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The extended closure of places of worship is a concern for every believer and not just the clergy.

By Ivan Philip Baguma

I am Ivan Philip Baguma, a Dietitian commonly referred to as The Amicable Nutritionist. I am not an acknowledged minister/teacher (to the best of my knowledge) of any faith in the ways they are generally agreed upon as per each faith. This is important to note because the opinion I am about to share is not one as clergy but rather as a member of the flock. I also want to add that this piece of writing is not relevant to the agnostic and atheist(If you are, you need not read any further). Additionally, these are not the views of my employer, associates or affiliates. All views and opinions are my own.

Upon lifting the partial lockdown, H.E Yoweri K Museveni extended the lockdown on houses of worship for an additional 60 days. He also limited the online services to a measly 10 people. I think this is unjust and miscalculated. I am curious about the steps the task force and the presidential advisors took to arrive here since a physical event like a burial and a wedding have double the number of an online service which is a virtual event. 

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I am confident that faith communities (irrespective of glaring differences in belief) surely care more for their brothers and sisters than any public trader, political leader or government official.

There are long queues at public offices, large political gatherings (sometimes even held in houses of worship), marketplaces, restaurants, government offices and a big number of attendees at state organised functions during the COVID 19 pandemic. Public transport means like taxis, boda-boda are trusted to follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), however, the meeting place of believers of any faith are patronised.  

The ease of lockdown in the other sectors with SOPs may be arguably reasonable, however, to open a building and maintain (‘scientific’) SOPs is as good as keeping the houses of worship shut. 

Besides, directives like a curfew are so limiting even to the African Traditionalists who I have been told practice their worship at specific hours including some in the night and remote areas. One wonders if they were also consulted or aren’t they a school of faith recognised in Uganda. How shall people reach these areas at their prescribed time? I wonder if these SOPs put on Mosques, Churches, Temples are also enforced in the shrines.

In the (Holy) scriptures, God clearly states what (spiritual) “Standard Operating Procedures”, which have been popularly come to be referred to as principles/mysteries/ordinances/laws/doctrine depending on your school of faith, must be followed to blessed, to receive healing (through laying on of hands as done by some), to acquire wisdom, to evangelise strangers (as is the practice of some), (inner)peace, to welcome all wanderers of any kind (this is infringed upon by the set numbers for religious gatherings), fruitfulness, satisfaction and fulfilment.

I, therefore, applaud the religious leaders who have petitioned the High Court in Kampala seeking declarations that the closure of places of worship is an infringement on their constitutional right to religion.

The petitioners; Charis Fellowship and Imaam Bbale Muhammed, in their lawsuit filed on Tuesday, want the court to issue a permanent order restraining the government from further closure of places of worship.

Now, I believe this petition should have come from we the believers. This move is not to be left to the men of the cloth. If it is, then we the believers have a lot left to learn and to be brought in the fullness of our faith. This reveals that the reason why our religious freedoms are being taken for granted is as a result of our (spiritual) immaturity. 

I shall also call out the leaders of every school of faith to make their stand for the unconditional opening of places of worship. We can unanimously agree that healing can be brought about by God through his mighty works performed by the elders in the different faiths. 

As a health care practitioner, myself, I also have been privy to see miraculous healings (even to the illnesses which science, medical care, counselling and other human interventions have failed to remedy. Sometimes it is so meticulous and non-invasive that you can see the hand of God as the only source of that healing). 

Some believers have even become regulars at seeking healing in the places of worship and do receive this healing at a currency they transact with called “Faith”. What happens to those who cannot access their health care because the house of healing is shut?

Further still, I have heard some claims by respected persons even in the distinguished leaders of faith(who should know better) who have made the case that “God is everywhere and therefore should be worshipped from anywhere and they should stay wherever they are even in homes and online”. Let us agree to disagree. 

Even though God is omnipresent, his manifest presence (Yes, there is such a thing as the manifest presence of God, where men, women and children meet with God and are translated into his likeness from glory to glory and this is not defined by logic but rather by the spirit and is a special knowledge which has been given to us through the Holy books and for some an experiential realisation of this Truth). This manifest presence of God is invaluable because by strange supernatural happenings in the witness of two or more, believers are edified and they grow in their faith among other reasons.

This makes me suspicious about the religious leaders and devout scientists who advise the president’s special task force on COVID 19. If they indeed are righteous (In this context: doing God’s bidding), then we (the flock) would rejoice. But every single time the President mentions the scientists/inter-religious something somethings as his source of advice, my religious freedoms are discriminately infringed upon. I feel like there is a special onslaught specifically engineered and crafted to attack faith. Besides, by whose dictate has the state assumed the position of God to direct worshipers on which God, or how to worship that God?

Fortunately, COVID 19 is a global challenge and therefore we have had a chance to see how other communities have dealt with this pandemic. States like our neighbour Tanzania(who are doing well socio-economically and have even arrived at the coveted middle-income status during the pandemic), Texas, and Florida(which also have scientists) have chosen the path of freedom. I am strongly considering that we may have been also boasting about prosperity and well-being if we had followed this path. Nevertheless, I shall not cry over spilt milk. 

Being a scientist, I would have come to appeal to you using vain babblings which we falsely call science. For example, the internet penetration in Uganda stood at 26.2% in January 2021. The number of social media users in Uganda was equivalent to 7.3% of the total population in January 2021. (Kemp, 2021). 

Besides, the social media platforms most convenient for this ‘online’ service like Facebook have been banned by our dear President almost for the same time the special directives from his office advised believers to stick to online tools to minister their beloved flock.

But I appeal to fellow believers to come together with one voice put God (actually) first and open the houses of worship unconditionally. Once this is set right, everything else shall fall in line. Let us choose faith over fear.

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