‘May the spirit fill you.’
These are the words that are often uttered before the pastor tries to push some poor congregant to the floor to show she is filled with the spirit. In this scenario the believer will, more often than not, hit the dirt in their Sunday best.
This is a good image of how some of the more ‘dedicated’ sects of Christianity interact with their African flock: making them lay face flat on the ground in all their glory.
Granted there is a great deal that the Church does. In many places where social services do not reach they becomes the giver of social grants, schooling and even medical services whilst providing comfort in some dark times.
But for every way ‘the Church’ uplifts on the continent it finds three ways to bring her to her knees. Leaving aside the fact that the ‘Ministry’ was the vehicle that colonisation drove in on and that it was the basis on which slavery was built, why is it that Christianity in its current form is so widespread in Africa?
It may be time to invoke the spirit of discernment when it comes to the religious. When next pondering one’s faith it may be best to consider:
1. TB Joshua and the collapse that claimed lives
When a building belonging to one of the best-known and most popular evangelists on the continent collapses and kills some of his followers, it may be time to repent.
This is possibly something to think about.
The death toll was at 115 and the initial reaction by the Church was to attack rescuers instead of helping them. There is something about that that does not reflect the love of Christ and comes across as more than a little suspicious.
Furthermore there was the eerie way in which those who returned to South Africa (and possibly other countries) refused to talk about the incident. News reporters in who met survivors at O.R Tambo stated that it was extremely ‘strange’ the way in which the only answer given by survivors was ‘no comment but we are blessed to be alive’ despite there having been a loss of 84 of their own in the tragedy. From my recollection of Biblical stories God usually levels the places of those who need a good reprimanding and a dose of repentance.
2. Pastors often lead the flock astray in strange ways
People often like to berate Muslim fanatics for their extremist views. Granted there are some truly radical factions, but this is not something exclusive to the Islamic faith. Not many talk about how extreme it is for a mother sowing her entire salary in the church whilst her children go hungry.
This example is quite common.
It’s common knowledge that pastors are some of the richest people on the continent, beating out state officials who have access to natural resources such as gold, diamonds and platinum. Heaven sent riches are truly more than those on earth.
If that does not give you cause for concern, how about allowing your pastor to feed you petrol in church because it “tastes like pineapple juice”. This is after he has made you eat grass a few months before. Or perhaps being told whether or not you can wear underwear in church?
3. The Church gets richer whilst the people get poorer
The richest pastor in Nigeria has a net worth of $150 million. He owns four private jets, a publishing company and a university where you can presume some of the courses include Taking Tithes 101 and Intro to Praying for the Sick for a Fee. This in a country that, along with its neighbours, struggled to contain Ebola because of insufficient resources.
The church he runs comfortably seats around 50 000 people. The wealth that this man has accrued has been built primarily on the backs of his flock, a flock that often has little more than the wool on their backs. This is mirrored in the rest of the continent where those who should be seeking to uplift the poor (pastors and politicians) are some of the richest citizens yet their constituents are often some of the poorest.
The continent is home to some of the poorest Christians in the world, while those who run these churches make internationally renowned best-selling author TD Jakes’ net worth look like pocket change.
4. Western evangelicals and ‘cultural colonisation’
In the 1900’s colonial (see Victorian) powers came to the shores of Africa and said that homosexuality was a sin. As we seem open to suggestion we subsequently put away all our homo-erotic traditions and practices and took on the mantra that was given to us: ‘Homosexuality is Un-African.’ Fast forward to the 2000s and the great grand-children of the first bunch (see: Britain) are saying that we must let love be love and that it is ‘OK to be Gay’. In true African fashion we are not fighting this battle as well.
This is not the only battle being fought here: there is the ‘abstinence versus safe sex’ battle, the ‘AIDS research’ battle (who should be a part of it) and the ‘harmful traditions vs respect of culture’ battle.
The West needs somewhere to play and we are that playground, and some of the biggest bullies in this playground are the US Religious Right. Research has shown that these groups (such as American Centre for Law and Justice) come to Africa and frame human rights activities as ‘colonial practices’ out to destroy Africa whilst their brand of conservatism is ‘distinctly African’.
One of these groups is run by a Mormon from the deep American south.
When an idea is being pushed (anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, anti-post maternal care, anti- all things freedom) one often finds that the power behind the power is some US-based Christian religious group and not the African politicians who claim to be protecting ‘the traditions of their people.’ Religious colonisation is back, just with more money and fewer guns.
Spiritual growth is important, but not at the cost of the growth of the continent and the individual. History has shown that over-zealous Christianity has cost the continent far more than has been gained from the numerous prayers. As a Christian myself I understand the power of prayer, however as a thinking adult I also understand the power of ‘the hustle’, and in many cases Christianity is fast becoming the longest running hustle in our continent’s history, managing to steal from us time and time again.