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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

God`s men and lust for money

8th April 2012

When President Jakaya Kikwete accused some servants of God of dealing in drugs, Church leaders reacted furiously, giving him a 72-hour ultimatum to name those suspected to be involved in the illicit drug trade.

However, little did the servants of God know that some amongst them, driven mainly by the lust for quick wealth, were dealing in drug trafficking. A few weeks later, it was established that various servants of God had been nabbed with drugs valued at billions of shillings.

In 2010, a preacher was arrested for being in possession of an albino’s bones, which he was about to smuggle to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo during an evangelical rally he was scheduled to minister in Kinshasa.

Between 2001 and 2007 a prominent Pentecostal bishop was involved in the buying and smuggling of diamonds and gold to Dubai on his missions to preach abroad. Today the bishop is very rich, thanks to the trust the government and the public had in him.

Three years ago, Tanzania was rocked by a Ponzi scheme known as DECI that was a replicate of dramatic fraud done in Jesus’ name in United States of America, which is captured in a documentary called, “American Greed’.

"American Greed"", CNBC's six-part primetime series, focuses on how greed changes people's lives. This unprecendented original primetime series begins with story of a skilled fisherman and expert Ponzi scam artist angling for big money and reeling them in - luring over 50 local investors into a promising start-up, taking approximately $2 million. The schemes continue with art theft, including behind-the-scenes footage from inside a West Hollywood heist that is still on the FBI's top 10 list of art crimes.

Nearly two thousands years ago, the Apostle Paul, a lawyer and an anti-Christ who later turned out to be one of the staunchest followers of Jesus, warned about the love of money when he said in Heb 13:5: "Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have."

Paul wasn’t alone. Luke, a man of God who is believed to have documented the most authentic and accurate events about Jesus Christ, also warned in Chapter 16:13: "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

In the book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon, Christians are taught about the virtues of moderate wealth in Proverbs 30:8-9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God. If poverty is accompanied by physical dangers, prosperity is accompanied by spiritual dangers. God will often move us through both for the purpose of testing us.”

But today the Church has been overtaken by the lust for money, and even within congregations those who get the most respect are the rich and powerful.

They get the front seats in our churches, influence key decisions, and sometimes bribe to get what they need or want.

Very few servants of God still remember the teachings of the Bible about the lust for money and the danger of serving two masters. The majority of God’s servants today have fallen in love with money, prefer to live a lavish lifestyle, though on rare occasions such as today (Easter) they will pretend to condemn the lust for money, corruption and a lavish lifestyle.

As millions of Christians in Tanzania today join their fellow believers around the globe to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to mark 1967 years since he was brutally crucified on the cross, Christianity is at the crossroads, clouded by get-rich evangelists, politics, corruption and, above all, lust for wealth.

It’s believed that Jesus Christ was born in AD 1 and crucified when he was between 33 and 35 years old.

Gone are the days when Jesus used a donkey to ride into Jerusalem, for nowadays pastors compete to own luxurious vehicles and mansions, but at the expense of the body of Christ - the Church.

Today nearly all the churches have been tainted by corruption, politics, and the lust for wealth, a situation which has paved the way for the mushrooming of Pentecostal Churches in the country.

But inside tales from these prosperous churches, which have become a haven for believers tired of politics in their former denominations, leave one wondering whether they are really servants of God or just imposters trying to exploit the name of Jesus to defraud people.

Think about a pastor who owns a luxurious Hummer car, a Toyota VX-V8 gas guzzler and a palatial mansion while his congregation prays under a tree or in an abandoned government building. Think about a pastor trading in albino body parts to get rich, or a bishop who smuggles cocaine and heroine into the country in order to destroy our youth – and yet has the audacity to preach the gospel.

Think about pastors travelling all the way to Nigeria to undergo rituals to beef up their powers to cast demons or heal the sick. Think about bishops who condemn corruption at the pulpit but are still in love with money obtained through corrupt deals.

