Hunger for the word – and cash, have conspired to create an illicit commercial religion market that has potential to worsen the spread of COVID-19.
In terms of COVID-19 law, places of religious worship are allowed to conduct services twice a week, with a maximum of 50 people allowed to attend each service. However, some (mostly prosperity gospel) churches are circumventing this legal requirement by holding end-to-end services for different congregant groups (three in some instances) that can go up to six hours. The law prescribes two-hour services but these pastors rotate groups in and out, allocating two hours to each, to give the appearance of a single worship service. This happens mostly on Sundays – which is traditionally dedicated to worship – and when most congregants would be available for worship service. There are also after-work mid-week services but these are typically attended by far fewer congregants on account of crowded workweek schedules.
More worrisome though is that the worship space is not fumigated between these end-to-end services. This is risky because medical science says that the COVID-19 virus particles can float around in the air for up to four hours. Talking or singling in a loud voice (as happens in the church courtesy of the pastor and choir respectively) heighten the risk of spreading COVID-19.
It is not difficult to understand why this would be happening in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed and continues to claim lives across the globe. As at Friday, 734 people in Botswana had died due to COVID but prosperity gospel practitioners have never had any compunction about making money by all means necessary. At the start of the pandemic, Reverend Dr. Prince Dibeela, the Botswana National Front Vice President, said that he hoped that “prosperity gospel doesn’t survive coronavirus.” For now, it is still very much alive but its practitioners are not making as much money as they did before the pandemic. That is because far fewer congregants are able to come to church and the duration of worship services is limited.
Like everybody else, believers have also been creative in how they circumvent legal requirements relating to COVID-19. In order to accommodate everyone, churches have developed rosters of which congregants should attend services and when but this is not good enough for some. The solution has come in the form of expanding home cells – small-group worship services hosted by congregants at their houses on a rotational basis. Whereas in the past home cells would be made up of small numbers of friends and last for a short period of time, the numbers are growing, the services are getting longer and enforcement of the COVID-19 public health regulations at some services is not stringent enough. Sunday Standard has direct knowledge of a home cell that meets every Sunday, lasts for some five hours and some of the people who attend don’t always wear cloth face masks.
From institutions to individuals to operational processes and systems, the pandemic has revealed that Botswana has a very low evolutionary resilience – ability to adapt to adverse events and change. In the past, such condition has caused whole societies to disappear completely from the face of the earth.