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Andreas Heuser {*}

Good Money and Bad Money

"Management-Christianity" and "Wealth-Sorcery" in East Africa

 

From: Herder Korrespondenz, 8/2010, P. 426-430
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    Especially in the charismatic Pentecostal movement in Africa currently a lot revolves around the legitimacy of wealth and prosperity. A pronounced 'management-Christianity' is noticeable, which turns out to be a further stage in the rise of the so-called 'Prosperity Gospel' in Africa. But also 'occult' economies gain increasingly in significance.

 

Currently, in the religious landscape of Africa the discussion about the right use of money intensifies. This can in our view certainly be proved by the serious debate about corruption scandals in church partnerships. In the Protestant as well as in Catholic Church in Germany the anti-corruption debate tries to reach guiding principles of ecumenical relations, which lead to key words such as "Good Governance" and verifiable conditions as regards resource transfers, i.e. the legalization of the modalities of give and take.

In intense search one agrees on policies that comply with transparent and verifiable standards of financial management as well as with the implementation of projects. At the same time one examines the possibility of sanctions for violations of loyalty criteria regarding cooperations based on church partnership. Eventually, it is about the normative validity claim of an understanding of rationality and bureaucracy, which has gained acceptance in the course of the development of Western society.

While in view of the historic churches the search for anti-corruption strategies has priority, somewhere else the aim is to underscore the legitimacy of wealth and prosperity. Once again, the trendsetters within the range of African churches can be found in the charismatic-Pentecostal movement. Here a pronounced 'Management Christianity' begins to emerge, which indicates a further stage in the rise of the so-called 'Prosperity Gospel' in Africa. The 'Management Christianity' wants to control the promises of the 'prosperity gospel', the ideological triumph of which began in Africa two decades ago, and to implement them in areas of churchly practices and increasingly also in areas of ritual practices.

 

The Legitimacy of Wealth and Prosperity

However, the protagonists of the 'Prosperity Gospel' are not a lone voice in the wilderness. In connection with the issue wealth and prosperity, the so-called "occult" economies gain in importance; their methods and practices can be seen in the extremely vital African religious environment. The religious competition for the most efficient way to accumulate wealth has led to the ethical distinction between "good" and "bad" money. Behind all this is the "Prosperity Gospel".

Some time ago I stayed overnight in a guest house of the Bible Society of Ghana in Accra. The Bible Society, an institution that is resting on broad ecumenical shoulders, is primarily dedicated to the goal to translate the Holy Scripture in its entirety into the numerous languages of the country, a work that will still take years because of the existing linguistic diversity.

 


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In my room, however, no reference to this enormous challenge was waiting for me, but a simple annual calendar, which lay open on a side table. The remarkable thing about this calendar was certainly less the fact that it had been in use at least since 2005, which could be deduced from the easily removable, always new layers of paper with the updated annual and monthly data at the right margin. Rather, the central calendar inscriptions were surprising. They had remained unchanged over the years and took up the largest part of the calendar.

On one side of the calendar, so to speak, as a spiritual companionship for the first six months of the year it was about 'prayer'. Against a blue sky and banks of clouds piling up it read in strong letters, "When prayers (to heaven) rise, then a lot of blessings fall down." In a much lesser font size a biblical explanation was attached to it referring to a verse in the Epistle of James (5:16); certain attributes of prayer, however, were added to it, "The zealous and effective prayer of a righteous man achieves a lot."

 

A Bartering Relationship between God and Man

The thrust of such a prayer was disclosed in the overleaf motto for the second half-year. Without further pictorial design, which would perhaps only distract from the essential issue, it read in bold and differently coloured letters, "My financial breakthroughs begin to emerge!" Such overwhelming prospects were again proved by a biblical reference, this time to Zechariah 8:12, "Now they will sow in peace; the vine will give its fruit, the soil will give its produce and heaven will give its dew. I shall bestow all these on the remnant of this people."

