Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Last week, my friend Shya­ka Kanuma wrote an edi­torial, Some Balokole churches and their question­able behavior. He had the cour­age to raise the issues in public that many of us whisper in pri­vate. What is going on with this Balokole movement? Are their churches rapidly growing? They seem everywhere. Or are they really growing? What is their true influence? He clearly was neither against church attendance nor spiritual hunger. Some of the issues that concerned Shyaka were noise, presumption, greed, division, deception, and exploitation. He believed that there must be honorable pastors somewhere in Kigali.

Joe Church, William Nagenda, Festo Kivengere.Claire Lise De Benoit
I agree. Yes, something has gone wrong with our Kilokole tradi­tions. Yet, I also believe there are honorable pastors and churches in Kigali. Shyaka wrote, “The Rwandan Balokole leaders seem a model of tranquility and good behaviour compared to some neighboring soci­eties.” We have something to offer. However, we cannot deny that few seem willing to take their place as culture’s prophets. In the same vein our community may not be ready to listen to proph­et’s voices. Kigali needs a new vision of church. It is time to relearn Rwanda’s Balokole history, honor the principles of our heritage, leave our current failings, and become a new community.

For those unfamiliar with the Balokole tradi­tion it grew out of a frustration with what some considered a dead Anglican Church of Uganda. Gahini, Rwanda was one of the founder’s places of discovery and refuge. From the beginnings in the 1930’s and 40’s the Balokole have gone against the grain of comfort. Kilokole at its best is a cul­ture opposed to segregation by denomination, nationality, race, and ethnicity. Yet, something went wrong. Kilokole culture was so “other worldly” that it became irrelevant. It shunned the world of politics and business. As time went on the fires that stirred in churches for personal renewal begin to seek personal en­richment. Thus we have our current situation that Shyaka addressed. (For further reading see The Balokole Revival in Uganda)

In Uganda and Kenya my impression is that a quick drive around town will give one the vision of Balokole churches everywhere. (For further reading on my reflections see past Focus column Can someone pick up the trash?) In Kam­pala and Nairobi the Balokole churches are as numerous as the Buvera and just as problematic. My impression of Kigali is that Ba­lokole Churches are common where Buvera clusters, but rare on the tops of Kigali’s beautiful hills. I have not seen research on the recent growth of Balokole churches. My impression is they are thriving among those who grew up attending a Balokole church. However, my impression is they are largely irrelevant to those outside of their social circle, particularly those who are educated, upwardly mobile, and who have found religion in Rwanda to be disappointing.

The Balokole irrelevancy is due to the factors Shyaka points out of noise, presumption, greed, division, deception, and exploitation. I am a Mulokole. Yet, I do not trust Balokole.

For instance, I have lectured on Ethics for years at local universi­ties. It seems each semester I discover an ethical failing of students. As I raise the issue frequently I find the students who shout the loud­est at Balokole events seem to have the greatest struggle conceptual­izing the ethical failings of both their reasoning and behavior. Yet, it is usually a Muslim and Agnostic student who is the first reasonable voice. I suspect my observations with university students are quite similar to other’s observation. When it is all said and done many Ba­lokole have shouted loudly while living poorly. It is time for a new vision of church.

It is time to rediscover our heritage ideals. We need a new prophet. The irrelevant Balokole love the language of prophets. They define a prophet as a person who predicts the future. The irrelevant Balokole love this man as he can bring predictions of the future that promote personal greed and comfort. A relevant definition of prophet is a person gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression. Our new church vision must have prophets with profound moral insight and pow­ers of expression. As such these church prophets will confront the noise, presumption, greed, di­vision, deception, and exploitation.

An old prophet named Elijah pointed out that the loudness of one’s noise was a mark of one who did not know the Lord (1 Kings 18:27-29; 19:12, 13). Pointless noise and flamboyant show is a mark of a pagan; not a pastor.

Loud noise breeds another pagan fallacy – pre­sumption. The pseudo-pastor makes noise to persuade the crowd that he alone has a message from God. He dodges accountability that asks if his predictions come true. He presumes to be a god like figure. Today’s best prophets will call this paganism to account as they fathers did gen­erations ago (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

The Balokole problems of greed, division, deception, and exploitation are not new to our generation. Before Judas betrayed Jesus he ma­nipulated the disciples’ finances for personal gain (John 12:2-8). Our Kigali charlatans are no different. Some well live in the model of “What would Judas do?” Greed gives birth to division. As division moves past social manipulations it falls into the same pitfalls of the past. Thus Paul clearly communicated that no one who uses violence to solve church problems is qualified to lead (Titus 1:7). Sadly, paganism masquerading as pastoral care has his­torically deviated into sexual exploitation as Shyaka narrates (1 Peter 2). There is nothing new. The solutions are old. Prophets must speak against such abuse of people. Churches must model all that is best in humanity. Our dignity matters.

Kigali needs a new vision of church. We must rediscover the ide­als of the past, leave our failings, and build new communities. Our churches must be the leaders in the development of sustainable in­stitutions from schools to businesses. Only in church do we learn to love, trust, and triumph through weakness. Shyaka, you stated it well. There are honorable people in churches in Kigali. Kigali needs a new vision of church.

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