Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Today’s church: Men of God or gold?

It is very clear that what is being passed off as “spiritual advice” is carnal, greedy and most probably treacherous, selfish inveiglement by charlatans that seek to continue milking poor folk of their money and bleeding the country’s economy . . .

I had wanted to discuss the role of the church in today’s politics.

Today, as in the year 2016 — or slightly in the period of close to 20 years since the turn of the millennium.

However, in stumbling upon this question, “Men of God or gold?” I am suddenly assailed by the broadness of the topic as a contemporaneous issue.

We may as well tackle some issues.
Today’s church: Men of God or gold?
The proliferation of churches, especially of the Pentecostal type, in the last few years, or let’s say since dollarisation in 2009, is nothing short of phenomenal.

If by the word Pentecost we understand the pouring of holy spirit on earth, we may as well note how the same holy spirit coincided with the introduction of the multi-currency regime to replace the Zimbabwean dollar that hyper-inflated to its death.

The period between 2006 and 2008 when the local dollar faced its paroxysms of death and caused a lot of suffering to the people, did not see the holy intervention of the church to save it or intercede with God for the people.

The Zimbabwean dollar died.

The US dollar and other currencies were introduced.

Churches sprouted.

Over the years intervening, the same US dollar has grown and enriched those with access to it — and pauperised those without.

Churches have enjoyed this access — and they have grown exponentially.

They have pauperised congregants, too, who are fleeced by some charismatic individuals heading churches urged to pay and pay and pay in return for material wonderments.

People pay.

And pay.

They expect miracles.

They call their church leaders men of God.

Others see the same individuals as simple men of gold, torching off a bitter contestation among Zimbabweans about the import, role and authenticity of these charismatic preachers and prosperity teachers.

We have known people who call them charlatans who rob poor people of their hard-earned cash, while their followers and cheerleaders will defend them to the hilt. We are told to touch not the anointed!

The debate is not new.

But something has intervened that makes it even more interesting and forming one of two premises of this piece.

It is now common cause that the US dollar has truly and well pauperised the people of Zimbabwe and bankrupted the country itself.

There are moves to seek to ease the effects of this pauperising and now scarce US dollar with the introduction of the bond notes being what is on the minds of authorities.

Suddenly, there is some movement within the church which is anything between panic and consternation.

This was demonstrated in earnest when Walter Magaya, popular leader of a church called Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries who accosted the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor John Mangundya a fortnight ago.

We hear he said he was offering “spiritual advice” on the introduction of bond notes.

This was followed by a number of local pastors again coming together ostensibly to give the same spiritual advice and prayer for the governor.

We saw the pictures.

Now, it is not even a secret that these charismatic preachers, who are mostly young, have become overnight millionaires — or nearly so, on the back of “offerings” from multitudes of followers who are also told to part with money to buy paraphernalia that ranges from bricks ostensibly to enable purchasers to build miracle houses to anointed pens to pass exams.

There is also, in between, anointed oil and fees for one-on-one sessions with prophets.

The business of preaching, also referred to as gospreneurship, has made many individuals and their wives filthy rich and they often stash weekly takings — one could say loot — outside the country from South Africa to London.

It has been easy to ship out these monies — that come in huge bins and stashed envelopes — outside for the purposes of “safe-keeping” and investments.

These investments are being made in the form of building mansions in and outside the country, worth millions of dollars.

Now, when bond notes — or any local currency for that matter — is introduced, there is no price for guessing how this will hit the prospering gospreneurs.

It does not take rocket science to see that.

And it must, in all fairness, be pointed that some unscrupulous businesspeople and politicians are also in the habit of externalising huge amounts of cash and have been fretting over the introduction of bond notes, especially if their purpose if to stem the externalisation of money.

But churches bear a bigger moral responsibility.

It is very clear that what is being passed off as “spiritual advice” is as carnal, greedy and most probably treacherous, selfish inveiglement by charlatans that seek to continue milking poor folk of their money and bleeding the country’s economy and on the other hand using the same scaremongering for political purposes.

Not many will be deceived by these men of gold.

Yet this leads to the second premise of the piece, again featuring the issue of bond notes and the general state of the economy.

Some churches have now taken it upon themselves to call on President Mugabe to step down and these churches thrust forward the scaring issue of bond currency which they say is the return of the Zimbabwe dollar.

Some organisations met in Harare to issue such a decree last week.

Take one participant, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCD), Ishmael Mukuwanda, for example.

He said: “As the church, we represent the voice of the people, especially the poor and the marginalised. We therefore feel that we should periodically convey some of the people’s feelings to assist our leaders in government in decision-making.”

Adding: “Many people who have come to church to communicate their concerns have expressed a lot of panic over the bond notes. They don’t see the difference between bond notes and the hyper-inflationary bearer cheques that were used up to 2008.”

It is all fair and fine — and we should also not make the mistake of rubbishing genuine concerns of the people many of who know better, though, including church heads and some newspapers, have not assuaged but actually preyed on for political and selfish causes.

However, when one looks at the cast of political actors masquerading as church leaders that came together to call on President Mugabe to resign, it becomes clear that these are still men of gold.

This time, as in the period leading to the year 2000, churches are seeking to play a political role and mobilise their congregants and society to rise against the Government and this they are doing in conjunction with civic society organisations, students and foreign sponsored NGOs to present a broad front against President Mugabe.

The formal organisation of opposition embodied in the MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai is in limbo.

Tsvangirai himself may not be relevant in 2018.

His era is long gone — in a most ironic fashion.

(Perhaps not so ironic — just dramatic.)

The issue is panning out like this, and in its historical context: at the turn of the millennium Tsvangirai was leading a strong worker movement that had been shaping by the social and economic milieu of the time and this gave rise to the worker-based party, MDC.

Today, the concept of organized labour and labour centre has been eroded to insignificance.

The majority are in informal employment, or out of any real employment.

These people have been harnessed by the new church movement and economic conditions are also biting those within those churches and outside in a general economic malaise.

The church can easily mobilise and use an economic message.

Scaremongering about bond notes and the general economic challenges facing the country is a good starting point.

A mass can be built around this and it is also critical that people be mobilised using new technologies and non-traditional communications.

This is far removed from the heyday of Morgan Tsvangirai — he even does not fit, already being considered as having past his sell by date.

Besides his age and health are fast catching up for a movement that can be as hypochondriac as the opposition is.

The idea will be to have a broad social movement that will eventually lend to a new and credible leader of opposition that most probably will lead a united church of opposition, and one can bet a safe dollar that Tsvangirai won’t be that preferred leader.

Now you bring in a person like Ancellimo Magaya, a “man of God” who happens to have been fighting for the unity of opposition and sought to use “prayer” rallies to bring the opposition behind a certain tragic political figure.

Behind all this is Western dirty money to be got or having been got already.

It all falls into place, doesn’t it?

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