This inconspicuous episode and the applied biblical hermeneutics make it clear how much the so-called "prosperity gospel" has settled down in ecumenical life. Originally located in some newer milieus of the African charismatic Pentecostal movement, this form of Christian faith interpretation has now reached church bodies of most diverse denominational and historical character. Meanwhile it is about to become an expressive identification criterion of the Christian faith in Africa - though not without opposition.

The theological roots of the prosperity gospel refer back to different traditions in the churchly mixture of Pentecostal and charismatic movements that have formed in the U.S. post-war scene. Particularly in the context of the Rhema Bible Training Center, founded in 1974 by Kenneth Hagin in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the prosperity gospel developed its theological characteristic. It unfolds around a conceptual framework that describes a theology of victory with further key categories, such as 'breakthrough now', 'fate', 'claim', 'power', 'abundance', 'growth', 'legitimate legacy' or 'life performance'.

Equipped with this conceptual inventory, the prosperity gospel got manifold offshoots in Africa and was rapidly spread by its many African communicators as e.g. David Oyedepo, founder of Nigeria's mega-church "Winners' Chapel." This origin in the Anglophone area is still reflected in the common linguistic usage, which identifies the phenomenon everywhere as "prosperity gospel".

The prosperity gospel binds Christian horizons of hope and expectation, at the same time it describes certain patterns of action of individuals, religious communities and churches. It bundles, as it were, a double core message: on the one hand, the most versions of this prosperity gospel proclaim the belief that each "Born-Again", every new-born Christ is expressly entitled to get his share in the divine blessings of wealth and prosperity, yes, even abundance of life. On the other hand, the preachers of the prosperity gospel remind all believers of their moral obligation to pay regularly their "tithes" and a generous share of the donations, which flow back in the world via a community or a so-called 'ministry' for the cause of God. In principle, it is about a barter relationship between God and man. The material gifts of a Christian in the form of tithes and other donations are considered to be a prerequisite for God's rich material blessings.

 

From Quasi-therapeutic Self-motivation to Ritually Dealing with Money

But what if things do not work out as planned, if the promises of prosperity fail to materialize? How are you to deal with expectations, if exaggerated hopes for quick prosperity melt away? How can promises and despair be counterbalanced, even if the theological ascertainment remains untouched - you can never determine in advance the moment and the course of God's action? The churches in the Pentecostal-charismatic spectrum deal quite actively with these issues and give different answers, which are quite practical. Using the example of East Africa, three positions can be sifted out. They cover the field between quasi-therapeutic offers for self-motivation, the implementation of management courses, up to ritual ways of dealing with money.

 


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Currently, the international scene of young "Crusaders", who are known for their mass-evangelization campaigns, is grappling with the question of whether one's own practice of faith is possibly an obstacle on the path to wealth and prosperity. This newly observable trend is, at least in East Africa, led by African-Americans. Personalities such as T. D. Jakes of Dallas rank on the popularity scale of international preachers now at the top and have superseded the previous generation around Reinhard Bonnke.

As the secret of success, they propagate to arouse the forces slumbering in every human being. In order to trigger phases of motivation, they do not bother with carefully examining one's own presumably deficient faith. On the contrary, what matters is that we discover the Christian faith as the most vital source of self-motivation.

Jakes, for instance, propagates unrestrictedly the right to reach one's personal breakthrough at any time, to be the next in the success story of faith, which virtually is owed to every 'Born-Again'. This message, which is to rouse out of apathy and to give self-assurance, if you want to put it that way, replaces glossolalia as the most prominent "external sign" of the gift of the Spirit. In this variant of the "Prosperity Gospel" it is presupposed that individual prosperity has also a social dimension, hence, the material fortune of many individuals entails the welfare of the nation.

