” said Rev Sumaili.

But in an interview, CCZ General Secretary Fr Emmanuel Chikoya warned that government officials would regret some of the decisions they were making once out of office.

“First and foremost, the Churches within the Council of Churches in Zambia and the ZCCB have systems in place already and so that statement from the Minister implies that the Churches have been operating in a manner that is without any regulation, since the time they have been in existence, which is wrong. The truth is that there are Churches sometimes which are even allowed to thrive for political expedience. And these are the ones that are loose, they are all over the place, they don’t belong to any mother body, they are not operating as an institution, instead they are operating; like under the founder of a particular individual, those are the places where you find challenges. Now, who registers those? It’s the same government that registered them,” Fr Chikoya said.

“So there are opportunities to control some of these things because if I share with you the membership or the criteria for CCZ, people complain that it is too strict, for example; a Church must be in existence for minimum 10 years, it must have trained clergy, we need to look at their constitution… there is a scrutiny and the general conference adopts the membership. So we have systems in place. So we are taken aback by that assumption created as though we are operating in a manner that is without any form of systems. In fact, some of the Churches even have the same constitution as the circular code, we have tribunals where the clergy can be tried if found wanting. If people raise issues, a tribunal will be put in place and they will give their side and people will also give their side, with legal guidance and representation. So when these things are being said, for us it really takes us aback.”

Fr Chikoya insisted that there was no need to introduce another piece of legislation just to regulate misconduct in Churches because there were enough laws already.

“We are wondering, what is happening? There are all these mountain ministries and whatever that are there, who allowed them to operate? And if they are operating illegally, do you need to create a law? There are enough laws in Zambia already, you cannot just start a Church or an NGO, you need to be registered. So why are the existing laws not being fully applied? You know this thing of creating laws, people must always remember that history will remember them and I hope history will remember them well. We may be in leadership today [but] others will come in leadership tomorrow and they will use that very law to abuse and manipulate the Church and they should include themselves because by then they will not be in government. So we should be careful when bringing up certain things Yes we should be able to check the kind of things that are being done in church. But is it really requiring an agency of government to begin to manage the Church? I think there is a gap, we have not utilized the existing laws fully,” he said.

“So existing laws need to be implemented effectively. Some of these things at the end of the day if you analyse, they are self-created problems. Sometimes you register too many religious entities because they may be favourable to you and then they begin to get out of control. We should be able to make sure at the registrar of societies that the screening is properly done. Them this of entertaining break-aways and registering them, sometimes we are actually doing a deservice to ourselves. So some of these things using existing laws, are supposed to be dealt with. But if we can’t effectively use existing laws, I don’t see how whatever law we make will ever work because there are sufficient laws that can deal with such problems.”

Fr Chikoya uged government leaders to be careful about the laws they were introducing, so that they were not on the wrong side of history.

“So it’s really with a great sense of apprehension that we hear of such kind of a process going on. Otherwise, we always know that we have to work in collaboration with government. But we will always offer critical solidarity and honest advice and in this case, I think, let’s not make or bring on board something that will regret one day. Because on the records of Zambia, it will show that it was during the time of so and so that this thing happened. So it’s not just a matter of rushing to say ‘I am doing this’, no. we need to thoroughly engage and never rush on this matter. So the current laws are not just being fully utilized, I mean if I am stealing money from the Church I should be arrested, there shouldn’t be a law for the Church and a law for the ordinary people. People have to be dealt with even if they are clergy men. Those abuses fall under criminal law,” said Fr Chikoya.