Miracles, expensive cars, exorcisms, bodyguards, power, big money you name it: welcome to the extraordinary world of the millionaire preachers in Kenya today. Religion is big business in Kenya and more so with the hundreds of mushrooming churches headed by ranting usually semi-literate bombastic evangelical shamans who have refined the art of peddling superstitions by every means, including the hiring of actors to pose as "chronically ill patients" with the most preposterous ailments and "prove," by subtle impudent tricks, the "healing power of the Holy Spirit".
By promoting a dream of escaping poverty, they have turned their churches into money making corporations, which are changing the face of Christianity, slowly evolving into a bedlam filled with the insane ravings of pastors and “Bishops" peddling their Miracles. From a birds eye view it is increasingly becoming impossible to tell the difference between madmen, hallucinés getting visions of God from cannabis sativa, and shysters fleecing the semi-literate Kenyans with mystic gabble.
The development of the myriad of Christian sects in Kenya during the past two decades has seen the progressive elimination from their leaders of all elements of basic human shame and decency.
On each and every Sunday, millions of Kenyans crowd into thousands of competing churches where you are bound to find more than 2000 people at events euphemistically billed as the Prophetic Revival, Blessing Crusade, Jesus Harvest Festival, Power of Anointing etc. and one cannot imbibe so much of this evangelical gibberish without feeling queasy and dizzy,
By and large the activities follow a rather stage managed and predictable pattern common to all of them. After a rock-star entrance, the pastor begins his service by exorcising the demons and consecrating his congregation. Many Kenyan Pentecostal Christians believe that demons and evil spirits are the root cause of their problems in life and come to their “Bishop”s\pastors to get rid of them. Men and women have the evil spirits inside them expelled in dramatic and eye-catching and obviously stage-managed performances. For the detached keen watcher, it is not uncommon to see a hitherto upright walking man or woman being aided to the stage lame and blind where the healing power of the Holy Spirit is channeled into him and he is miraculously healed! Sick members of the congregation come forward for miracle healing. These pastors claims to have God-given powers that can change people's lives, from curing diseases, guaranteeing business success, wealth creation, job promotions, finding the right spouse to eve raising people from the dead!
At the close of the event the basket is passed around the crowd where so much money is handed over that the baskets overflow. Worshippers have been led to believe that those who give money are repaid by God with good fortune. You must give in order to receive. Amen! Kenyan Pentecostal Christians believe giving 10% of their income will bring God's blessing into their lives, their families and their businesses. With the service over, the holy men leave in their flashy Hummers, Benz, and other big wheeled 4x4 fuel guzzlers worthy of a humble servant of the Lord while their flock now filled with the Holy Spirit trump their way back into the slums and shanties to continue the treadmill that has become Kenyas daily nightmare.
It is an incontrovertible fact that every “Bishop” worth his salt in Kenya today is utilizing his talents in marketing and peddling of all forms of Salvation to expand his Ministry throughout the country. Key to this growth is the emphasis on prosperity preaching: teaching that prosperity is a sign of spiritual blessing. The idea is that to become rich, you should give money to the church.
To achieve this, Pentecostal “Bishops" in Kenya tap into the Kenyan dream: the aspiration of having and being seen to have cars, houses, money and power. To get more people to join his church, it is typical of every “Bishop” to portray the right image -flaunting the trappings of the wealth his church has brought him, travelling everywhere with a retinue of luxury cars and bodyguards, and living in the posh suburbs with incomes of millions of Kenya shillings though it's almost impossible to establish their true wealth since they themselves are shy to disclose for obvious reasons. This business model is not a new one. Most of the richest pastors in Kenya have used similar methods of expansion.
The power and value of a church has nothing to do with the personality or probity of its founder and Kenyans are known to be a very spiritually gullible people. This has made it possible for any ambitious tailor, retired whore, clever confidence man, reformed gangster or disgruntled housewife to make themselves important and holy, have "revelations" and pitch the woo at gullible Kenyans and fleece them. The business has attracted even Kenyan celebrities and musicians. Some “Bishop”s have used their power base to run for political posts believing that the principles of prosperity preaching will provide a better future for Kenya.