This aspect of a society-related prosperity is gone through in another variant of the prosperity gospel. Beyond the resonance space of a prosperity that is merely related to individuals, the churches are named as players which are to remedy the social and economical plight of African countries, and even of the entire continent. In order to gain relevance in socio-ethical matters, the churches are to meet the criteria of rational organization development, which are drawn from models of economic management. This intention is connected with the goal to increase the number of parishioners.

Again, these innovation intentions go back to North American models in the charismatic-Pentecostal spectrum - as e.g. the "Purpose Driven Church Conference", which meets with large-scale response, for instance in East Africa. It is offered several times a year in workshops, seminars and conferences. Idea and materials come from Rick Warren's Saddleback Church" (California). Warren chose East Africa as a test case for his expansion vision, which he intends to implement via the so-called "PEACE Project". The abbreviation stand for: Plant a Church, Equip local Pastors and Leaders, Assist the poor and care for the sick, Educate the next generation.

This church growth model is to be implemented with the help of management seminars. The underlying teaching material relates mainly to advertising and market strategies. It includes detailed analyses of the business models of U.S. multinationals. Modern management studies thematize the operational management structures, show ways to streamline bureaucratic processes, explain the benefits of the delegation principle, and discuss how teamwork - as a key organizational feature of churchly activity - has to be coordinated.

 

"Business Medicine" and "Anti-witchcraft Medicine"

These seminars are designed as seminar series and are continued on the next higher contentual levels of organizational efficiency and business techniques. The participation in seminars is not free, but it is possible to negotiate about the conditions of participation - depending on the social situation of the participating church. The radiation of these management courses is certainly enormous. Each participant of the basic course commits himself to teach the contents of this course at least three times a year before at least one hundred other students. Those who attend the next levels of training are to pass on the respective courses to further twenty-five persons.

A striking fact is the lack of denominational teaching contents, and generally of theology in the strict sense. This allows the participation of a wide range of churches - even historic churches make use of this offer from the area of American mega-churches. Per year in one country alone, estimates are available for Kenya, 150.000 to 200.000 people become acquainted with the contents of this management Christianity.

The third version dispenses with foreign role models. It is an Africanized version of the "Prosperity Gospel". It is substantial that it knows the ambivalence of wealth. It therefore teaches to distinguish between "good" and "bad" money; the latter is imputed to the milieu of the occult economy, because not a few people, infected by the idea of economic prosperity as an individual sense of life, visit traditional healers. Today healers take up self-confidently this religious competition. A look at the inside of that "occult" economy, as it becomes apparent in East Africa is worthwhile.

 


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In most African countries the healers' lucrative trade is now professionalized. Healers are licensed and represented in professional institutions. As part of public life, they are present not only by their market stalls, recognizable by the oversized advertising signs that depict the offered services or by signs on the roadside if they offer their services at home, but to a greater extent also by their advertising on radio and newspapers.

It is particularly popular among healers to use academic titles, such as "Professor" and "Doctor". They send thus a double signal: they connect modernity and expertise with each other, but are also able by means of their "traditional" knowledge to deal with cases for which Western medicine has no answers. The wide range of home-made medicines that they have on offer is promoted by the healers' associations with the latest market strategic means. Here no doubt about the potency of their medicines is admitted, because it is regarded as certain that they are charged with spiritual power. In particular, this offer has two outstanding areas of application: namely the booming 'business medicines' and the lucrative ' anti-witchcraft medicines'.

Both fields of action of the traditional healers often merge with each other. "Business medicines" for example are clearly assigned to commercial intentions. Such medicines consist largely of fine powders, which are to promote private sources of income and to protect business activities. Such "business medicine" is, for instance, applied to the body of a shop owner, in order to bind customers and above all to attract new customers. But it is rubbed also on objects, scattered in the house or around commercial premises, in order to keep away influences harmful for the business, or even people with negative intentions. The effect of such powders merges into the scope of "anti-witchcraft medicines."

