God is BIG business. If you don’t believe me, ask any preacher or prophet or son of God in any charismatic denomination and you’ll have your answer. You can also look no further than Mfonobong Nsehe’s profiling of the Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria . Theirs are religious franchises- think Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy, David Oyedepo’s Living Water World Outreach Ministry, etc.
The former reminds me of my varsity years when fellow-students had a knack for doing that distinctive hairstyle that looked like an entire jar of gel was used on the hair (to mimic Oyakhilome’s, I suppose) and with the latter I recall the period just before Y2K when some were happy to swap their frilly Sunday skirts for jeans to church.
The age of men and women of the cloth living near-pauper existences seems to be a thing of the past. Nsehe sums it up nicely by writing, “…while the Bible expressly states that salvation is free, at times it comes with a cost; offerings, tithes, gifts to spiritual leaders…”
For me, this brings memories of sitting in church a few months ago with about twenty Rand in my purse-my last money- wondering if it would be enough to pay for the second of two offerings in one service (plus tithe). There were also subtle threats that one’s blessings would be locked up somewhere if tithe is not paid.
On about two occasions that I sat in that church, one couldn’t help but feel as if we’d just switched on to a sales channel as the prophet brought out the big guns: A bottle of ‘holy’ perfume that he endorsed for being able to help one attract a divine partner and any other opportunity one desired. He also brought out a bottle of anointed oil, originally bottled as a combination of olive & other essential oils from Checkers. Yep, that green bottle behind the pew. No less than R 100 a pop.
As the witchcraft trilogy comes to conclusion, I am reminded of Newton’s third Law of motion; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this instance, the belief in witchcraft, -while for years has filled the coffers of traditional/witch-doctors through individuals who sought to ‘protect’ themselves and/or cause harm to others- also created a gap in the spiritual “market” which continues to be exploited by charismatic evangelists.
Sitting among a group of people during deliverance and hearing some bizarre testimonies, as well as a conversation with a very religious friend of mine proved just how seriously witchcraft is taken. Since I couldn’t point a finger at anyone specific for my apparent ‘misfortune’ (nobody had been killed by my prayers) I had to wonder if witchcraft mechanics fear big city lights; whether they prefer to roam around in the still darkness that characterizes most villages instead.
An article by BBC Africa Live states that witchcraft has, for many years played a role in rebellions, fighting wars and possibly found its way into every nook and cranny of society. This has made the success of charismatic churches an easy one, as they laugh all the way to the bank for commodifying God and identifying a spiritual gap that conventional churches seemingly can’t fill.
Most importantly, the charismatic movement continues to appeal to the need for instant gratification that a lot of people have. For some, money is no issue if they can get their divine partner, marriage, money, or if they can get those haters off their backs. Many are attracted by the idea of attaining things they haven’t worked a day in their lives for; many are desperate for miracles. Are they any different to a person who visits a traditional doctor to achieve the same result? Is it a case of the kettle calling the pot black?
I believe that a lot of people cannot deal with their reality, especially if it turns out to be less than desirable. I also believe that one’s overall perception can be affected by that. Some resort to extreme measures, others look to faith and others remain despondent. In all situations every action has consequences.
It would be naïve for anyone to assume that there aren’t things bigger than us-(good or bad) or people who always stand to gain from others’ misfortune – yet we must always remember that the universe works in our favour once we learn to be the masters of our individual destinies.
In closing, consider this Bible verse: Matthew 7:15