Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Africa's misplaced excitment about Barack Obama

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

I try to limit myself to only one blog per week, but the excitement in the air about Barack Obama’s coming to power as the 44th president of the United States has forced me to, as it were, “take pen and paper” and say something. I know that to say anything that is less than totally optimistic and excited about Obama’s presidency in the USA today is to be viewed as a wet blanket and a betrayer of Africa. The continent has been gripped by Obama-mania because “an African” is now president of the most powerful nation in the world. Celebrations are everywhere and in literally every nation.

When I ask why this excitement and optimism, what dismays me is that it is nothing more than the fact that Barack Obama is a black man—or, as they say in America, an African-American. He is one of us. I must readily admit that this is a strength in African culture. We have a very strong sense of belonging that goes beyond the nuclear family. Our brothers and sisters are not just our blood brothers and sisters. Our fathers and mothers are not just those who gave us birth. We look after and pride in our own beyond the immediate family. In that sense, we are proud that “one of us” has made such an achievement. Up to that point I can understand the sense of pride in Africa today. However, this strong sense of belonging often clouds our thinking. For instance, when it comes to issues of discipline and justice, this same sense of belonging tends to crowd out the real issues and we fail to be objective. “He belongs to us” becomes more important than “he is has done wrong”.

This is what I am seeing in the excitement about Obama. Hardly anyone is talking about Barack Obama’s character, convictions and past record. Very few Christians are asking any questions about whether he is godly or not. It is almost as though issues of regeneration and doctrinal convictions do not matter. What matters is that he is an African. For instance, the little I have heard concerning Barack Obama’s views with respect to the rights of the unborn child make my hair stand on end! But who is willing to pause and listen to this? What matters is that “one of us” is now on the throne of the most powerful nation on the planet. Let us kill the goat and celebrate!

I am reminded of the excitement that filled the air in Zambia when Frederick T J Chiluba and his Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) came into power in 1991. The excitement even in the church was as if Jesus had come! Church leaders were coming to church with badges of the MMD symbol on their shirts and jackets, and they were greeting church members with the phrase, “The hour has come!” Those of us who were cautious and cautioning fellow Christians were seen as die-hard UNIP-ists. No one was willing to listen to basic Christian caution. Well, within the first ten years the optimism was conspicuous by its absence. Corruption had become endemic in the nation. Recent court cases have revealed that the nation was being plundered while we had a ours closed in prayer.

Back to Obama. There is an unspoken wish in many African hearts that many of our woes in Africa will now be over because our calls for help will be handled more expeditiously from the USA since “one of us” has ascended the throne. Here is my question: Why should Africa look to America for answers to its problems? The Christian faith, if taken seriously, teaches us that all human beings are made in the image of God. We all have the capacities of creativity, moral judgment, etc. Under God, we should take charge of our situation on the African continent and deal with it. For instance, why should Obama across the Atlantic deal with Mugabe in Zimbabwe? African leaders on African soil should be outraged by what is happening and say, “Enough is enough” and deal with him!

I am not a prophet, and neither am I a son of a prophet, but let me say just one thing to those who are “over the moon” with what has happened in the USA. It is that disappointment is awaiting you. Let us meet in just five years’ time and I am sure disappointment will have sobered all of us up. It should be clear to every Bible-believing Christian that the hope for Africa, for the USA, and indeed for the whole world is in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of the Holy Spirit, mediated through the preaching of the gospel, that transforms hearts and, consequently, transforms societies and entire nations. That is what we should be “over the moon” about.

Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that politics are not important. They have their place in ensuring law and order, especially in the protection of the vulnerable. What, however, I am saying is that until human hearts are changed, the world can only get worse. Politicians will promise us a better world tomorrow, but they are powerless against the tsunami of human fallen-ness. Therein lies the world’s chief problem—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We only cheat ourselves when we trust in politicians to turn our world around. They cannot do it because the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart!

This is why the verse that heads this blog is so important. Let me give you the rest of the passage. It says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:5-9).