Think about bishops who criticize the government for owning luxurious four-wheel-drive vehicles while they also crave the very same fuel guzzlers. Think about an emerging crop of gay bishops and the future of Christianity. Think about same-sex marriages being solemnized by some churches.

Whether measured by the number of years it has spread across the globe or the number of believers who joined Christianity since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the truth is that the body of Christ is at the crossroads.

In his article titled, ‘Christianity in crisis,’ published by Newsweek Magazine early this week, Andrew Sullivan says that Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. (See separate story)

But he offers a very narrow solution, which is often used by the servants of God to cover up their sins, “Don’t follow me, just follow Jesus.”

The defence for those ‘raping the altar’ in God’s name has always been, “Don’t look at me, just follow God.” But this is in contradiction to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. In the epistle of Mathew 5:14, Jesus told his disciples, “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.”

According to Jesus’ teachings, men of God should live a simple but pure life filled with God’s glory so that whenever we, the disciples, look at them we see godly spirit and behaviour in them.

During the 1990s to the present day there has been a mushrooming of churches whose preachers concentrate on material prosperity and miracles in Tanzania. From Bishop Moses Kulola to Danstan Haule Maboya, Reverend Gwajima to Reverend Lusekelo and many more, revival churches have really rocked the country during the past two decades.

But the gospel has been overshadowed by get-rich evangelists who are willing to do anything to bask in human glory and amass fortunes at the expense of God and the believers.

Tanzania, like most other African countries still struggling against the seemingly unwinnable war against poverty, has witnessed in recent years the emergence of the so-called ‘gospel of prosperity’ which, in Africa, has its origin in Nigeria.

Taking advantage of massive poverty among the masses and the prevalence of a number of non-curable diseases such as Aids and cancer, the new wave of preachers have managed to attract millions of desperate souls by preaching the gospel of success and divine healing.

Clouded by testimonies of healing miracles and success stories, the new breed of preachers have managed not only to attract millions of desperate souls, but to get rich quickly themselves, thanks to the cash bounties from their believers.

In Dar es Salaam, seeing these kind of preachers you first pay for it, then book an appointment. Throughout the New Testament at no time did Jesus charge money to heal the sick, cast the demons or perform miracles. Nor did he demand payment for serviced already provided in the guise of thanking the benefactor.

“We are in crisis…believers pay to see their pastors for prayers or counselling,” a Protestant bishop, who preferred anonymity, says.

The bishop further reveals, “Some preachers use witchcraft from Nigeria to perform miracles as well as demonstrate magical powers…we are all occupied with powers and wealth.”

Though Jesus’ times vary greatly from ours, the word of God has always been the same, no matter how many revolutions and evolutions human beings have undergone during the past 2000 years.

While Jesus preached about a heavenly kingdom, which can’t be achieved through material prosperity but spiritual opulence, some of our today’s preachers go to great lengths to build a worldly kingdom.

“As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores in his unsparing new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, many suburban evangelicals embrace a gospel of prosperity, which teaches that living a Christian life will make you successful and rich.” Sullivan writes in his article published by Newsweek.

Sullivan further writes, “All of which is to say something so obvious it is almost taboo: Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial—or that most Catholics, even regular churchgoers, have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust”.

A few wealthy Nigerians, including some pastors, spent at least $225 million acquiring private jets between March 2010 and March 2011, the Forbes magazine reported early last year.

According to the Forbes report, apart from wealthy business tycoons, Nigerian clergymen and spiritual leaders are also joining the elite league of private executive jet owners.

In March 2011, David Oyedepo, a Nigerian cleric generally believed to be Africa’s wealthiest gospel preacher, acquired a Gulfstream V jet for $30 million. Oyedepo, who presides over the Winners Chapel, one of Africa’s largest churches, now owns a private collection of four aircraft. In addition to his latest acquisition, he previously owned two Gulfstream planes and a Bombardier Challenger aircraft. He is also reportedly creating a private hanger to accommodate his flying toys.

Pastor Oyedepo’s Church has strong support in Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Arusha, having made some inroads into Tanzania in the 1990s.

