Miriam Tosé Majome
RELIGION is considered by ordinary mortals as true, by the wise as false and by rulers as useful: Lucious Annaeus Seneca – Roman philosopher and statesman who lived between 4 BC and 65 AD.
The turn of the millennium brought a sharp increase in the number of evangelical Christian churches in Zimbabwe. Until the late 1990s, there were mainly traditional churches dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and traditional Protestant churches such as Anglican, Baptist and Methodist churches. There were a number of local churches such as ZAOGA, AFM, FOG and religious sects associated with the Mapositori faith. Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy, which means there is no official state religion, although there is a penchant for Christian rites on dark occasions. Even so, it is illegal to compel people to subscribe to it. There is both freedom of religion and freedom of religion in Zimbabwe, which means people are allowed to subscribe to any religion of their choice and not to subscribe to any religion if they do not wish. Followers of other religions such as Islam, Judaism, Rastafarianism and Buddhism have the right to practice their religion freely and to defend their rights to do so if they are prevented from doing so.
Prior to the 2000s, Christian churches generally conducted their affairs quietly and discreetly without attracting too much attention and some still do. Society seemed to be in harmony and the religious establishment seemed balanced and not jostling for the limelight as it does now. Things changed after 2000 when the church and religion were suddenly thrown in the face of everyone everywhere. Waves of radical Christian evangelism swept across the country as local charismatic preachers discovered the power of radio and television. At first they imitated American television the evangelists and then the majority fixed their admiration on West African religiosity, which is a curious fusion of Christianity and African spirituality embellished with a good dose of superstition, mysticism and occultism.
With the help of substantial financial resources obtained from the faithful in the form of tithes, offerings and “start-up capital”, which is the same mold of medieval church indulgences, they took advantage of the public media, especially the radio here in Zimbabwe to settle. Radio stations have also fallen in love with ad revenue, even though some of the ad claims are downright unethical. Churches are advertised as ordinary businesses and use innovative messages to attract the public to their churches for spiritual healing sessions and to witness alleged miracles that are often oddly reminiscent of road show magic shows. The churches present a radical departure from the familiar traditional and distinguished Christianity of yesteryear. As confidence in them grew and audiences increased, landlord preachers began to give themselves titles like prophet, apostle, evangelist, man of God, overseer, spiritual father, etc. The common denominator of the new religion is a very materialistic, egocentric and selfish religion. , instant gratification type of Christianity.
The most enterprising preachers soon learned that religious faith is a flexible tool that can be used to make a lot of money if they line up their ducks right. All it took was charisma, very good public speaking and public speaking skills, good organizational skills, business acumen, and good entertaining and motivational skills. The most successful salespeople, preachers, and politicians are those who have mastered the art of speaking well because human beings have an affinity for people who speak well. It’s not called the gift of chatter for nothing.
Almost all types of churches promise congregants financial prosperity, instant gratification, and an almost hedonistic type of salvation in return for financial donations to the church. It was a radical departure from outmoded Christian values that encouraged perseverance, long suffering, godliness, delayed gratification, and turning the other cheek. Immediate Christianity focused on material results has resonated with much of Zimbabwe’s population weary of poverty and decades of economic depression. Claims for bodily healing coincided with illnesses associated with the HIV/AIDS pandemic that had ravaged the population in the 1990s. Thus claims were readily received, especially where modern medicine had seemed outdated or inaccessible in expense reason. Persistent economic problems have exacerbated social, mental, and bodily ills, so that the quick-fix antidotes promised by flippant preachers have found, and still find, willing takers for any available relief and message of hope.
People cling to claims of healing and deliverance from supposed evil spirits because many religious people can be gullible. They are always ready to believe without a doubt anything and everything that their preachers tell them. They tolerate no evil from their religious leaders and vehemently defend them against any criticism whatsoever.
Many African governments, including Zimbabwe, have shown a propensity to adopt and even encourage such churches. The reason is simple. Since the beginning of time, religion and politics have competed and colluded to control the people. Karl Marx, the philosopher and founder of communism, described religion as a tool used by the ruling classes to temporarily relieve the suffering masses through the experience of religious emotions. He said that religion is the opiate of the masses because it makes people sleepy like opium does. Sleeping people will be oblivious and forgive the injustices done to them by people who oppress them.
The first African government to have the courage to regulate churches was Rwanda. In 2018, the Rwandan government closed 6,000 churches and 100 mosques to restore order and social control. At the time, the capital Kigali had more than 700 churches. President Paul Kagame has pointed out that there are fewer boreholes and factories than churches in Rwanda. The government cited public safety concerns and mandated religious leaders to have degrees in theology.
Zimbabwe has slowly made its way to this precarious place where religion is becoming a growing public danger. There is no regulatory mechanism to oversee religious and religious affairs, so it is practically a free-for-all arena. Anyone can open a church and have absolutely unfettered rule under the guise of religious freedom. There should be no area of human activity that is beyond scrutiny and regulation, because all human systems are full of flaws. The Zimbabwe Council of Churches is not a statutory body and has very limited self-regulatory powers. It is a voluntary organization that has no power to enforce compliance like a state regulatory agency would.
Watch the church massacre in Uganda’s Kanungu district in which 700 people were locked in a church and burned to death in 2000.