The Folly of Regulating Religion
We have reached an interesting situation in Zambia where we apparently need the government to “protect” us from crooked preachers. From Nigerian Prophet Andrew Egimadu (aka Seer 1), Malawian Prophet Shepherd Bushiri to Zimbabwean Prophet Eubert Madzanire (aka Uebert Angel) who was apparently denied entry into the country, the list of Men of God…, er sorry, Men of Gold that are being either thrown out of Zambia or blocked from entering is growing (Interesting how they are all “prophets”).
We are told that these characters are charlatans and we need to protect our “values” as Zambians by stopping them from preying on gullible unsuspecting citizens. I totally agree that most of these so-called “Men of God” are fake and often prey on the people they preach to. I however take issue with the way they are being dealt with because it is leading us down a very slippery slope towards a huge ditch.
Let us start with the essential question of who is the absolute judge to decide for us who is a fake or genuine preacher and what are the correct Zambian “values”. What objective standard is used to pass judgment on preachers? How different are the fake foreign preachers from some of our local Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers right here in Zambia who also peddle teachings about God rewarding you and making you prosperous when you tithe and give offerings?
If indeed we need protection from fake preachers who are conning us out of money, then we should immediately ban Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and Radio Christian Voice (RCV) in Zambia since they regularly broadcast teachings from the same kinds of questionable preachers. We should not only ban TBN, but also TB Joshua’s Emmanuel TV and also block all channels on satellite TV that host these Men and Women of Gold since thanks to VISA and MasterCard, I can send my “love offering” to any TBN preacher from my living room after being promised an abundance of prosperity and healing from all my illnesses. I need protection from this scam!
Some American prosperity preachers who feature prominently on TBN such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer and others have been investigated in America over the lavish lifestyles they lead (funded by donations often based on promises of healing and prosperity) without paying any taxes.
Atheists and people of other faiths such as Buddhism, Judaism and Islam can probably make a strong argument that the entire system of Christianity that is based on promises of going to heaven is also just another big scam. Churches receive donations in form of tithes and offerings which they then use for their sustenance as they keep teaching every week that there is an afterlife in heaven.
Non-believers will argue that Christian churches are no different in principle from the Men and Women of Gold. The Men of Gold promise miracles, healing and wealth while churches for 2,000 years have been promising going to heaven and living in mansions there. Churches present themselves as being called by God himself to teach you the way to get to heaven by believing in and obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ. All churches get your money (based on promises) the same way the Men of Gold get your money (also based on promises).
Going a step further, what about churches that teach questionable doctrines? Should they be banned? Should the Mormons be banned since they teach that an angel called Moroni appeared to some guy called Joseph Smith and revealed some new hidden teachings, leading to the Book of Mormon being produced in 1830 that is treated on par with the Christian Bible?
What about the Seventh Day Adventists whom many in Christianity consider to be a cult, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not believe in blood transfusions? Is the government okay with a person being prevented from getting a blood transfusion because their church forbids it and they end up dying in hospital? Isn’t this more consequential than people being swindled out of money by Men of Gold?
What has happened to all the laws on fraud and obtaining money under false pretences? If indeed the idea is to weed out the fake swindler preachers, why not plant undercover police officers in their churches and do a sting operation and then take the preachers to court for obtaining money under false pretences? Why not launch an education campaign against the scams?
Since we need Government protection from such confidence scams, let there be issued a Statutory Instrument (SI) to ban all adverts in the local newspapers and magazines by witch doctors, spirit mediums, Psychics and traditional healers that promise all manner of great outcomes such as passing exams, recovering stolen property, reclaiming adulterous wayward husbands, communicating with dead loved ones, getting a job or enlarging body parts. Surely the same logic must apply here.
As is evident by now, the stance taken against the Men and Women of Gold is patently absurd and untenable. Although not always, an absurdity is usually a sign of something not quite above board. We are now hearing whispers from Kachepa Kachepa suggesting that Uebert Angel is rumoured to have donated money to the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) which is allegedly why he was blocked from getting into Zambia.
This story was reported by Bulawayo 24 News in an article entitled “Zambia intelligence agency accuses Uebert Angel of ‘pumping’ millions into opposition” on 5th May 2017. The story was vehemently denied by the spokesperson of Angel’s church, Rikki Doolan. To quote from the article:
“Intelligence operatives of the Zambian Government have accused Uebert Angel of pouring millions into the opposition political party. Multimillionaire prophet and leader of the Good News Church, Uebert Angel was sucked into a political scuffle as the Zambian government accused him of funding the opposition party lead by Hakainde Hichilema.”
“Sources close to Prophet Angel say he was issued with a visa, however, the government operatives who met him at the airport listed a number of unreasonable conditions for him to follow should he opt to go into the country. But Uebert Angel refused to comply and he chose not to go into Zambia. However, a source in the prophet’s camp vehemently says it’s fiction.”
“‘Angel doesn’t know anything about the opposing leader in fact he has never met or seen Hichilema,’ said our source. Speaking to Onward Christian Radio, Rikki Doolan the spokesperson … said, ‘Prophet Uebert Angel is an apolitical leader, he is a Christian leader not aligned to any political party but God’.”
In yet another possible twist to this whole saga, Hjoe Moono suggested in his article “The Economics of Religion in Zambia: The Fight of the ‘Prophets‘” published in Lusaka Times on 18th May 2017 that all this might be just a sinister ploy to kill competition from foreign preachers for tithes and offerings after a lobbying campaign from local preachers. Who knows.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance has powers to register or de-register churches and religious organizations and apparently, they can get the Immigration Department to throw out any foreign person they deem to be a fake preacher. What happens one day in the future when the Minister at the time decides to de-register the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) or the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) because they are judged to be getting too political?
What happens if some preachers in Zambia begin criticizing the government more strongly and their churches get shut down for “meddling” into politics instead of sticking to religion? It is of great concern that so much power can be vested in a single office to make such decisions. At the rate we are going, someone one day may take the government to court over religious freedoms which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the constitution.
When the United States of America was founded in 1789, they were very strong on an important principle; Separation of Church and State. This was in large part due to many immigrants in America running away from state sanctioned religious persecution in Europe. The American founding fathers in their wisdom could see that when religion gets too much into politics, you end up with all sorts of nasty problems.
In conclusion, I contend that there is no person with the knowledge, skill or wisdom to make any definitive judgments on matters of religion on behalf of Zambians. It is not the role of government to protect people from their own stupidity as if they are little children.