Oyedepo is not the only Nigerian clergyman to own a jet. Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the revered overseer of Nigeria’s largest congregation, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, is also a proud jet owner. In March 2009, the great man of God spent $30 million on a Gulfstream jet amidst widespread criticism. Pastor Sam Adeyemi, another cleric and founder of Daystar Christian Centre, a flourishing Pentecostal congregation which repeatedly preaches financial prosperity, is also a jet owner.

It’s not cheap to own a private jet. On average, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to maintain a personal plane. The majority of Nigerians frown at such flagrant displays of opulence, particularly on the part of their clergymen, given that 60 per cent of Nigerians still live below the poverty line.

The success story of Nigerian pastors seems to have influenced many preachers in Tanzania, who have since taken the prosperity gospel as the centre piece of their sermons.

Today Christians are told that sickness is a curse - and so is poverty. If you are sick don’t visit a medical doctor, just pray and you will be healed. If you have no luxurious car or good house just start by believing that you have one, and one day you will have one in Jesus’ name.

Divine healing is not questionable at all, according to Christian teachings, but what is doubtful today is its application by some of our preachers as, for instance, when a preacher bars people from seeing a doctor when they fall sick because in so doing they prove to be faithless.

“I think the biggest obstacle is how we interpret the Bible, especially when it comes to our daily lives…sometimes you might think that the holy book contradicts itself, but it is we, human beings, who contradict ourselves,” the Protestant bishop says, adding that the Bible is very clear on everything.

“Prosperity-tinged Pentecostalism is growing faster not just than other strands of Christianity, but than all religious groups, including Islam. Of Africa's 1 billion people, 147 million are now ‘revivalists’ (a term that includes both Pentecostals and Charismatics), according to a 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study. They make up more than a fourth of Nigeria's population, more than a third of South Africa's, and a whopping 56 per cent of Kenya's,” an article by Christianity Today Magazine, which highlights the explosive growth of prosperity teaching in Africa, stated in 2009.

Pastor Michael Okonkwo rises from his gold-coated throne before 4,000 onlookers in Lagos, Nigeria. "Hallelujah!" bellows the self-proclaimed ‘father of fathers, pastor of pastors,’ wearing a glittery green gown. The crowd stands and roars, narrates Christian Today Magazine.

According to the magazine, a 62-year-old former banker and graduate of the Morris Cerullo School of Ministry in San Diego, California, Okonkwo touts a seminar called ‘Financial Intelligence’. If you've missed it he encourages you to buy the tapes. Okonkwo describes the ‘intelligence’ he preaches in his book, Controlling Wealth God's Way: "[M]any are ignorant of the fact that God has already made provision for his children to be wealthy here on earth. When I say wealthy, I mean very, very rich. … Break loose! It is not a sin to desire to be wealthy."

Bishop of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) since 1988, Okonkwo presides over the annual Kingdom Life World Conference of 150 prosperity-oriented churches. But tonight he yields the podium to the Rev. Felix Omobude, who urges the crowd to dream big. "There are so many dream killers around," he says. "Don't let them kill your dream."

There are many replicas of Bishop Okonkwo today in Tanzania and their number is growing daily as the search for material prosperity intensifies at the local level. But can Christians go back to the early days of Christianity by sticking to spiritual prosperity, stop politicking and shun the lust for money?

Sullivan offers another solution to becoming a ‘pure’ Christian. But does it really work in today’s world?

Back to Jesus

Where to start? Jefferson’s act of cutting out those parts of the Bible that offended his moral and scientific imagination is one approach. If you go to the second floor of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., you’ll find a small room containing an 18th-century Bible whose pages are full of holes. They are carefully razor-cut empty spaces, so this was not an act of vandalism. It was, rather, a project begun by Thomas Jefferson when he was a mere 27 years old.

Painstakingly removing those passages he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson literally cut and pasted them into a slimmer, different New Testament, and left behind the remnants (all on display until July 15). What did he edit out? He told us: “We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus.” He removed what he felt were the “misconceptions” of Jesus’ followers, “expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves.”

