Religious entrepreneurship

Today let me observe how the quest and insatiable desire for spiritual purity by poverty-stricken Zimbabweans has of late reached schizophrenic proportions.

In the process, “ordinary” citizens, smarting not only from the devastating effects of 30 years of Zanu PF-instigated fascist dictatorship but also income-sapping pyramid schemes of the 1990s, are now confronted with a new evil, evangelical business I will term gospreneurship.

In a country where poverty is a norm, and political repression and coercion are habitual, desperate Zimbabweans have turned to religion for solace.

Consider any vlei, square, hillside clearing, community and CBD hall in Harare on any Saturday, Sunday and lunch time, it is an arena of “prayer and healing”.

At every opportunity, “men of God” subject unsuspecting but willing “congregations” to “sermons” that are nothing but hypnotic demagoguery cleverly packaged to raise working capital for the church founders.

Originators of these “spiritual churches” have injected new enthusiasm in the gait of “salvation”, nonetheless emerging with bigger bank accounts, larger homes and fancier cars to lubricate their new-found capitalist fantasies.

Look, I’m a deeply religious being myself, sharing life between legitimate capitalist exploits and evangelism.

More important, as a liberal democrat, I extol the virtues of religious freedom as enshrined in our fractured “one-party state” Constitution.

Neither do I hold a brief for “orthodox” doctrines as propagated by Catholicism, Methodism, Adventism or the Lutheran movement.

But when I cast a “critical eye” at religion according to the gospel of media-savvy Pastor Chris, illusionist TB Joshua, sanguine Tom Deuschle and of late, blatant persuader “apostle” Emmanuel Makandiwa, I shudder to think of the vulnerability of gullible citizens.

Some people just need protection, especially those blind to the fact that gospreneurship is a subtle form of blatant self-enrichment.

Never mind the massive amounts of “tithes and offerings” these men of the cloth extort from spiritually starved Africans, people generally hand over their hard-earned wealth to any “prophet” they consider an answer to perceived infirmity.

However, there are two challenges that I see embedded in this “new” form of religion.

The first is that local gospreneurship which I will Christian Makandinomics, for want of a term, is anti-Christ voodoo capitalism.

Second, I have a strong case against “bishops” like Nolbert Kunonga and Obadiah Musindo, Emmanuel Makandiwa included, taking up the podium at a Zanu PF rally and praying for peace without criticising the perpetrators. Let me expatiate.

History is replete with anointed men who were courageous enough to confront the evil of tyranny with prayer and supplication.

To mind come heroes like Martin Luther King (Jnr), Ndabaningi Sithole, Abel Muzorewa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Canaan Banana and Pius Ncube.

In Germany, we know of a reverend named Friedrich Naumann who fuelled the passion for world liberalism, while in his own way, Tibetan Dalai Lama has led the way in the art of peaceful political liberation.

“Liberation theology” is documented by Wikipedia as dating back “to July 31 1966, when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen, published Black Power Statement, which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration”.

If I am not wrong, religious liberation politics even goes back deeper into the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when African slaves adopted song and prayer to pacify their aggrieved spirits, thus the origin of blues and jazz music.

By the time Sithole and Muzorewa entered the fray, black Zimbabweans had already accepted the role that Bible plays in political liberation.

And yet the contemporary Zanu PF cannot be exonerated from conniving with so-called “popular pastors” to perpetuate its fascist agenda.

How is it then that Makandinomics can conspire with a party associated with so much death, destruction, plunder and corruption?

How can this religious movement be so naïve that a party which presided over the death of 20 000 Ndebeles during the Gukurahundi era can suddenly find spiritual favour with God without owning up to its transgressions?

No doubt the “thousands upon thousands” of multi-denomination “worshippers” who throng the City Sports Centre complex every Sunday are of divergent political affiliation.

They are unified by a legitimate yet inert desire for instant wealth, salvation and fellowship.

But how “wealth and salvation” are acquired through offering property stands, houses, cars and $1 000 to one man for the acquisition of a “bigger and better public address system” is a matter for urgent public scrutiny.

The tragedy is that now under the protection of Zanu PF cronyism, Makandinomics will evade critical legislative critique in which case plunder and deceitful acquisition will continue unabated in broad daylight.

Wikipedia refers to Black religion expert Jonathan Walton pointing out to James Cone who “contends that dominant cultures have corrupted Christianity, and the result is a mainstream faith-based empire that serves its own interests, not God’s”.

This is a good warning to both Zanu PF and their myopic chaplains that “Black Liberation Theology” asks whose side should God be on, the side of the oppressed or the side of the oppressors.

If God values justice over victimisation, then God desires that all oppressed people should be liberated.

According to Cone, “if God is not just, if God does not desire justice, then God needs to be done away with”.

My humble submission is, there is room, too much of it, for religion to positively impact and influence politics.

This is a school of thought as “developed by the Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz who explored the concept of political theology throughout his work . . .” and thus created space for the likes of Tutu, Sithole and Ncube.

Essentially, most conservative (or is it fundamentalist?) Christians would consider the Vatican as more of a political than a spiritual institution.

And yet in the face of political human subjugation, the Church cannot remain neutral by merely staking a claim only around “spiritual liberation” while ignoring the voices of the oppressed.

The tragedy confronting modern-day Christian fundamentalism in Zimbabwe is the potent combination of religion and money.

As I understand it, Makandinomics is essentially a gospel of wealth.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with driving spirituality along the lines of building self-confidence in one’s ability to manipulate factors of production for the purpose of profit.

However, it is the deceit inherent in the give-so-that-you-may-receive-in-abundance message that irks me.

Zimbabweans are desperate for miracles and where one has some form of economic or social deficiency, they will offer their meagre incomes in exchange for the supernatural.

When modern-day evangelism is combined with Emmanuel Makandiwa-type demagoguery, it assumes a sinister level of uncharted religious entrepreneurship.

Wikipedia: “Many criticisms of fundamentalist positions have been offered. One of the most common is that some claims made by a fundamentalist group cannot be proven, and are irrational, demonstrably false, or contrary to scientific evidence.” This warning may have come too late for some.

Rejoice Nwenya is a social commentator writing in his own capacity

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