A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Friday, September 9, 2011

“They are Satanists!”

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20:16).

If ignorance in ordinary things is dangerous, then ignorance in spiritual matters is even more dangerous. I am finding this to be true with every succeeding day. One of the areas where this has become really worrisome is in the realm of “spiritual warfare”—and especially in identifying the works of the devil.

It is not uncommon these days to hear people not only blaming Satan for all the wrong things taking place around them but—more seriously—accusing other people of being Satanists. Our church is involved in planting churches in various cities, towns and villages around Zambia. Almost every church that we have planted in the recent past has been stigmatised as “Satanists” in its early stages.

When I have asked what it is about them that has lent itself towards Satanism, I find that it is nothing more than mere suspicion of the unknown. Our missionary pastors do not suck anyone’s blood nor do they sleep in nearby cemeteries. They are ordinary men, husbands, and fathers who ply out their (spiritual) trade like anyone else. There is nothing eerie or mysterious about them. So, why call them “Satanists”?

Sometimes it is because white people visit their churches quite frequently and yet our pastors are Africans. What is it that causes white people to go there? “They must be Satanists!” Sometimes it is because within a short time after the establishment of the church, a church building begins to go up. Where are they getting the money to put up the church building when they are still new around here? “They must be Satanists!”

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in downtown Lusaka
In other words, anything that we cannot explain must come from the devil. It is precisely the same ignorance that causes the fear of witchcraft to thrive in the popular African mind in the village. I recall when remote controlled TV first came to Zambia. A friend of mine saw this phenomenon one evening. We were about to give thanks for a meal when our host turned off his TV with the remote control. My friend leaned over to me and whispered, saying (in a very worried tone), “Is this not witchcraft?”

Whereas this is often laughable, these suspicions have sometimes taken on such epic proportions as to whip an entire crowd into an uncontrollable riot. I recall when the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God put up their first church building at the Kafue roundabout in Lusaka. In their characteristic “loud” way, they put up a building that screamed for attention even from a distance. Part of their church building was earmarked to be a clinic. They even provided a mortuary where the bodies of their deceased members would be kept, awaiting burial. Well, the construction workers leaked the news about this mortuary. “They are Satanists! They even have a mortuary where they will keep the bodies of the people they kill.” The result of this rumour was a very serious riot, with crowds engaged in running battles with the police.

Another cult that has suffered from this stigma is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). The beautiful church buildings that they erect in record time have not helped the situation. This is made worse by the fact that these buildings go up even before they have any congregation. The people wonder, “Who is putting up this building? Since we do not know them then they must be Satanists operating at night when we are asleep.” Once the building is up, they then begin to see young white males in white shirts, black pants, and with black nametags, visiting their homes with African colleagues. “Sssshhhh!” they whisper to one another, “the Satanists are here!” The result of this stigma is that their beautiful church buildings are still largely empty. They have recently engaged in PR efforts to correct this, even taking journalists to their buildings to search for any signs of Satanism.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in Libala, Lusaka
I have no sympathy for either of the two cults mentioned above, but it is still crazy to accuse them of Satanism. Worse still, the accusations against our own pastors are totally ridiculous. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone in the neighbourhoods where these accusations are stemming from is being abducted and forced by any of these churches to use drugs or engage in sexual rituals. No one is being found tortured, murdered, or cannibalised. There are no such records in neighbourhood police files.

The Bible, in the Ten Commandments, tells us not to bear false testimony against our neighbours. The Lord Jesus Christ urges us, in Matthew 18, to confront a brother whom we think is sinning against us, and thus give him an opportunity to exculpate himself. Our God is a God of truth and hates fallacies and myths. If we are truly godly, we must be like him. Believing unverifiable stories, whispered behind other people’s backs, is not God’s way of doing things. We are serving the devil—not God—when we do this.

Now, please do not get me wrong. I am not saying that Satanism and witchcraft do not exist. I am sure they do. However, what I am saying is that the current atmosphere we are in where Satan and Satanism are on everyone’s mouth is an extreme exaggeration. And the sooner we change the subject to God and his grace in Christ Jesus the better!

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in Long Acres, Lusaka
Sadly, it is often well-meaning Christians who see the devil everywhere and underneath anything that moves who stigmatise other people as Satanists. Part of this alarm is, of course, due to ignorance. Their sphere of knowledge is so limited that anything outside that sphere is suspicious. “Reformed Baptist? Who are they? They must be Satanists!”

I also cannot help thinking that sometimes this ignorance borders on emotions of jealousy. It is the kind of accusation of Satanism that successful business people endure from their not-so-successful competitors. In the religious sphere, the thinking is something like this: “How come they are attracting white people to their church when we fail to do so? They must be Satanists!” What they fail to realise is that the white people fail to stand the never-ending cycle of danceable but meaningless choruses and the tirade of scolding at the top of the preacher’s voice that goes by the name of preaching in their churches. These Caucasians want doctrinally meaningful songs with progression and “logic on fire” as the Word of God is faithfully expounded.

Thankfully, with most of our churches, the stigma never lasts. Our pastors and their families live in the community and mingle with the people. They soon discover that they are sincere servants of God who have come into the area to plant a church that is based squarely on the truths of God’s Word. But, while I rejoice in this, I still wonder when we will grow out of this phobia. This spiritual ignorance is a scandal and it is dangerous!

4 comments:

  1. Unfortunately this is nothing new. Every church we have planted on the Copperbelt over the past 18 years has been accused of the same thing. It has been suggested that we are there to kidnap children, that people who attend the church will die, etc. Once I questioned our team about it (with a bit of a complaining spirit). I was reminded that if we must face those accusations, we are in good company. Jesus was accused of doing ministry on behalf of Satan and through Satan's power.

    This ought to serve as a sober reminder to us that we have still have a huge task to reach our "christian" nation with the glorious, life-changing gospel of grace.

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  2. it is so sad that in some quarters of our compounds in Kitwe well meaning people's lives have been threatened.
    recently a member of our church had a terrible attack of cerebral malaria; we almost suffered at the inquisition of the family, that we satanists and have done something to him. we were only saved by the doctor at the hospital who diagnosed him of a very high temperature resulting from a severe malaria.
    thanks for responding to this gospel destructing phobia.

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  3. Conrad,

    I agree about troubles around church stereotypes. But, the Universal Church, needs a lot of "Satan" (in sense of marketing) to promote their services. See, I'm speaking from a Brazilian perspective, where the Universal Church was born. :-)

    Thanks for share your point of view about those phenomena in continents like Africa, It's very similar to Brazil.

    Honestly, I hope God uses you to plant strong reformed and centered in Christ churches in Africa (specially in Zambia).

    Greetings from Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

    My blog: www.teologo.org

    Igor Miguel

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