No 65 May 2005.3
Churches in Africa
From global religion
to civic education of citizens
The Pentecostal movement from the United States of America has its roots in Third-World countries where religion is part and parcel of social life. Do we not say that the future of the Church of the third millennium is in Africa, America and Asia, continents that are said to be outside the influence of western unbelief? To counteract the influence of institutional Churches, many people easily finance sects and other ‘reawakening churches’ where miracles and blessings are usual spectacle in their assemblies. The craze for those churches leads them away from the true social problems.
In fact it is not surprising that those religious movements come from Africa. Totalitarian and dictatorial regimes, established during the cold war to look after Western or Soviet interests, but since exhausted, have found a breath of fresh air thanks to those ‘reawakening churches’. These churches, with their scathing sermons, divert from the attention and from the struggle for more democracy and promotion of the rights of citizens as understood by traditional Churches. They arrogantly ignore all the themes that could go against the established ideology and promise to their followers a better life thanks to prayers, tithes and endless fasts. Because of their teachings, civic education gives way to those miracle-making temples. Thus those new assemblies, while functioning in defiance of laws regulating cults, transmit ideas encouraging the status quo, recognizing by the same token the existing governments whose ministers are from time to time introduced to these assemblies.
With the complicity of some Western chanceries, the new pastors travel more easily to Europe or America, unlike those who would like to go for technical and scientific training; this confirms in the eyes of exploited followers that their pastor’s prayer is powerful in words and deeds. Some of these ‘churches’ have offices in London, Paris, the United States of America. American pastors are invited on the occasion of evangelization campaigns. The language of the preaching is French or English. Nigerian films on witchcraft, magic and demons of all kinds are much used on television programs. Pastors fight for Christian leadership in order to attract crowds in evangelization campaigns. They imitate commercial societies in their manipulation of consumers. It is global religion at the service of global economy.
The capitalist model is ever present in the relation between pastor and followers. Cures and prayers by the pastor are not free of charge. The more you give, the more you will receive. It is the theology of the seed to attain prosperity. What is primordial is the logic of interests and of gain. The prosperity of patriarchs, faithful friends of God and blessed by Him, is praised. Material prosperity is the sign of divine choice and poverty is the consequence of sin, of that ‘spirit of enslavement’ and of those ‘demons of poverty’ that must be fought against. While in the West, unemployed or homeless people, laid off workers, peasants, victims of global policies, fight for another global policy with a human face, the poor of the Third World put their destiny into the hands of those new men of God, miracle- and wonder-workers. Yet the instauration of a new world-wide order calls for the contribution of all victims of globalisation. Western civil societies cannot by themselves eradicate the evils of globalisation without the help of the people of the Third World where the influence of religion is far from being negligible.
The Bible, however sacred it may be, can be interpreted in different ways according to the interests of its readers. The most strict security precautions, after the 11 September attacks, are used as an argument in the Bible to dominate and exploit the world, just as certain institutions of slavery pretended to find their cause of action in the Bible. But the Bible cannot become an instrument of enslavement of nations to the advantage of inhuman globalisation: it is the Word proclaimed for the freeing of the whole man. Only a critical and serious reading of this Book makes Christians and the Church aware of the fight for justice and of their effective and active participation in transforming the world and in combating all oppressive situations. That is why it is high time for Christians to familiarize themselves with biblical studies. Homilies and sermons are not enough any more. Pastoral programs must include biblical studies for ordinary Christians. The craze of masses for reawakening churches is also one of the consequences of ignorance. For an effective vulgarization of the Word of God, African theologians are invited to formulate dogmas, to present biblical thoughts in simple terms for the understanding of all. Thus better formed Christians will be an obstacle to the advancement of those Churches that are at the service of economic globalisation.
Economic globalisation cannot be overtaken except with solidarity between nations, solidarity between individuals within a country. Religions are invited to play a primordial role, but a positive role that will allow the blossoming of Man and of humanity. Solidarity is not the perpetual assistance of the poor; it is sharing the riches of the planet, sharing the notion generating work for all and respectful of differences, of the environment. It is not the possession of riches in the hands of a tiny minority. Charity, a theme dear to Christianity, must be a lamp giving light to the birth of a new world order, of a globalisation of people showing solidarity. For the advent of such a globalisation, there must be in Africa a contextual reading of the Bible that will allow a better reflection on themes that can help give an adequate answer to the concrete situation of our peoples in Africa. This reading will start from the sufferings, the evils of which our populations are victims and whose origin is in great part in the politics of globalisation commended by economic powers.
So it can be readily understood that the exodus theme speaks to our populations: it is not only a religious or biblical theme, but also a historical, political and philosophical one. It encompasses man in all his dimensions. To-day all the oppressed of this world, victims of an inhuman globalisation, find something and recognize themselves in this story of the freeing of the Jewish people and hope for a ‘promised land’, a country where milk and honey flow. The exodus theme makes the poor aware of why they are sick, jobless, without an adequate salary and a home. They thus become the actors of their own fate. Their destiny is no more in the hands of impostors at the service of occult powers. We have therefore to convince ourselves that religion is a rallying movement and not a paralysing power; prayer must be accompanied with the desire to get down to work. It is with work that the oppressed will emancipate themselves. It is with work that the believer is invited to enter into possession of the promised land: this land is not only obtained with lots of prayers, fasts, thunderous sermons. It is high time to encourage and develop the theology of work and invention.
Michel Lobunda Selemani, S.J.
(Telema, September 2004)
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