Africa is being colonized and christianized all over again. The colonizers this time are Americans not Europeans and the brand of belief they are bringing to Africa is Evangelical Christianity, a fundamentalist version of the protestant faith that many Pentecostalists, Baptists and others have allied themselves with.” Leo Igwe, Secretary of IHEU Member Organisation the Nigerian Humanist Movement writes about this new danger that is threatening Africa.
The BBC article poignantly captures the ongoing religious devastation, exploitation, wanton destruction, and cultural rape of Africa by Evangelical Christianity, also known as Pentecostalism. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Pentecostalism is spreading like a wild fire leaving death, rot, darkness and destruction in its wake.
Thousands of Pentecostal churches are mushrooming in cities and rural areas across the continent. In fact, in Africa, there are more churches and mosques than schools, industries and research centres. According to the Focus on Africa magazine, Evangelical Christianity has more that 125 million devotees in Africa – 19 percent of the continent’s population – up from 17 million people who described themselves as ‘born-again Christians’ in 1970.
Several factors are responsible for the rapid spread and proliferation of Pentecostal infamy in Africa. First is the growing disenchantment with the mainstream (orthodox) Christian sects – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran etc. These churches place a lot of emphasis on rules, hierarchy, and doctrines, while the Evangelical groups are said to be more ‘liberal’ and personal.
The Pentecostal churches emphasize the infallibility of the Bible as a literal historical record that should be accepted hook line and sinker. They insist on salvation for everybody through faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They look forward to the second coming of Jesus and the rapture. Evangelical groups have a mode of worship that is characterized by spiritual abandonment as expressed in speaking in tongues, dancing, singing and clapping of hands and other unorthodox forms of devotion.
The second reason why Pentecostal churches are making waves in Africa is their emphasis on miracles and faith healing. Africans are suckers for magic, miracles and paranormal claims. Evangelical churches now capitalize on that. They promise divine healing and instant solutions to all problems – poverty, hunger, failure, diseases, accidents etc. Pentecostal pastors claim they can make the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk and the barren give birth to children. They tell us they can raise the dead, make the poor rich and the unemployed to get jobs. Africans are therefore trooping to Pentecostal churches in their millions mainly in search of their miracles.
Another reason for the apparent boom in Pentecostal Christianity in the black continent is American support and influence. The Pentecostal movement originated in America. It arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism. And with the growing decline in religious belief in America and the entire western world, evangelists are looking to Africa for converts, for followers and disciples. Most Pentecostal churches in Africa therefore have American connections. And they receive millions of dollars in aid from their American counterparts who want to ‘bring Africans to Christ’. Luis Bush, a cousin of the American President George Bush and one of the leading evangelists in the US, supports missionary work in more that 30 African countries. Other American evangelists. Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Oral Roberts and the German evangelist Reinhard Bonke, sponsor miracle crusades across the continent.
Pentecostalism has therefore become a thriving business in Africa. In fact it has become the shortest route to wealth and affluence for the continent’s teeming population of unemployed youths. Local pastors employ all sorts of means, tricks and techniques to exhort money from gullible folks (as well as foreign friends). They use this money to build magnificent churches, erect costly apartments, and buy luxurious cars and aircrafts. They live ostentatiously while their church members live and languish in poverty, misery and squalor.
Criminals Posing as Men of God
The most stinking and revolting aspect of the evangelical work in Africa is faith-healing. Most Evangelical pastors in Africa are now faith healers. They claim to have powers to cure all diseases and solve all problems. Recently, Gilbert Deya, a self acclaimed archbishop from Kenya, got himself into trouble. He said he could make infertile black couples give birth to miracle babies. But police investigations revealed child theft and baby trafficking. Some years ago, a Nigerian pastor Temitope Joshua – of the Synagogue of All Nations – announced to the world that he could cure HIV/AIDS. But his claims were later discovered to be all fake and forgery.
In 2001, the German evangelist, Renhard Bonnke, was reported to have raised somebody from the dead. There have been a lot of such indiscriminate claims of miracles and divine healing by Nigeria’s televangelists and doomsday preachers – Chris Oyakhilome, Enoch Adeboye, David Oyedepo, Helen Ukpabio, and Matthew Ashimolowo etc. These faith-healers use the money extorted from miracle seekers to mount billboards and sponsor radio and television programmes advertising their miracles. Last year, the Broadcasting commission in Nigeria had to ban the transmission of miracles on national television. Faith healing is the greatest threat to scientific medicine and health care delivery in Africa.
Claims of divine cure and healing cannot be reconciled with the dire health situation in Africa. Africa has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. And millions out there are still dying of preventable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. According to the United Nations, 6000 African children die – and 11,000 get infected with HIV/AIDS every day. And if indeed there are people with supernatural powers to heal the sick, raise the dead and cure all ailments, why are Africans suffering and dying; why are human beings suffering and dying?
Evangelism – A Dangerous Expansion
Can it harm anyone to speak in tongues, become temporarily spasmic, believe in miracles and pay a relatively large part of one’s income to the Church – a part that after all is less than what others spend in restaurants and casinos? What about all those who find a warm and including fellowship in the congregation? These questions are not always easy to answer. Sometimes anxious parents call me and ask for advice about their teenage children who have been captured by a charismatic group. I do not always alarm them. Individually it may be better to be a member of a religious sect than a violent gang. In my childhood church I have met some of the warmest, most generous and most honest people I have ever known.
