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The challenge of 'prophets' and 'profits' in Uganda

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Added 13th March 2017 10:53 AM

A theology that idolises wealth has something fundamentally wrong at its core.

The challenge of 'prophets' and 'profits' in Uganda

A theology that idolises wealth has something fundamentally wrong at its core.

By Fr. Fred Jenga

As indigenous Pentecostal pastors trade insults and accuse each other of conspiracy and of being phony, it may be time again for us to reflect on Pentecostalism in Uganda and particularly interrogate the prosperity theology that now undergirds the new version of the Balokole movement.

A theology that idolises wealth has something fundamentally wrong at its core.

Classical Western Pentecostalism traces its origins in the 1901 Pentecostal events at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas USA led by former Methodist pastor Charles Parham; and the 1906 Azusa Street revivals in Los Angeles led by African-American preacher William Seymour.

Key features of Pentecostalism include an emphasis on personal conversion through Jesus Christ, centrality of scripture, intense prayer and enthusiastic worship, and baptism in the Holy Spirit manifested through a transformed life and signs such as faith healing and and speaking in tongues (glossolalia); just as it was on the first Pentecost in Acts 2:1-39 of the Bible.

Different churches associated with classical Pentecostalism such as the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, the Elim Church, the Full Gospel Church, and the Deliverance Church have been operative in Uganda as early as the 1960s but largely operated incognito. Simon Kasirye, relator of Pentecostalism in Uganda observes that the arrival in Uganda in 1972 of Ghanian ‘Prophet' John Obiri Yeboah injected into Pentecostalism an African flavor.

Yeboah who conducted several healing crusades in Kampala around the Clock Tower gave birth to the Redeemed Churches in Uganda that served as training grounds for several of Uganda's current crop of prominent indigenous Pentecostal pastors.

Pentecostal churches almost died out or operated under home fellowships during Idi Amin's time but when freedom of worship was restored for all in Uganda the underground Pentecostal cells resurfaced in the 1980s and 1990s as independent Biwempe churches (papyrus mat-built churches) under Ugandan pastors.

These neo-Pentecostal churches of the 1980s and 1990s primarily focused on faith healing, casting out demons, exuberant and ecstatic worship, fasting and intense prayer, and preached a gospel of repentance and being ‘born again' in the Holy Spirit.

The game changer for neo-pentecostal Ugandan churches came by way of establishment of partnerships with US American prosperity preachers.

The prosperity gospel primarily teaches that sickness and poverty can be overcome through faith, prayer, fasting, positive speech, and generous donations to God in the person and mission of the "Man of God."

The partnerships with US American preachers reconfigured the type of theology and practices that were adopted by indigenous Pentecostal pastors. Through imitation of big name US prosperity preachers such as Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Creflor Dollar, Ugandan neo-pentecostal pastors started hankering for celebrity statuses and adopted flamboyant lifestyles dramatized through expensive fashion, media presences, beachfront houses, and expensive fuel guzzlers such as Hummers complete with specialized number plates as a way of flaunting "God's blessings."

And because neo-pentecostal Churches are ordinarily independent, founder-led congregations that depend on the charisma and psychology of their founder, the majority of the founders are not financially accountable to anyone.

Endless money appeals wrapped in the theologically questionable doctrine of "Sowing the seed of faith" have now become central messages on pulpits. I acknowledge that pastoral work is expensive and money is needed to support church ministers, run churches and church projects, but the only solid financial obligations placed on Christians in the Bible are the offertory and the tithe. Other financial appeals can only be explained as functional costs or good will donations to valuable causes and projects.

The prosperity gospel has increasingly become discredited in the US where it came from - even among mainline Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of God, and here we are in Uganda getting started! 

Writer is a Catholic priest and doctoral student of The University of Texas at Austin

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