Sunday, November 29, 2020

Government itself advertises prosperity gospel churches it is concerned about

There are countless instances of the government’s right hand not working collaboratively with the left hand. One relates to a long-running official campaign to rein in prosperity gospel churches.

The right hand is the Registrar of Societies which is rigorously (and maybe unethically) policing such churches. Its most pressing concern is that the blatantly commercial orientation of these churches impoverishes citizens. The left hand is the Department of Information and Broadcasting which, through Botswana Television (Btv), has given a platform to a succession of some of the most high profile prosperity gospel entrepreneurs who are plying their trade in the United States. That makes perfect sense: if you want viewership to go up and attract advertisers, you need to show the likes of Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn.

While Btv’s business case may be both sound and legitimate, featuring Kenneth Copeland not only advertises but also popularizes a brand of Christianity that the Registrar of Societies is gravely concerned about. To Copeland & Co., the most important scripture is that on tithing and other forms of religiously-inspired giving. As a direct result of pimping the tithing scripture to its last letter, Copeland (who is worth P7.6 billion) has impoverished millions of people around the world. Through the Registrar of Societies, the government is concerned about what prosperity gospel will do to a country that now ranks as one of the fifth most unequal in the world in terms of wealth and income. From the platform that Btv gives them, prosperity gospel entrepreneurs make a persuasive case of why religious-giving is an important part of faith. 

Down the food chain are local prosperity gospel entrepreneurs who also get a chance to deliver sermons on Btv. In fairness to them, they don’t give tithe sermons but evidently aim to make a good enough impression on viewers to attract members to their churches. Once inside church, it is very easy for these pastors to get to work on the minds of new members. There is a very good justification for featuring local content but because of what their brand of Christianity represents, local prosperity gospel entrepreneurs are a challenge in the stated manner.

There is every indication that local prosperity gospel entrepreneurs get their cues from the US where prosperity gospel (a natural evolution of capitalism) originated in the late 1970s. Based on examples from the US, Botswana pastors may soon raise funds to buy luxury jets. As a direct result of self-reported “conversations” with God, prosperity gospel pastors like Copeland and the appropriately-named Creflo Dollar have asked their flock to buy them very expensive luxury jets.

While it may seem virtuous, the policing of prosperity gospel has a downside to it because it is done by people who are worshippers themselves. Some are from mainstream churches that are panicked over losing members to prosperity gospel churches. The conflict of interest is plain to see.

In the latest spat between the government and the prosperity gospel establishment, the latter tried shutting down a South Africa-headquartered operation with a network that extends throughout Botswana. In the second week of 2018, the Registrar of Societies closed down the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church International which is owned by Malawian pastor, Shepherd Bushiri. The church had ignored a letter that implored it to give reasons why its registration should not be revoked. However, after a brief legal fight in which it was discovered that the police acted in undue haste, the church is back in business.

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Sunday Standard November 29 – 5 December

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of November 29 - 5 December, 2020.