In carrying out what might seem like responsible legislative duty on the surface, MPs may only have succeeded in putting a certain category of church-goers in a highly precarious financial position.When a special session of parliament met at Boipuso Hall (the chamber at the National Assembly can’t facilitate extreme social distancing health measures), speaker after speaker called on the government to relax travel and gathering restrictions with regard to churches.
Serowe North MP, Baratiwa Mathoothe, said that rather than implement the 10-congregants-per-church requirement, churches should be individually assessed for how many members they can accommodate while complying with the COVID-19 regulations. He rightly pointed out that some churches are spacious enough to accommodate as many as 400 congregants. Mahalapye East MP, Yandani Boko, proposed that church pastors be added to the list of essential-services cadre in order that they can “offer spiritual counselling at a time like this.” During a bilingual presentation, Tonota MP, Pono Moatlhodi, philosophised about the importance of religion in people’s lives.
Opening up churches certainly sounds like a good idea because some people are too emotionally invested in them. However, Botswana churches don’t operate the same way. At the turn of the 21st century, there emerged a new type of church which only uses religion as a way of making money. Some 20 years later, prosperity gospel, as this business model is called, has been widely adopted in the country. Prosperity-gospel pastors, most of whom are foreigners from poor African countries, selectively quote the Bible to trick money out of the pockets of congregants each single day. This is something that MPs themselves are very well aware of.
For more than a month now, these prosperity-gospel entrepreneurs have been making huge losses and given how their business model is designed, will definitely seek to offset such losses with heavy capital inflows. However, some if not most congregants, have themselves made huge financial losses from the lockdown. Under godly circumstances, the latter should inspire compassion but prosperity-gospel practitioners have never been known to be compassionate and have never had any compunction about taking money from the poor. One lady says that during a daytime worship service with poor attendance, one pastor at a Mogoditshane church said that if those in attendance wanted to test the mightiness of the Almighty, they should put all of their combi fares in the collection plate.
He promised the congregation that God’s intercession on their behalf would come by way of causing cars to miraculously stop and give them free rides back home.Prosperity-gospel pastors also use adverse situations to extort money from congregants. They are naturally going to want to figure themselves into the COVID-19 story, may claim to have something to do with the fact that Botswana has few cases, claim credit for the recoveries and possibly blame this pandemic on the fact that congregants don’t pray and tithe enough.
This prediction of the future is based on what these pastors have done in the past.While MPs may have been justified in asking the government to relax COVID-19 restrictions for churches, they should also have cautioned church-goers about danger lurking in some churches and explore legal avenues that can be taken to protect congregants from the predation of prosperity-gospel entrepreneurs.In terms of the new regulations, churches can hold two services a week with 50 congregants attending.