The message from this passage of Scripture must be abundantly clear! African Christians, let us not celebrate as the world is celebrating because our hope for a better world is not in Barack Obama—nor in our own local politicians—but it is in the gospel of God and in the God of that gospel. Amen!


  1. "So the women sang as they danced, and said 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.'" 2 Samuel 18:7.

    Good leadership is a blessing from God, brethren, and it is right to celebrate it or its potential! The people of Israel rejoiced in the coming kingship of young, valiant David. Did they see him as Messiah? Let the theologians divide the Scriptures!

    It is understandable for many to be irritated or alarmed at Barack Obama’s veneration, and alarmed by his deification, but the true Christian also knows from Whom ALL authority springs.

    Even though Barack's term might not turn out the way we hope (or DON’T hope…), he sure has shown incredible grace for an unbeliever, impeccable judgment for a novice, and proved irresistibly charismatic even for quite a few of his enemies.

    I empathise with the unsaved masses who have flocked to him. The Good Book tells me what to expect of them, so I can anticipate nothing more from their (and mine) 'wicked hearts'. I can only pray that God, in His wonderful providence, will use these tumultuous events over the last year or so, either to move many in their renewed sense of 'hope' and belief in ‘grace and fairness’ to seek the one true God, or to punish by the hand of his servant Barack Obama the sin of those who have earned His wrath. Or even to use any sense of disappointment in America and the world after four Obama years to draw them to the one true Hope. God might even save Obama unto Himself. What a great testimony to His power that would be!

    The whole world senses that this is an historic moment. What made 200,000 Germans turn out to see him in Berlin on July 10 last year? I don't think they identified with his colour, that's for sure! The Economist estimated his 'global vote' via a snap poll of their readers at more than 80%. Check this out: http://www.economist.com/Vote2008/ . This is bigger than Africa, fellow readers! Being human, of course every group will have its own self-interested reason for wanting him, but surely there must be SOMETHING universally appealing in his candidature that fired up such passion.

    Those who would warn us of previous deflations of euphoria have all their bases covered because, by definition, there is nowhere to go from here but down. So, they will be quick to remind us Obamabots that any triumph, however significant, be measured against the heightened expectations of today’s hysteria. Ergo, they can't lose and we can't win! What a world we would live in if we constantly tamped down our future hope for the sake of past disappointments! Let’s pray that they may be pleasantly surprised, and have the grace to admit it just as loudly as they prophesied the impending doom.

    Sometimes, people simply celebrate the ending of a particularly distressing period of oppressive, tyrannical government (Kaunda), or dishonesty, war crimes, and disastrous economic management (Bush). If KK has stood against his old enemy, the common brown frog, in 1991, the frog would surely have won! Would that mean that the people of Zambia were placing their trust in an amphibian? Of course, not. And what price would Zimbabweans not pay for a transition in government of the sort we saw last night in the USA?

    The blogs have been full of people praying for Barack to win, with the most common prayer being "No weapon formed against you shall prosper...". Believe me, there were quite a few dirty tricks used against my poor agemate! Yet he refused to sink to his opponents’ level and get into the gutter to fight his battles. We might learn something from this and also from the way he has attempted to build national unity by putting aside the rancour of the past and consulting his former competitors for advice, appointing some of them to his government.

    For better or for worse, African nations now have a standard to hold their national leaders up to. It used to be Mandela, but the times they sure do move on! I even remember just a few days ago (it seems like an age…) Pastor Mbewe acknowledging Mandela as an icon. Not a mention of misplaced adulation there, I seem to remember ;-)

    All through the presidential campaign (which, ahem, I followed quite closely...), Christians in the US knew that Jesus is Lord and that there is no other. So, the people of America prayed to their God for the gift of a just ruler.

    They might just have gotten one. Woooohooooo! Yeeehaaaaa!

