The TownhallSocial issues

Christian churches are hurting Africans more than helping

By Simon Mwebaze 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Christianity is the largest religion in the world and Africa is one of its biggest importers. While it has taken many forms, one of the most popular forms of Christianity on the African continent is Evangelism and Pentecostalism. The popularity of the sects is based on several factors that make them attractive to many. 

Africa is not new to the idea of a god/gods. While Christianity was introduced during colonial times, Africans had already been engaged in their own traditional religion. The traditional religion consisted of a god/gods, ancestral spirits, and a shaman or religious leader. The shaman was in charge of communicating between the physical world and the spiritual world and was held in high respect by the people and even kings or other leaders. When Christianity came along, it was not too far-fetched for Africans to accept since they had the background of traditional African religions.  

Another factor that makes it popular today is the megachurch atmosphere with the latest musical instruments, lights, and harmonious choirs. There is showmanship in Evangelical churches that tickles the emotions of Africans. Whether it’s the music, the flamboyantly dressed pastors, or the mega church structures, it strikes a nerve. The lights, sounds, and glamour that churches portray through their leaders and those involved with them is the envy of many Africans who go with the hopes of escaping poverty by following the gods of the successful. 

While these are not bad in and of themselves, there are challenges with the impact it has on African people. To a greater extent, many Evangelical churches target youth, and Africa is composed of about 50% youth. The youth are the most affected by unemployment and poverty, so they’re looking for solutions wherever they can get them, including in churches. Older adults have fallen prey to the churches, too, which leads to many other challenges.  

Many pastors get enriched through their congregation. This happens through tithes and a variety of offerings. The draw for most people of giving to the pastors is the expectation of being blessed by God to escape poverty, receive healing for diseases, and other “spiritual” challenges. But the opposite seems to happen as pastors enrich themselves with fancy cars, homes, and even set up other businesses. Pastor Samuel Kakande in Uganda is well-known for duping his congregation with the sale of “Holy Rice” sold at $14 per kilogram.   

Accumulating wealth is not the only evil as a result of Evangelical churches. Several members of their congregations are usually poor with little to give. But after giving tithes and offerings, many poor people sacrifice what little they have. This impoverishes the congregation, making them incapable of managing their financial affairs at home including educating their children, providing adequate shelter, and starting their own businesses to escape the brunt of poverty. Instead, they invest in churches and pastors and are passive about making the changes needed to achieve better lives.  

Church activities often need active involvement of their congregation. This means people need to sacrifice time to their churches. The time is spent helping with church service duties, attending overnight prayers, and going on church missions that take them away from their home cities. This dedication takes up a lot of time. That can lead to congregation members neglecting their children and family needs under the guise of serving their churches. 

It may seem all negative, but that is not always the case. Churches have helped teach people good behavior in society. Many teachings, like the Ten Commandments, serve as a guide on how to conduct yourself in society. To some extent, this maintains law and order. Christian churches only become a challenge when their power is abused.  

Some countries like Rwanda have set up laws limiting church activities. These laws have led to the closure of 8000 churches. Some of the reasons they were closed include making too much noise and playing with the faith of Rwandans. Rwanda has added the requirement of a theology degree for church leaders to reduce scammers. 

While this is happening in Rwanda, it is difficult for other African countries to implement similar policies. Political leaders are dependent on the support of religious leaders. It is a tale of “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” During election time especially, because churches are great places to solicit votes, politicians use church leaders trusted by their congregation. Therefore, despite some of the clear evils taking place through churches, limiting them is a difficult political decision. 

Maybe a better direction would be better government efficiency by providing for their citizens. Eradicating poverty, creating better standards of living, and adequate education could be the best way forward. They could be the root issues why many Africans turn to churches, too.

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Simon Mwebaze

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