The Sunday News
A debate arose the past week on why a prominent pastor in one of Zimbabwe’s prominent churches poured “anointing” oil on chairs.
Myth, conspiracy and fact clashed, with some widely claiming that the charge to sit on the “anointing” oil cost US$500 and those claiming privy to fact saying it was a “short cut” to anointing without any charge for people to queue and touch the “anointing” oil (quite ingenious and energy saving strategy if it’s true).
Amid all this I reckoned that the debate was a product of the growing distrust in religion in our society because of many instances when the Bible has been used to molest young boys, rape innocent women, rob people of their hard earned money, spray people with an insecticide and turn them to grazers and even tell people that you called “God’ on your earthly cellphone. Miracles in the faith industry never seem to end, but the debate on how the State has to respond to such should begin.
Zimbabwe’s constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious belief and provides for freedom of religion and the freedom to practice, propagate, and give expression to one’s religion, in public or in private and alone or with others. It even allows prison inmates to communicate with and receive visits by their chosen religious counsellor.
However, the constitution stipulates these rights may be limited by a law in a state of emergency or by a law taking into account, among other things, the interests of defence; public safety, order, morality, or health; regional or town planning; or the general public interest.
Then the question arises: At what point does the State recognise that there is “general public interest” threatened and in need of protection to begin a probe on limitations of religious practices?
In 2014, Robert Martin Gumbura, a Pastor was sentenced to 50 years in prison for rape when his excuse was that there was consent with the female congregants to whom he used his religious capital to sexually exploit.
Not only that, Gumbura was rich, and he is not the only ridiculously rich church leader.
In 2012, a pastor sold ball pens at an exorbitant price to Zimsec examination candidates, while in 2015 a pastor was selling “anointed” maize cobs in church with another selling “anointed” condoms.
These are snippets of Pentecostal churches, not-withstanding some sects of Apostolic religion who have visions of marrying toddler girls and impregnating them with extents of refusing them medical assistance.
With the little mentioned here, does it not qualify as “public” interest that needs protection, one may ask, but the response is not easy because this issue has legal hurdles and prosecuting and regulating spirituality is arguably the hardest policy a secular government can come up with.
Despite that difficulty, the conversation about religion and its propensities in our society should begin. That conversation should get rid of heuristic anecdotes because drawing up policies that enable responsibility in spirituality should be as objective as possible.
In South Africa, Timothy Omotosu is facing allegations not so different from Gumbura. And as the year began, Major 1 (was facing a fraud charge in South African courts), not forgetting the resurrection of Elliot by Pastor Lukau. Is it perhaps the challenge is because the Government does not require religious groups to register?
However, religious groups operating schools or medical facilities must register those institutions with the appropriate ministry.
Psychologist Nigel Barber predicted in 2012 that globally “non-believers” would surpass religious believers by 2038 (Barber 2012), as standards of living would improve in many countries (see also Norris and Inglehart 2004).
He defined this as 50 percent or more of the population “disbelieving in God” or being what he called “atheist”. We may not live to see the outcome of this prediction, but we have reason to doubt it, certainly in the case of Africa.
Few people would contest the continued importance that religion holds in African life, in terms of not only numbers of adherents, but also the vast scope of religious experiences and the links between religion and politics and public life. Recent decades — coinciding with the wave of democratisation and economic liberalisation efforts starting in about 1990 — have also shown unrelenting growth in the public presence of religion in Africa.
A quick look at recent figures from the well-known Pew Research Centre surveys shows that religion is not declining in Africa, and that more affluence does not necessarily correlate with loss of faith.
In 2010, 69 to 98 per cent of inhabitants (depending on the country) were believers in God, the literal truth of the scriptures and Biblical or Qur’anic rules, went to mosque or church regularly, and followed most other religious injunctions.
Nine out of ten said that religion was “very important” in their lives (Pew Forum 2010: 3). Practices like sacrifices to spirits and ancestors were seen as important by approximately 27 per cent of all people, reflecting the continued relevance of such so-called “traditional” religious practices. Striking also were the figures on support for Biblical or Shari’a/Qur’anic law: The median figure of Christians across African countries who supported making the Bible “the official law of the land” was 60 per cent; among Muslims referring to the Qur’an, the corresponding figure was 63 per cent: clear majorities (Pew Forum 2010: 11).4
In most countries, more than half of Christians also believe in the “prosperity gospel”, meaning that God will grant them wealth and good health if they have or show enough faith (Pew Forum 2010: 2).
From 66 to 93 percent of people wanted their political leaders to have strong religious beliefs; most even agreed to their being of a faith different from their own (Pew Forum 2010: 52).