Asked how they reconcile their wealth and celebrity status with the life and teaching of Jesus, the story is that Jesus was never a person of humble financial resources. He was a rich prince who even had an accountant following him around to take care of his finances. Therefore it is the wish of Jesus that “Bishops" be rich and wealthy. It is the will of the devil and a sure sign of sin for the anointed to be poor! This type of arrogant and incredulous gospel is vomitted on the bare feet of a gullible flock who are poor but nevertheless hardworking Kenyans struggling in harsh economic times to eke out a living, surviving on less than one US dollar per day. To say the least, a noxious ideology which makes contemptible mockery of a "social gospel" and degenerates into peddling hypocritical irrationality.
For the few of us in Kenya today who can see all this religiosity for what it is(i.e a grand con game to fleece poor Kenyans of their hard earned cash), never has the need for a thorough education of the Kenyan folk been so urgently and so keenly felt. It is a tall order indeed given the fact that Kenyans are notoriously religious(See the 2006 publication of the U.S. State Department for Religious Freedom) and are desperate in their need to believe in any sly charlatan who promises them heaven while ensuring that the present hell they are living in never ameliorates. Educating them or to be more precise "diseducating" them is akin to dashing their hopes in a better future-in heaven something they will not take lying down.
And although the Kenyan constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice, some of us have been wondering loudly if the government should not step in and put some regulation on how far some “Bishops" should be allowed to fleece their flock all in the name of Jesus.
And as far as there is hope for us, it lies, I think, in the belated awakening of like minded Kenyan Agnostics. Atheists, Freethinkers etc who need to pull together and sensitize the ordinary Kenyan mwananchi and exposed them to factual hope and not the ignorant hope that is being so energetically peddled about by our pastors and “Bishops".
Some time back, I suggested that Africa was going to be the new hunting ground for the RC church. I have to say that finding an evangelical movement taking similar advantage of an ill-educated and superstitious people does more to depress than to surprise me.
Meantime, P. T. Barnum's alleged quote about "one born every minute and two to take him" continues to reverberate in my head. Does a whole people have to dive headfirst into idiocy before they can be pulled out?
We in the US have a history of such preachers, but they haven't been quite as successful overall as those you describe. We've also learned that public debunking, such as proving that their confederates use radio to feed them information, is only a temporary setback. On the other hand well publicized debunking, in the form of TV entertainment, does over time make the public less gullible. Even fictional stories, repeated in enough variety, generate a salutary credulity. The alternate story line will stick in their heads, and they'll remember fictional characters fleeced and brought to ruin by such doings. In other words, fight their memes with our own memes.
Expecting the government to counter this baloney isn't likely to work. They can always whip up their thousands of citizen puppets to their defense.
Jesus was rich and had an accountant? What version of the bible is that in? Overwhelmingly, the new testament describes a Jesus who was against the rich, and the early church was anti-wealth as well. I don't know how you fight these opportunists and marketers of false hope, fraud, and manipulation. It's not just in Africa, but from the news report, there is a lot of that there.
"some of us have been wondering loudly if the government should not step in and put some regulation on how far some “Bishops" should be allowed to fleece their flock all in the name of Jesus."
Godmen fleecing poor and gullible people in the name of god: this happens in modern day India too but things are not as bad as they appear to be in Kenya. Educating the believers is a long process and a government action may also bring complications. Under the circumstances, however, there does not seem to be any alternative to government's action as it is the government's duty to see that the country's citizen are not duped. Some courageous people have to prod the government to action. Government's action will also help accelerate awareness among people.
Jabal, I read Madhukar's responses to your articles and I am just enraged by the exploitation and manipulation of the "40 million bishops" of which you write. Please include me as your friend and keep me posted on your progress in governmental intervention and regulate "Bishops".
Madhukar asked some compelling questions:
"Why was Jabal Kawanja so overwhelmingly neglected?"
"Was it because he is not an American?"
"Are we only interested in religious aggressiveness in America?"
"Are we more interested only in whining in the name of Jesus and not truly interested in Atheism?"
I agree with Madhukar and realize I/we need effective strategies to counteract the superstitions that disable vulnerable people.
Thank you, Jabal, for writing about challenges you face.
Thank you, Madhukar, for alerting me to his fine reporting.