The complex of anti-witchcraft medicine is of enormous importance, because the manifestations of "witchcraft" take sharper contours in connection with the issue of prosperity. The gossip factory about "sorcery" is working overtime, because it takes place in all secrecy, and does not look for publicity. In the current debate "sorcery" is found in two versions: In the earlier form, it is considered as a means to impede the welfare of others or to undermine their progress. In the recent version it is associated with an inexplicable accumulation of wealth, a phenomenon that is well paraphrased with "wealth sorcery".

While the older version is rather found in poorer strata, among people who envy others their relative prosperity, the accusation of "wealth sorcery" can hit everyone, regardless of his social class. "Wealth sorcery" comes to light, it is believed, when a business project starts successfully, but it is also used when it is necessary to protect ill-gotten wealth.

In the public debate, for example, corruption often gets in the vicinity of witchcraft and has - despite the anti-corruption debate in the ecumenical cooperation - to be fought with appropriate antidotes. Those who enjoy suspicious wealth see themselves - due to the suspected complicity with witchcraft - exposed to sanctioning efforts, up to their demonization.

The plausibility of an accusation regarding sorcery increases all the more, the more it is obvious that individuals whose wealth is subject to the suspicion of corruption are able to escape every penalty. According to popular belief, however, clients of "wealth sorcery" have to accept certain disadvantages.

 


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Rumors say that somebody who has gained his prosperity through "wealth sorcery" could only sleep on cold ground or had to cope with a long period of loneliness, even remain celibate, and abstain from certain foods. According to a tougher version, the suddenly acquired wealth requires human sacrifices, as e.g. in the immediate family.

The wizards and their spirits, so the fantasy goes, want human flesh and thirst for human blood. Deaths in the family, especially premature, are therefore often associated with "wealth sorcery". If the wealth shall be permanent, such sacrifices must be made from time to time. With high probability, the crimes against albinos in some East African countries, especially in Tanzania and Burundi, can be seen as a retribution for "wealth sorcery".

Wealth based on a liaison with occult powers has criminal traits, violates human rights, and undermines important social values, as e.g. family solidarity or the desire for offspring. Even though traditional healers usually sharply dissociate from these excesses of "wealth sorcery", at present the boundaries obviously shift within this occult economy. For now those are regarded as powerful healers who can boast about their ability to control such witchcraft and to grant individual protection against it. Some healers frankly admit that they cooperate with certain "spirit assistants", who are competent to do such harmful sorcery, because that increases the power ascribed to them.

It is little wonder that especially Christian prosperity preachers feel called upon to proclaim the power of Jesus as an explicit alternative to the promises of riches that have the reputation of being in alliance with occult powers. They adopt the terms "good" and "bad" money, in order to save the prosperity gospel. "Good" money is ritually purified money; here you can assume that it accrues to a "Born-Again" without occult means. Their prosperity preaching therefore happens contrapuntally in public places, and not in secret.

Participating churches are usually good at fundraising, which makes them financially independent actors. Fundraising is often connected with paying the tithe, which leads to high takings of money. These are events that consume high ritual energy; they are enriched by publicly bearing witness about being richly blessed by God. All this happens within transparency and legitimizes thus the revenues of the Church. Various forms of prayer in everyday life are to grant prosperity and at the same time immunize against evil influences. Dealers pray with imposition of hands on their goods that they want to sell. Or people "place prayers" or "the blood of Jesus" in market stalls and generally on the money that they have made.

Sometimes a quick prayer will help in any situation to neutralize evil spirits that have taken possession of money. All these prayers ward off the potential dangers lurking in monetary transactions; they load money with divine power, and so it can be used constructively and with honest intent. The "good" money is, as it were, lifted from the commercial to a spiritual, transcendent economy.

 

    {*} The Lutheran theologian Andreas Heuser (born in 1961) is currently Professor of Systematic Theology and Missiology at the Tumaini University Makumira, Tanzania.

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'