Stanely Mushava/ Features Correspondent
In August last year, South Africa’s Commission for the Protection of Cultural and Religious Rights launched an investigation into commercialisation of churches.
The ongoing investigation is looking into the abuse of people’s belief systems in terms of how religious institutions are being run and where their funding is going.
Africa is a site of contradictions – at once the face of poverty and the fountain of wealth.
Corruption has not only tangled its octopus-like tentacles around the engines of growth but also fermented its malware across institutions that are supposed to fight economic injustice.
The institutionalisation of corruption in Africa has made poverty and inequality enduring facts of life on the continent, with moral engines becoming either complicit or complacent.
The church, in particular, has been implicated in several abuses including inordinate commercialism, corruption, and lack of accountability and abuse of trust by the clergy.
Corruption thrives on the cultural duplicity of our day, whereby more people maintain a perfect balance between Christian piety and worldliness.
The fact that commercialism is vying with Christianity as the object of attention in today’s money-minded and personality-themed denominations has also seen more people immersing themselves in corruption with abandon in the name of God.
The African Council of Apostles, hosted by New Life Covenant Church in Harare last week, reaffirmed the church’s commitment to fighting corruption from every angle and realise economic justice for everyone on the continent.
The 2016 convention, themed; “Africa’s Future” with particular emphasis on the political, economic and spiritual tiers of the continent resolved on urgent resolution to take out the “low and high levels of corruption.”
The Council of African Apostles convenes three days every year to discuss issues affecting Christian denominations in Africa and the church’s role in the face of contemporary challenges on the continent.
It is pentecostally constituted in the main, with Bishop Tudor Bismark of Zimbabwe, Dr Mensa Otabil of Ghana, Bishop Mike Okonkwo of Nigeria and Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams of Ghana among the prime movers.
In a statement signed by Bishop Bismark, Apostle Michael Adeyemi, Apostle Alexander Chisango, Bishop Joseph Makando, Apostle Donald Motsumi, Bishop Ueluw Brooks, Bishop Archibald Cole and Apostle Joseph Neufville, the clergymen present at the convention pledged to be actively engaged in the fight against corruption in their different countries.
“We acknowledge the fact that tackling the challenge of corruption will require a concerted and collective effort all institutions within our society: the family, church, vocation and state,” the apostles said in a statement.
“Corruption in its various forms has become one of the chief cancers negatively affecting our societies, economically, politically and socially. It has become in many parts of the continent highly systemic in how business and socio-economics is conducted,” said the clergymen.
The apostles acknowledged moral blameworthiness by some of their own: “As the representatives of the church of Jesus Christ, we note that the church has also been unfortunately involved in cases of corruption in terms of leadership, merchandising the gospel and a lack of accountability in our processes. We call upon the church to clean its act.”
The convention resolved on a five-point action plan, beginning with a call to discipline congregants in integrity, to shun corruption and to report acts or invitations to engage in corruption.
Aside the contradiction of wealth and poverty, the most mind-boggling mismatch is perhaps the fact that Africa boasts a concurrent surge in religion and corruption.
Instead of being a force against materialism and corruption in line with the plain and profound teachings of Jesus Christ, the church has idolised money and contributed to the elevation of commercialism into the great narrative of the age.
As such, Christians who equate accumulation with godliness are out to make money whatever the values at stake.
The most convenient way to legitimate evil is to repackage it into religious duty. This is immediately apparent with respect to terrorism, but few people notice that money-hungry preachers are doing the same with corruption.
The Council of African Apostles has acknowledged the role of Christian leaders in reversing this tide. The call to integrity, if sustained, will restore the diminishing savour of the salt of Africa.
The second point is a call for the church to partner with others in whistle-blower campaigns against corruption.
The media and the judiciary are currently the foremost opponents of corruption, with varying degrees of commitment as some of their own are equally perpetrating the vice. The church’s voice has either been missing or has not been loud enough.
The apostles also resolved to “join with others in calling for public office-bearers to shun corruption.” Whereas the original prophets were on a warpath against corruption in high places, today’s prophets have discarded that mantle for a life of convenience.
The pro-poor fervour which urged biblical prophets to defend the Naboths against the Ahabs of the world is missing among the current breed which is more often than not meddling in the corridors of power for self-aggrandisement.
Not surprisingly, revelations of corruption in the media have drawn fire from other pillars of influence but seldom from church leaders, some of whom have glass houses to mind. If the Christian leaders clean their act and join other sectors in earnest in the fight against corruption, more headway could be recorded.
“We call on governments to increase the cost of corruption through prohibitive legal processes that help fast track cases of corruption and advocate for prosecution of corrupt practises that take place,” the clergymen said.
“In particular, we call upon our leaders in government to invest sufficient political will in the fight against corruption. Our national governments must prioritise sufficient legal measures and processes that ensure the adequate address of the scourge through prevention and public prosecution,” said apostles in the statement.
Crucially, the lack of political will has seen corruption being clichéd to acceptance. Sometimes it seems fair enough to throw the legal dragnet on corrupt officials and make them a public example but nothing happens.
Unpunished acts of corruption, especially by leaders, become a billboard for followers on how to get away with economic sabotage. This has only incentivised corruption and made void of the most articulate sound bites against corruption.
If the church makes good its word to stoke political will against corruption this wrong may be corrected.
“We call upon our business leaders to ensure that they conduct themselves with integrity, shunning any underhand dealings,” the Christian leaders said.
They called on business associations to urge their members to integrity to resist any attempts to pay bribes, especially to government representatives and to maintain transparency in payment of all statutory requirements such as taxes.
The men of God expressed optimism that coordinated effort will erase corruption off the continent: “We believe that victory against corruption is certain, it will take dedicated discipline, sufficient political will boldness and courage to speak the truth to officeholders and a willingness on the part of all African citizens to take a stand against corruption.
The convention said it was motivated by the irony of living in rich but poor continent and was up to shine Christian light into the moral blackout.
“The continent is the repository of 15 percent of the planet’s crude oil reserves, 40 percent of its gold and 50 percent of its platinum. Yet the majority of Africans continues to live in dire poverty,” they lamented.
The Council of African Apostles convenes an annual platform for influential Christian leaders to share ideas, experiences and strategies “to make the Kingdom of God manifest in the nations of Africa.”
The fraternity believes that Africa geo-politically, socially, economically and spiritually needs to hear a clear, concise and authoritative voice from the church.
They consider it the mandate of the Christian leaders called to empower the continent in their ministries to gather periodically devise solutions for local, national and continental problems.
Bishop Tudor Bismark who hosted this year’s convention believes that: “The kingdom of God is mandated through the presence of the Church to ensure and maintain the emancipation of Africa spiritually first then make it manifest in the physical.
“If the church is to influence Africa and the nations and communities that are comprised in her, the apostles need to gather, agree and speak one message and thus release apostolic authority and order so as to return Africa to the original thought of God,” he maintains.
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