I am convinced that the easiest way to make money in Africa is to become a pastor or a politician. Both careers promise a following that will donate generously to your cause and defend you in the face of the indefensible. But whereas the African politician is often vilified, pastors are exalted. After all, they perform ‘miracles’ and promise a crossover from poverty to prosperity. Fortunately, the credibility of one these ‘men of God’ is being questioned after he demanded a spiritual contest between Ghanaian and Nigerian pastors to see who can perform the most miracles.
At first flush, the challenge sounds like an extension of the friendly rivalry that exists between Ghanaians and Nigerians - who created azonto (Ghana), who is better at soccer (Ghana), who speaks better English (of course, Ghana) - but a quick survey of churches across the continent reveals that the pastor, not Christ, has become the centre of the church. In countries like Ghana, Christianity has evolved from religion to what can only be described as competitive sport where the respect of the pastor is measured by the size of his congregation or the number of luxury cars parked around the church. Enter the average sanctuary and you will hear bejewelled men of God making dubious prophecies and twisting biblical quotations to manipulate their congregation to support their lavish lifestyle.
In many of these churches, the traditional papyrus Bible is all of a sudden insufficient. The pastor must have an iPad. The deacons and elders,they also have iPads, except they hold theirs towards their faces like mirrors to record the reverend’s preaching. Beyond hi-tech gadgets and fancy cars, the game changer lies in a pastor’s ability to do wonderful things like cast out evil spirits, and bless people with instant wealth. The miracle component is indeed a silent competition that exists among pastors. The greater your miracles, the larger the audience you will command. Very few pastors will admit to competing enviously for attention, but a few weeks ago, when Nigeria’s TB Joshua held a dangerously successful crusade in Ghana, ‘men of God’ could no longer suppress their jealousy.
For those who do not know, TB Joshua is arguably the most sought after pastor in Africa. His following is massive; politicians, businessmen and presidents seek his counsel. He has been credited with predicting the outcome of regional events to international tragedies like the Boston Bombing. So when word got out that he was going to host a mega revival in Accra, 45,000 people flocked to the premises of the Synagogue Of All Nations. They came to hear his prophetic words, but when it was announced that he would be giving out holy water; a stampede broke out. When the mayhem subsided, 13 were injured and 4 people were dead.
A particularly charged Ghanaian reverend, Adarkwa Yiadom, took to the radio stations and chastised Ghanaians for giving foreign pastors more attention than the local pastors who are more spiritually endowed. Apparently, the reports of people dying to get a drop of TB Joshua’s holy water, sent Yiadom over the edge and he demanded a spiritual face-off among men of God.
In a continent where the 1percent flaunt startling wealth before the struggling masses, it is easy to understand why the promise of supernatural deliverance sways so many. Between the rising cost of petrol, crushing hospital bills and exorbitant food prices, people find that neither hardwork nor the various microfinancing schemes can help them make ends meet. So they seek intervention from the spiritual realm to help them break the cycle of poverty. Those of the secular world dabble in juju, but Christians look down on this traditional practice. They rely instead on ‘sharp’ prophets to help them start a business, find a spouse or get a travel visa. The men of God respond by offering holy water, white handkerchiefs or powerful prayers which they claim will rebuke any evil force and usher in a period of prosperity.
The effectiveness of these spiritual tokens is hard to quantify, but the following that it garners is indisputable. Which is why many pastors focus less on the teachings of Christ and more on the so called miracles they can perform. That being said, there are phenomenal pastors in Africa and across the Diaspora who motivate individuals to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They challenge governments, advocate for the poor and heal the afflicted. But the majority are charlatans and they can be found on a melodramatic billboard nearest you.
Photo credit: Daniel Boateng