But the Pentecostal or Charismatic Church is the only legally and politically accepted movement in the world that is fully and completely based upon systematic fraud, deception and cheating. Historically you will find fraud and cheating in most Church traditions, connected to prophesies, claimed revelations and miracles, financial transactions etc. But where else in the world today would you find and accept television programmes where hundreds of sick people are declared miraculously healed from their illnesses? Where else would it be accepted that the leader tell his audience that God has spoken directly to him and informed him that 5 persons in the assembly, three men and two women, will be cured of their diabetes right now? Where else would a group leader avoid criminal investigation after insisting that God has told him that 30 persons in the group are going to pay 10,000 dollars each to construct a new building for the assembly? The most successful Charismatic churches have been established and developed by such methods. The American ministries of this kind are well known, and sometimes even exposed – with regrettably little effect. In Europe we have sometimes looked upon these phenomena as “typically American”, connected to a mass media culture and a kind of capitalistic liberalism that is foreign to a more regulated social democratic West European tradition. That is a short-sighted simplification. We should have learnt that what is today ‘typically American’ will some day become ‘typically global’.
All the successful Charismatic leaders I know in Scandinavia today have learnt their ways and techniques directly from Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin, etc., etc. The global outreach from Azusa street in Los Angeles goes all the way to Seoul in South Korea, where David Yonggi Cho has built the largest Chrtistian congregation in the world with close to 800,000 born-again members, who every week pay at least 10 % of their income to the Church. Yonggi Cho does nothing to hide the reason for his success. In his book “The Fourth Dimension” he writes that every Sunday he tells his audience that God has revealed to him how many are going to be healed that particular day from specific illnesses.
How long will the Charismatic expansion proceed and develop all over the world, before psychologists, sociologists, liberal writers and politicians understand that something fundamentally unhealthy is going on, that the religion called Christianity is changing its character – not necessarily away from the original Biblical practises – but very far from today’s schoolbook versions of modern and humanised religion.
Very few studies of this change of streams exist. One of them is David Martin’s book Tongues of Fire, where he shows that the Pentecostal or Charismatic Church very soon will be the largest Christian church in Latin America. Already 80 % of the Protestants in Chile are Pentecostals, and even if the Catholic church still is leading in most of the Latin American countries, the Pentecostals grow with the highest rates. The Pentecostal cathedral in Santiago has 18.000 seats and The Temple of Brasil para Christo takes even more, writes David Martin.
Prometheus Books is one of the very few publishing companies taking interest in this situation. Several titles like Skipp Porteous’s autobiography Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, James Randi’s Faithhealers, and books about Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Bakker and other Charismatics have been published. The most comprehensive of these books is The Hallelujah Revolution by the British journalist Ian Cotton where he alerts us to the fact that this movement stretches from South America to Europe, from Canada to mainland China: in Henan province of China, for instance, a million converts were reported in 1994.
The highly esteemed statistical surveys published by David Barrett now show beyond doubt that the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches are the world’s largest protestant movement, with 500 million followers in 1997. While the Baptists and the Methodists till the middle of the 20th century where the flagships of the Protestants, these churches are now left behind by the Pentecostals – or they have changed their own character and joined the more successful Brethern in the Lord. Those of us who come from cultures like for instance the Scandinavian or English societies, may have lived in the illusion that the Lutheran or Anglican churches are the big ones, and we have to realize that these are minorities compared with the hallelujah-shouting half billion Charismatics.
We are now facing the fact that the Pentecostals within a period of time also may outnumber the Catholic church, which today is the world’s largest Christian denomination, with 1 billion members. Barrett’s 1997 prognosis says that this number will increase to 1.3 billion in 2025, while the Pentecostals in the same time span will more than double their number from 500 million to 1.1 billion – an increase that with a similar speed will make the Catholic church the world’s number two church before the year 2030. Even if this prognosis fails, we have to add to the picture that the Pentecostals are active and practising believers. Their churches do not have the same kind of formal and passive membership as the old churches haves.
The church squeezes money out of the people by selling them an absurd vision of the world in which all is good and divine. Religions are physical slavery; it is a well-built corporation that steals human spirituality in a systematic, fascistic, fashion. The church teaches slave-morality, just like the mass media, just like the Hollywood propaganda.
The church is a spiritually bankrupt organization because it treats human beings like customers to whom it sells false, decrepit, hopes. The church stands in the way of salvation by stealing human resources and using them to buy gold, land and stocks. The church uses sophisticated propaganda techniques in order to get the populace to believe that a mythic creature in the sky will save them .The church works to crush the revolutionary spirit by keeping the social peace on a rotting bed of intensifying exploitation. The church twists the meanings of the scriptures in order to sell fraudulent visions of noble kings and kind rich men.The church is an upper class institution; this is why it teaches the working class to withstand suffering inflicted by the rulers. Peace secured through war is an irony accepted by millions of brainwashed human beings. The church wants citizens to forgive their enemies because the church works to protect capitalists from the wrath of the workers.