  2. Well written, brother.

  3. Amen brother, and thank you for speaking out for the truth. I see no reason to have any more hope for the future now that Obama is president that if McCain had won the election. In the things that truly matter, neither man is particularly worthy of optimism and excitement. If anything, I think the changes that Mr. Obama will help bring to America will make us less likely and able to help Africa, not more. Please pray for your Christian brothers and sisters here in the USA - underneath the shiny surface, things are not good. We desperately to repent and fall on our faces before God above all things.

  4. Praise God for your wise words, Pastor! I happened onto your site from the Bayly Brothers' blog, which is linked to my pastor's blog, www.faithandgender.wordpress.com. Your caution of trusting in man is specifically aimed at the people of Africa, though the issue is universal. I am a white American woman of the Anglican communion, very concerned for the future of my country. It seems that we as Americans are willing to sell our souls (AND our youngest!) for some promise of financial, material security. But it comforts me when I am reminded that my hope is not in man or his systems but in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Yesterday, while many of my countrymen were watching and celebrating the Obama inauguration, I was in silent protest to simply "not be present" -- that is to say, I refused to watch the event on television. Instead, I chose to write a piece on my blog, www.ifyoucouldreadmymind.wordpress.com, concerning the abortion issue. I am appalled that I heard so little during the presidential campaign concerning this most basic issue in our society, even by Christians! I have pledged to God to use whatever platform I can to speak the truth about this atrocity!

    Lisa R., Texas, USA

  5. "Under God, we should take charge of our situation on the African continent and deal with it. For instance, why should Obama cross the Atlantic deal with Mugabe in Zimbabwe? African leaders on African soil should be outraged by what is happening and say, “Enough is enough” and deal with him!" i would wholeheartedly agree with you, however. Clearly African leaders are either too corrupt to care or too weak to act. In either case they will not be able to change the situation by themselves. Nations with little clout can't just invade other nations without raising an uproar. With power comes responsibility. America therefore has the responsibility to act. George Bush has not acted in any manner to qualm the atrocities in the Congo, in Sudan or in Zimbabwe and while I respect his personal beliefs he has not carried them out on the global scale. Unlike Bush Obama has pledged to do something and I hope he will, even if I do not agree with some of his personal beliefs. Its not about personal values as much as it is about the tragedies going on in Africa.

  6. It is likely that the first "aid" Predident Obama will sent to your land will be to pay for you to kill your own children. Then your lack of funds will not stand in the way of aborting your children and you can be just as wicked as we are in the USA, well maybe not quite so wicked, you most likely wont pay for others to be able to sin. Please pray that we in the church in the states would repent from our selfishness and love of comfort and be willing to stand for rightiousness.

    Needing the prayers of the saints,

  7. Thank you for speaking the truth bother as an African immigrant in America i have been making that point with my fellow Christians but they wont listen to me and perceive me as a sell out.

    Jesus is our only King! and He has His reasons for appointing Obama and it is surely not as a messiah.

    There is no Saviour on capitol hill! Only ImmanuEL.

  8. sikamena said, "So, the people of America prayed to their God for the gift of a just ruler. They might just have gotten one. Woooohooooo! Yeeehaaaaa!"

    My dear brother, where is the justice in a ruler who fiercely advances the killing of the most helpless and weak among us?

    Pastor Mbewe, thank you very much for the strength your fellowship and wisdom give us American Christians. This election has been discouraging to many of us, because some of Obama's strongest supporters are Christians--Evangelical and even Reformed Christians. Please pray for our ability to stand with God against the unfruitful works of darkness--yes, even to expose them.

    Warmly in Christ,
    Pastor Stephen Baker

  9. Timely advice! We must not have misplaced trust in man! We should however be hopeful of having better things to come mindful that man can disappoint us. Obama may just disappoint many who have put their hopes on him. However, he may also do better than we expect! Only the Lord knows! That's why we need to pray for our leaders. Pray especially that common grace may prevail.

  10. I am giving you a standing ovation! :) Well written!

    I am an American, Christian, woman, and my heart has been grieving at what our nation has done. Thank you for taking the time and effort to write about something that is so close to our hearts. May the Lord bless you for speaking out about this.

