A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.
Zimbabwean investigative journalist Edmund Kudzayi tweeted the following recently: “Zimbabwe needs a cleansing ceremony. Pastors, prophets, witchdoctors, spirit mediums, etc. Lock all of them up in the National Sports Stadium…”
The tweet was undoubtedly his most popular in recent history, garnering 157 replies, 233 retweets and 1 321 likes.
As a pastor who is also of the charismatic theological expression, I have to say that I understand his frustration. The reality is that you could easily replace the word “Zimbabwe” with the word “Africa”, and it would still ring just as true. The frustration is Africa-wide.
Secondly, it is no coincidence that the journalist groups pastors and prophets alongside witchdoctors and spirit mediums. The sad truth is that it is often difficult to tell the difference with many. The garb and the lingo may be different, but the effect is, sadly, often the same.
Traditional African worldview
Why is this the case? Here’s my hunch. My conviction is that the underpinning philosophy and worldview of both clergy and laity have remained firmly rooted within a traditional African worldview, a worldview which, in contrast to a Christian worldview, prizes power over, and often at the expense of, truth.
Such a worldview is by no means unique to a traditional African worldview. What is unique however, is what the Christian worldview does with power. When that changes, virtually everything else changes alongside this. More on that later.
Allow me to use two examples; one current and local, the other historical and international.
On September 21, our local community newspaper ran an article that had the following headline: ‘Pastor cons woman’. The long story short is that a Grahamstown woman was swindled out of R5 000 by a Port Elizabeth pastor who promised to bring better luck to her and her family.
Upon inviting the pastor home to perform a ritual, ‘He ordered the family to place five envelopes, each containing R1 000, inside a circle of burning candles. Soon he said more cash was needed to counteract those wishing them harm’, and ‘to make sure the bad luck disappeared for good, they needed to add R300 000…The family didn’t have (any more) money and, after a few days of not hearing from the pastor, surmised they might have been tricked.’
After reading this troubling article, I had so many questions I didn’t know where to start. Is that what is expected of pastors? That being the case, what makes them any different to witchdoctors?
Christianity and luck
Where is Jesus and the Bible in all of this? Since when was Christianity all about luck? Why should gifts be given to miracle healers to counteract bad luck?
Of course, the pastor is totally responsible for the false promise and fraudulent behavior. The flip side however, is that such people would not have such a hold on their victims if such beliefs were not widely held by congregants in the first place. Why are these beliefs held at all?
On to my second example. Indian writer Vishal Mangalwadi, author of The book that Made Your World embarks on a truly unique quest. In this book the author scans the length and breadth of his own nation, as well as Western civilisation, analysing the profound changes that Christianity has brought in both realms and contrasting that with the opposing worldviews he is surrounded by.
In one particularly relevant point, he writes about the revolutionary change that Christ brought to our world in the area of heroism.
Prior to Christ’s arrival, Caesar, Alexander and rulers the world over prized power at the expense of anything else, including truth. But Christ does the exact opposite.
Mangalwadi writes: “Classical heroism clashed with the Bible because while the former valued power, Christ’s heroism prized truth. Other kingdoms fostered heroic deeds by cultivating racial, geographic, linguistic, religious, class, or caste pride and hatred. Jesus made love the supreme value of the kingdom of God. This love was not sentimentalism. It went beyond loving one’s neighbors as oneself. Its supreme manifestation was the cross: sacrificing oneself for others, including one’s enemies.
“Jesus’ heroism replaced brutality with love, pride with meekness, and domination over others with self-sacrificing service. He exemplified this when he humbled himself, took a basin of water and a servant’s towel, and started washing his disciples’ feet.
“This, He said, is what the kingdom of God is all about. He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. All power in heaven and on earth, he claimed, was his. But he had come not to be served, but to serve, not to kill but to give eternal life. These were not homilies delivered by a guru who sat on a golden throne. These teachings changed history because they emanated from a life lived in the public arena.
“I became aware of the Gospel’s power to transform when I heard our first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1963. He began, “Fellow citizens, I have come to you as your first servant, because that is what the term prime minister literally means.” It amazed me because even as a young boy I knew that no ruler in India’s long history had ever seen himself as a servant. Pandit Nehru did so because the Bible had been transforming Allahabad, where both of us grew up.” (from The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi)
After looking at both examples at home and abroad, in the present and in the past, my contention is the following. While Christianity has brought many changes to our continent, the underpinning philosophy of animism has remained the same for most: that if you can manipulate spiritual forces through ceremony and the giving of gifts, then things will go well for you, and vice versa.
The garb and the lingo may be different, but the philosophy remains intact, and until that position is challenged and replaced with the truths of Christianity, such occurrences are bound to continue.
Another way of describing this philosophy is one dominated by spiritual power at all costs, regardless of right or wrong or truth. In other words, in life, power trumps truth, and therefore, through whatever means are available, power must be sought; questions of truth are of less importance.
For a change, perhaps a couple of our crusade posters should include the following lines: “Disciple-maker coming to town. Determined to teach biblical principles that will bring the Lordship of Christ in your life. Emphasis on character development as the liberating truth of God’s word comes into every area of your life. A must-hear and apply. Continent will be changed forever, even though you won’t become a millionaire.”
Tongue-in-cheek, I admit. Nevertheless, this is the urgent need of the hour. And unless we rigorously change the underpinning philosophy from that of power to truth, the Christianity that is currently welcomed across the continent will face opposition from thinkers like Edmund and others, who are frankly tired of pastors and prophets who are hard to distinguish from witchdoctors, spirit mediums and con-artists.