And it wasn’t hard for him. He described the difference between the real Jesus and the evangelists’ embellishments as “diamonds” in a “dunghill,” glittering as “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Yes, he was calling vast parts of the Bible religious manure.

But another can be found in the life of a well-to-do son of a fabric trader in 12th-century Italy, who went off to fight a war with a neighboring city, saw his friends killed in battle in front of him, lived a year as a prisoner of war, and then experienced a clarifying vision that changed the world. In Francis of Assisi: A New Biography, Augustine Thompson cuts through the legends and apocryphal prayers to describe Saint Francis as he truly lived.

Gone are the fashionable stories of an erstwhile hippie, communing with flowers and animals. Instead we have this typical young secular figure who suddenly found peace in service to those he previously shrank from: lepers, whose sores and lesions he tended to and whose company he sought—as much as for himself as for them.

The religious order that goes by his name began quite simply with a couple of friends who were captured by the sheer spiritual intensity of how Francis lived. His inspiration was even purer than Jefferson’s. He did not cut out passages of the Gospels to render them more reasonable than they appear to the modern mind. He simply opened the Gospels at random—as was often the custom at the time—and found three passages.

They told him to “sell what you have and give to the poor,” to “take nothing for your journey,” not even a second tunic, and to “deny himself” and follow the path of Jesus. That was it. So Francis renounced his inheritance, becoming homeless and earning food by manual labour. When that wouldn’t feed him, he begged, just for food—with the indignity of begging being part of his spiritual humbling.

Francis insisted on living utterly without power over others. As stories of his strangeness and holiness spread, more joined him and he faced a real dilemma: how to lead a group of men, and also some women, in an organization. Suddenly, faith met politics. And it tormented, wracked, and almost killed him. He had to be last, not first. He wanted to be always the “lesser brother,” not the founder of an order. And so he would often go on pilgrimages and ask others to run things. Or he would sit at the feet of his brothers at communal meetings, and if an issue could not be resolved without his say-so, he would whisper in the leader’s ear.

As Jesus was without politics, so was Francis. As Jesus fled from crowds, so did Francis—often to bare shacks in woodlands, to pray and be with God and nature. It’s critical to recall that he did not do this in rebellion against orthodoxy or even Church authority.

He obeyed orders from bishops and even the pope himself. His main obsession wasn’t nature, which came to sublime fruition in his final “Canticle of the Sun,” but the cleanliness of the cloths, chalices, and ornaments surrounding the holy Eucharist.

His revulsion at even the hint of comfort or wealth could be extreme. As he lay dying and was offered a pillow to rest on, he slept through the night only to wake the next day in a rage, hitting the monk who had given him the pillow and recoiling in disgust at his own weakness in accepting its balm.

One of his few commands was that his brothers never ride a horse; they had to walk or ride a donkey. What inspired his fellow Christians to rebuild and reform the Church in his day was simply his own example of humility, service, and sanctity.

A modern person would see such a man as crazy, and there were many at the time who thought so too. He sang sermons in the streets, sometimes just miming them. He suffered intense bouts of doubt, self-loathing, and depression. He had visions. You could have diagnosed his post-war conversion as an outgrowth of post-traumatic-stress disorder. Or you can simply observe what those around him testified to: something special, unique, mysterious, holy.

To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labour, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.

What can Christians do?

To the true and devoted Christians, the solution is to read, understand and follow Jesus’ parable in Mathew 13: 24-43. Then Jesus used another parable to teach them. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man that planted good seed in his field. That night, all the people were asleep. The man's enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. Then the enemy went away. Later, the wheat grew and heads of grain grew on the wheat plants. But at the same time the weeds also grew. Then the man's servants came to him and said, 'You planted good seed in your field. Where did the weeds come from?'

The man answered, 'An enemy planted weeds.' The servants asked, 'Do you want us to go pull the weeds?' The man answered, 'No, because when you pull up the weeds, you might also pull up the wheat. Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At the harvest time I will tell the workers this: First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.'"

Additional report by Newsweek Magazine

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