  11. I totally agree that no good comes from putting your trust in man. Nevertheless, the celebration of Obama’s victory by Africans and the world over does not mean people have put trust in Obama to solve all their problems. Not at all – well maybe some naïve ones have. In my humble opinion the celebration around the world is because Obama’s story resonates with so many people and below I discuss a few:-

    Africans in Africa
    John1:46"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.
    "Come and see," said Philip.
    For centuries Africa has been seen as the “Dark” continent where nothing good can come from. Africa! Can anything good come from there? Mention Africa to most people in the western world and the thoughts that run through their minds are poverty, disease, war, corruption and definitely no intellectual or noble things such as presidency, engineers, scientists and so forth.
    Africans, in addition to celebrating “one of their own” as you pointed out, will at least stand proud and face the world knowing that indeed something good can come out of Africa. Perhaps the world, especially the western world, can begin to associate Africa with positive things (especially if Obama’s presidency turns out good).

    African-Americans have had very few role models at a high level. As can be seen from research and documentaries, such CNN’s Black in America, most blacks have role models in sports, music and entertainment circles. African Americans grow up thinking if you can’t rap or play basketball, then you have no choice but to live the “thug life”. To make a long story short, Obama is the role model African-Americans needed and he came at the right time. This does not mean immediately all African-Americans are motivated to achieve their full potential or that their society has totally changed how it views then, but it surely is a step in the right direction. It would be very nice if

    The rest of the world (The human spirit)
    As you may have clearly seen, Obama’s victory and Obama-mania has not only been celebrated in the US and African, but the world over. Indeed, as pointed by Sikamena, Obama had supporters in Germany, UK, Asia (basically people who are neither American nor black). Why did Obama-mania overtake them? Is it his good oratory skills? I don’t really know but allow me to speculate.
    The human spirit likes to see justice, stories of hope, the poor becoming rich, the weak becoming strong, the poor kid from a poor family becoming a king, etc. Obama did not have the money, experience, or circle of influence and color usually expected for people vying for the US presidency – only a message of hope and that together yes we can! This resonates with human spirit and in my opinion explains the excitement world-wide.

    As a Christian
    God forbid that people should put their trust in man. True deliverance, hope and a perfect future can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Celebrate Obama’s victory for whatever reasons you may have, but remember that he is but a man – he won’t satisfy you or even meet all you expectations.
    Knowing that God uses His creation (including those outside His will) to achieve his divine purposes, my prayer is that He may use Obama’s presidency to his Glory and that it may motivate all the feeble around the world to have hope and per adventure even the bigger HOPE provided by salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. All things are possible with God.

  12. Rhoda,
    Amen Pastor for the words of wisdom. You are
    a shining light from Zambia. People were suprised that I was not supporting a black person knowing that I am from Africa. The very reason of abortion I was not excited about him.

  13. Dear Pastor Mbewe,
    I am a Christian, Reformed, American young woman and a member of the same church that sent out Anthony Mathenia (my 15-year-old brother accompanied him on his October trip). In the Providence of God, I heard of your ministry from several different sources in the past few months. First, my family received a flyer for the True Church conference that you are speaking at in Alabama. Last week Anthony mentioned your ministry and plans to take over PTI in a missions update. Then I noticed your link on Joyfully Home (Jasmine Baucham's blog). I have greatly enjoyed all that I've read on your site so far and Lord willing plan to become a regular reader. I am very interested in watching the growth of Christ's church in Africa. I am also interested in politics and this article is among the best commentary I have read on Mr Obama's election. Thank you,

  14. Thank you for your truth. It encouraged me today.

  15. Thank God for this... Yes! I couldn't agree with you more (then and now!) And it makes it even sweeter that this was said seven years back.
    The hope is in the gospel, not in a man. After all, if it is the eloquence or human wisdom, it is nothing. Only the gospel is the power of God, only the gospel is the wisdom of God. Pastors have a responsibility to expound it and show Christ Jesus for who He is for He has become to us the wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Obama-mania has been shown in seven short years to be what it is - foolishness!