by Linda Straker
Religious Affairs Minister Emmalin Pierre, says that she is concerned about what appears to be a growing trend among some leaders of non-traditional churches, who are “financially abusing” their membership.
Without naming any specific denomination, Pierre said that some of these leaders are taking “advantage” of Grenadians in their churches by making certain financial demands besides the commitment of tithes and weekly offerings.
“We are seeing some trends that we are very uncomfortable about,” said Pierre, who admits that some traditional church leaders have also expressed concerns, about the financial requests that are demanded from the non-traditional churches.
Pierre said, as a result, her ministry has decided to establish a framework that will put some order in what is allowed for religious communities to operate as structured entities. “We are not saying that you cannot open a church, but we are setting standards that should be recognised by all churches,” she said.
Speaking with religious officials, it is understood that most of the churches that are guilty of engaging in the financially abuse, are those that are recently launched, and whose headquarters are usually out of the island.
“These persons come here from regional and international territories, and registered these churches as non-governmental organisations, for the sole purpose of opening a bank account to deposit the money collected. Then they apply for concession for vehicles from Government. During that time, they are also demanding that the membership give monies to pay the rent of the building where the services are held, even if they collect an offering and people are paying tithes. Some are even demanding that the members pay the rent where the pastor is residing. It’s a very serious situation,” said one religious official who prefers not to named.
It was further revealed that some of these pastors are nationals of Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria and the USA, and have set up their churches in rural communities. “Can you imagine, in rural communities a lot of people are already marginalised and vulnerable, but these foreign religious leaders are demanding that they give so much to the church. Some of them have to pay a mandatory membership fee of EC$50,” the official said.
Pierre said that since last year, a committee was set up to come up with recommendations to establish some standards and structure within the religious community, and it recently submitted its recommendations.
Among the recommendations are: a registration fee for persons authorised as marriage officers; reviewing of marriage officers’ licenses to make it no more than five years in the first instance; and the church must justify why it needs to benefit from Government initiatives designed for the religion.