Controversial Pastor: A prayer or preyer?

Zimbabwean Pastor Evan Mawarire poses for a photograph after his interview with Reuters in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 19, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-ZIMBABWE-PASTOR, originally transmitted on July 21, 2016.

By Prince Rayanne Chidzvondo

(That is the question
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer)

Songs of glory and spiritual wars are splashed on the colourful scene of men and women whose feet feel the cold waters of the Mukuvisi river. It’s a  hot afternoon, the Sunday sun is a drop of burning gold as the fervent congregants of this religious organisation display even more intense and vigorous movements towards their proceedings.

The happy clappers consist of the old woman, the viril men, and most strikingly, women and children without the presence of husbands or fathers of their children. They all take turns to taste the waters and move forward to the prophets who stand at the meter high water fall, the prophets, clad in wet colourful garments, have their hands moving zealously. Eyes are half closed, one hand rests on the woman whose kneeled before them, water from the fall covers her completely. And the removal of her whatever troubles her begin.

The so-called masters of suspicion, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud, all thought that religion would wither and die in the 20th century. Others enthusiastically backed the secularisation hypothesis. They thought enlightenment was puncturing religion below the waterline and it was sinking. Religion was dying. Except, of course, the reverse happened: its 2016 and religion had flourished worldwide. In my dreams, I tell Marx he was wrong on this one.

The deliverance scene has become regular, nothing new for the Houghton park and Waterfalls residents who consider it a free spectacle. Despite the presence of two or three more congregations in the same radius, most people have become accustomed to this scene and have made a Sunday hobby, watching. Instant miracles and wild exorcisms occur, the prophets are famous for this. One of the spectators is rather angered by the proceeding. “How can he be removing demons with demon infested water?”  He says, but obviously not everyone is disapproving, “did you want him to use tap water like your fancy prophets who make you pay for miracles?”

Even when one wont judge this Mukuvisi congregation, common sense looks at the numerous dangers. Lets talk drowning, catching disease ,or the occurrences of supernatural things. Mukuvisi is a river like any other, its known for supernatural things, like lurking spirits in the waters and the presence of ‘mermaids’.

Its the situation everywhere. Poverty has married people into religious activities that are either dangerous, demeaning or rather so foolish you can nearly wish to put a laughing emoji at the end of the sentence.
The doctrine of the church is now that people no longer wait for Jesus to get to God but they only have to go through the ‘man of God’ and receive instant gratification. This has been the result of the numerous ‘birth’ of prophets and churches weeding everywhere. The way Zimbabwe is full of church ministries, one would nearly swear it was a church parliament.

Prophets are now renowned for performing miracles including healing bedridden patients, calling the ID numbers of complete strangers as well as making pregnant women change the sex of their unborn babies (mostly due to patriarchal preferences) and the very controversial money miracles.

All religious activities are open to doubt and criticism. Religious criticism is well abhorred. We all have that aunt or uncle somewhere who never visited again after a spiritual roast of their church activities. When one doubts the legitimacy of the “miracles” or criticizes them with logic, they are labelled as hypocrites and non believing pessimists. Churches are scarring society more than ever.

Spiritual abuse is similar to other types of abuse, but it’s committed under the banner of spirituality. It can be subtle or painfully loud—anything from unquestioned pastoral authority, to practices of shaming members if they don’t fulfill religious expectations, to badmouthing members who have left.

A group of silent victims of the church have been the people who made an exit out of churches their families attended, or partners that divorced over church preferences. Over a discussion on religion in Zimbabwe, one friend was emotional in stating how his father had disowned him for refusing to follow the family church that had made him unhappy for years on end, as he had felt he pursued the honor of men, at the expense of his relationship with God.  Society is secretly being torn apart.

The burden has mostly been on  poor people who think they need to do this and that to get a blessing, believing they will be blessed if they give out and more. Couple that with Pastors always giving sermons geared toward the poor. They prey on their pockets and concoct these get rich schemes. They know people will believe anything if they are desperate. On the other hand, many don’t read the bible for themselves leaving the door open to get hoodwinked by the Pastor. Many pastors know this and use it to their advantage. They believe everything preached to them without researching for themselves or giving time to consider.

In unhealthy churches, pastors actually begin to take the place of Jesus in people’s lives. Often, people are told they cannot leave the church with God’s blessing unless the pastor approves the decision. The implication is that unless they receive pastoral permission, not only will God not bless them, but they will also be cursed in some way, resulting in sure failure. Controlling spiritual leaders like these, use this kind of reasoning to manipulate people.

A snooped conversation in a saloon, had me hear a woman from one church tell her hairdresser, “We were told that it is more important to obey leaders than to question what they are doing.” She went on to say, “My husband had me pay for Mai Mufundisi’s hair every week, so I haven’t been able to have proper hairstyles. But we are fine now, someone else offered to do her hair, taizvidini mai mwana.” I felt like screaming the question, woman, why are you allowing yourself to be abused like that?

It is very simple – money represents power. Ultimately, control comes down to issues of power. Therefore, it should be no surprise that controlling leaders will use unbiblical means to manipulate people into giving or doing them ‘favours’.

Christianity is the only army that shoots its wounded. Like most aphorisms, this statement is right on target. Millions have experienced religious abuse — whether it’s a well-publicized event like what happened to grass eating/ snake swallowing congregants  or to Catholic boys molested by pedophile priests — but it’s most common in Christian churches and para-church organizations, which are run by ambitious leaders

I have what I will call my atheist days, the image of a God somewhere had truly evaded me. Then came one day that for the first time, I also understood my scars and how I got the wounds. I understood the anxiety I felt about spiritual practices. The strange cynicism I felt about pastors and prophets. I understood my recent desire to stay as far away from church services as possible. It was because I was still grieving from the spiritual abuse I had encountered as a teenager, it had far worse consequences. And never am I going to be the first or last child to suffer from spiritual abuse.

The consequences of the abusiveness is frequently catastrophic — nearly as devastating as a parent telling a child that he or she is unloved and unwanted, which is a negative imprint that can last a lifetime, diminishing the recipient’s self-worth. If unchecked, it can lessen a person’s lifelong accomplishments. The same is true for those who are victimized by religious abuse. While physical forms of abuse are easy to condemn, what one needs to improve on is recognizing the subtle emotional and psychological abuse passed by the church. This can be an endless list of things, for instance, deeming an action sinful based on church standards rather than biblical principle or questioning the depth of someone’s salvation. The best way to address abuse in our churches, and we need to begin the conversation about what that looks like on a practical level. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I know a few things most churches could really abandon.  Such malicious castigation, which is internalized by the abused person as true, crushes the spirit of the recipient, and they retreat from the life they were living to follow the script of their destruction — becoming a self-imposed prophecy.

I would say that many Christians do not feel that there is room to express their honest opinion in their church atmosphere. But I feel its time we all broke free from religious abuse. We go on too often, complaining about domestic violence and all kinds of physical abuse, but we forget how the church rapes us over and under. We barely recognize the abuse, its like a woman whose been beaten by her husband, the sinner like this woman, believes its Gods will the same way many women are made to feel they deserved to be raped or beaten.

Sometimes people get so caught up in their routines and traditions, that they have stopped analyzing them to see if they are appropriate or effective. Theres a need to step out of the normal to see if the normal is actually healthy. Just because you’re accustomed to something doesn’t make it healthy. And its high time one established wether they are really praying or they are just pray.