The Holy Ghost Empire – ‘Prophecy’ is the new big business in Africa
Acts 8:9-13 of the Bible tells of Simon who entered Samaria proclaiming that he was an Ambassador of God. Many people believed him thinking that God was using him because of the magic he was performing.
Simon was operating in the comforts of his zone. He had no threat, no competitor and he easily made people believe that his power came from the Almighty.
But his comfort was to end soon, with the arrival of Phillip, one of the 12 who walked with Jesus, on the scene. He showed him up to be a fraud and that was the end of Simon.
This is a scene that has played itself out innumerable times in the 2 000-year history of Christianity.
Religion is a tool that is easy to use to gain prestige and wealth in the world.
Karl Marx called religion the opium of the masses, and perhaps rightly so. Opiates can be used to both heal and cause hallucinations. Whichever use they are employed for, however, they provide the user with some sort of comfort. And that is what religion does.
The real danger comes when religion is so grotesquely abused that it results in demeaning practices and theft of ordinary people’s hard-earned wealth.
Recently, a South African newspaper reported that in a “church service” presided over by one of the many “prophets” who have mushroomed across Africa, a woman had her genitals tampered with by the male sect leader in full view of the entire congregation.
The “prophet” claimed he was exorcising demons that were going to cause the young woman to “give birth to stones”.
Many people, when reading this story, would say the “prophet” was talking a load of nonsense. But millions of people across Africa give huge sums of money – sometimes all they have – to these sect leaders. And that is cause for concern.
The problem encountered when confronting these “prophets” is the embedded belief of the followers: you are told “touch not the anointed”. Hardly is there ever any talk of 1 John 4:1, which counsels us; “Believe not every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
But these sects and cults do not dwell much on the Bible, and when they quote Scripture they often do so out of context. So using Biblical passages to show up the fraud of these “prophets” is often futile. And yes, the Bible tells us to pass judgment – not hypocritical judgment, but righteous judgment (Matthew 7:1-5 and John 7:24).
The deceit by false prophecy is not a new practice; it is as old as life itself.
Jo Mangaliso Mdhlela, a respected South African Anglican priest and noted writer, explains that in the late 1930s through to early 1940s, a well-known sect predicted Armageddon or the demise of the world. To back up the end-time prediction, leaders of the sect produced tonnes and tonnes of propaganda material in which they explained how the demise of the world would come about.
In the process they raked in huge profits for themselves as gullible adherents, mostly less-educated believers, purchased tracts in their millions to gain “insight” and “knowledge” of the impending Armageddon.
We are still here, Armageddon did not happen. But the money was well spent!
Fear is a common tool of this religious quackery, and it works very well in getting people into “church” buildings and – more importantly – getting them to reach for their wallets and cheque books.
In 1978, the world saw the American Jimmy Jones leading 900 men, women and children into a group suicide in Guyana after telling them it was time to meet God or something like that. That is how dangerous these cultists can be.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe recently called for caution when dealing with “prophets” and fake traditional healers who are swindling people of their hard-earned cash.
Some of them, it seems, have approached the President in the hope of getting his support. What a coup that would be!
“We now have many pastors claiming that they can do prophesy. They have so many dreams about me. I, however, pretend to listen to them when they tell me about these dreams, but deep down I know they are liars,” he said.
The wave of “prophecy” in Africa, and indeed across the world, is predicated on the “Gospel of Prosperity”.
People are promised miracles if they give to the “church” (read sect leader) generously as if salvation can be bought and the receipt presented to God at the Pearly Gates.
This is no different from the Indulgences that the Catholic Church sold to people a couple of centuries ago, promising them forgiveness for their sins if they bought a spiritually worthless but financially expensive piece of paper from the bishops and priests.
Jesus, in Matthew 24:11, warned anyone who cares to listen that “many false prophets will arise, and mislead many”.
And the “miracles” these guys perform are getting more and more bizarre – and senseless. One Zimbabwean “prophet” says he can tell you your national identification number. Much good that will do you!
A Nigerian prophet predicted how a football goal would be scored, as if our spiritual health is dependent on a soccer game in Europe.
They insist, too, that their power is from the Holy Spirit.
Uebert Angel Mudzanire from Zimbabwe, who has attracted a huge following in the past year, declares: “I use the power of the Holy Spirit to help the needy and critics of my work are just doubting Thomases and are free to make their own assessments.”
Mudzanire is famed to have created “miracle money”, making cash appear in people’s bank accounts and pockets as he preached. There are reports that he has done this in Zimbabwe and Botswana.
But Patrick Zimba of Kairos International Ministries was not too impressed by this. His take was: “I do not think it is the nature of God to recreate money that never existed before. Money is owned by reserve banks all around the world and every note has a serial number so the question that comes to mind is what would be the serial number of that note that would have miraculously appeared in someone’s pocket. If the serial number is also a miracle, then that will be fraud.
“I’m not saying God does not miraculously bless people. But the miracle money I believe is when God raises someone who has money to come and give it to you. To me, that is a miracle.”
Mudzanire has responded to this criticism saying the “miracle money” is money that the individual was either robbed off or lost some time back and which God has “restored” to the rightful owner.
Baptist Bishop, Dr Noah Pashapa, has said of the issue, “I believe in miracles and a miracle is when results are achieved when natural processes are suspended. However, it doesn’t mean that when a miracle has occurred it has come from God.
“Satanists and magicians can also perform miracles. In Zimbabwe it’s so sad that whenever a miracle is performed people are so quick to believe every miracle. Miracles must be tested.”
Prosperity is good. I have no problem with that. After all, as Christians we believe that all the gold, silver and sheep on a thousand hills belong to God. Which is why we pay tithe as an acknowledgement to the fount of all blessings.
The problem is when someone preaches prosperity week-in, week-out without ever finding time for Christ’s object lessons, without finding energy to talk of God’s Commandments, without talking about the responsibilities and duties expected of us Christians.
And these prophets rarely find time to take their “prosperity Gospel” to rural areas and urban slums. No. They prefer to operate in posh suburbs that are well-tarred so that their luxury cars are not damaged. Theirs seems to be a prosperity gospel for those who have already prospered. It appears their own prosperity comes first, everything else can follow.
But such “prophets” will always prosper. As long as there is HIV and AIDS, diabetes, poverty, violence, unemployment, family disharmony and all other manner of social ills, these “prophets” are here to stay.
Like the poor, it seems, these “prophets” will always be among us.