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Of prosperity gospel and today’s churches

28 Feb, 2017 - 00:02 0 Views

The Herald

David Mungoshi Shelling The Nuts
Thinking about religion and its ambivalence can be quite stressful. Religion has the potential to do both good and bad. This is the same everywhere, in all places and at all times. Religion has come to Zimbabwe and in black American English we would say this is where it’s at. This is not to say Zimbabwe had no religion. What we are talking about here is the recent spate of Christian churches going under all sorts of names.

New churches, some of them started by babes with milk on the noses, and the prophets have come to Zimbabwe in a big way and made big money. The business of saving souls is a very lucrative one if you play your cards right. Ubert Angel’s estate in the English countryside says it all.

Throughout the ages whenever matters of faith have come into play disaster has always been the result. That to start with there was only one Christian church headed by a pope in Rome is a fact of history.

That things began to happen, strange things that had nothing to do with divinity, is also a fact. The origins of the Anglican Church are quite fascinating.

I was recently at Windsor Castle, the retreat home of Queen Elizabeth, the British monarch. This is where she comes to when she wants a change from Buckingham Palace. There is a church there called St. George and inside it several monarchs and their queens are buried.

Henry VIII is interred there with Jane Seymour, the last of his wives. This is the man credited by many with separating the Anglicans from Rome, allegedly on matters of the divorce he wanted. It struck him that if he became head of the church in England he could by-pass the pope’s reticence.

The late Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Simon Muzenda, once said something instructive when answering a question posed to him in a television interview. His view was that Christianity was getting quite confusing. To paraphrase him, he said:

What we knew as we were growing up was that you pray to God.

Now it is His son who is worshipped.

This very apt statement captures it all. There are many Jesus churches and Ministries these days. Jesus churches are those churches in which you hardly ever hear about God the Father. It’s always about his son and occasionally the Holy Spirit. One such church, the Spoken Word Ministry in Harare, baptises people in the name of Jesus only. This is a huge theological divergence from orthodox teachings.

Many of the newfangled churches are led by prophets whose wives become prophetesses, although we never get to know what prophecies they make and which ones come to pass. It is difficult to keep track of the churches that keep sprouting all over the place. The churches appear to be in a cut-throat competition with bizarre claims being made and more and more money generated.

To be fair to the new churches, the orthodox churches go back centuries and have well–established systems in place including land, capital and investments. Next to the Queen of England, the Anglican Church was at one point the biggest landowner in Anglophone areas.

The Vietnam War was a result of skewed land ownership with the Roman Catholic Church owning vast tracts of land before stepping aside for the French. Ho Chi Minh and his partisans waged a war against the French.

With elections pending and the communists under Ho Chi Minh poised for overwhelming victory, the Americans went in to stop this happening. History records how they failed and how the Vietnam War unified the country against very heavy odds tilted in favour of the American war machine.

Interestingly, the orthodox churches may have been complicit in the growth of tribalism in Zimbabwe. Their bibles show that the Shona in each of them reflects the denomination concerned. You can tell who is Catholic, Anglican, Methodist or Reformed, just as you can tell which churches belong to Independent African churches. The same is true of bibles in IsiNdebele.

Without doubt early Christianity was a tool of social disintegration, creating division among the people by calling some heathen and others believers. Today what separates people is money and affluence. Those who are anointed have a surfeit of it!

The new Pentecostal churches have no mother churches in Europe and cannot, therefore, expect any handouts from there. Accordingly, their argument is that they have had to design financial strategies to meet their needs. In this respect they have had resounding success.

The projects that they embark upon speak for themselves. Let’s take ZAOGA, for example. Their university in Bindura is now up and running. Emmanuel Makandiwa’s UFI has a project in Chitungwiza which when done will hold some 25 000 worshippers at any given moment.

Prophet Walter Magaya’s PHD (Prophetic Healing and Deliverance) Ministries shows resilience. The Ministry has built a hotel and is currently building a football stadium. Magaya’s Yadah Stars Football Club gained promotion to Zimbabwe’s PSL after only one season.

Prophet Magaya says he wants the club run professionally so that it becomes a model for the country. Once the stadium is completed, Yadah Stars will have outpaced such old clubs as Highlanders, Dynamos and CAPS UNITED and will become the first club in the country to have their own stadium.

Magaya is a football enthusiast and has in the past bailed ZIFA out with grants to meet a variety of concerns for both the warriors and the Mighty Warriors. He says the difference that Yadah will make is in its junior soccer programmes which are to be modelled along the lines of Asec Mimosa of the Ivory Coast.

Another church that has kept its star shining is the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) led by Nehemiah Mutendi, son of Samuel Mutendi, the man who brought the ZCC from South Africa. The church has a vast project on its farm at Mbungo where there is also a high school and a church building now elevated to a site for religious tourism. These projects were done without any donor assistance whatsoever.

Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi had an honorary PhD degree conferred on him by the University of Zimbabwe several years ago in recognition of his work in education and as a philanthropist.

However, the ZCC split into two at some point and one faction was led by Ruben while the other was led by Nehemiah, both sons of Samuel Mutendi. Ruben has since died and been succeeded by his son, Makuwa Mutendi.

Writing about his visit to Makuwa sometime in June of 2014, Vincent Gono was quick to point out some of the discrepancies outsiders might detect when looking at the new churches. Gono put this down to the flourishing gospel of prosperity that the new churches teach. As might be expected, the leaders of these churches live lavishly.

At the time of writing Gono counted 13 luxury cars outside Makuwa’s house, including a Pajero and a Jeep Cherokee. According to Gono, church leaders amassed a lot of money in very short spaces of time.

The churches compete for numbers and also try to outdo each other when it comes to miracles. Church members often laugh at each other and make fun of the houses their pastors live in or the cars they drive.

There are other problems around some of the teachings of the churches. For example, parents and family are often side-lined completely as if they do not matter at all. This usually happens in the case of bereavement or weddings. These divisive antics cause families to separate when they should be united.

Believe it or not the churches have taken their acts to the Diaspora. A lady I know is currently involved in a tussle in the UK for custody of her granddaughter, the only child of her only child.

Her daughter who is now late had joined a church that appears to have so brainwashed the surviving child that despite having had her grandmother in her life she pretends that they are strangers.

In another bizarre case, a pastor called Dr Walter Masocha of the Agape for All Nations Ministries in Scotland operates like a charlatan and at one time was arrested, handcuffed and taken to Falkirk Police Station to appear in court at the Stirling Sheriff’s court.

He was charged with a number of sexual offences against female members of his church. Even married women were rumoured to sit on his lap.

Church members call Masocha “Daddy’ and minister to him lavishly. They wipe his shoes whenever there is a film of dust on them, and wipe his brow when he sweats. The man was freed by the courts and lived to sin again, on another day.

Opulence defines the lifestyles of the new church leaders who see it as their blessed lot.

David Mungoshi is an applied linguist, social commentator, poet and novelist.

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