What is the problem? What has got us so worried that we wish to create a law that restricts the registration of new churches? What could be wrong with the preaching of the gospel? What is wrong with the ceaseless much of the gospel of Jesus Christ? As a country, we have never really had problems with churches previously. So why now? Our education and health developments have benefitted tremendously from church establishing themselves amongst our people. Churches opened schools and hospitals and reached our communities with mental light of both spiritual and physical health. The churches have always shown mercy to the brokenhearted, the poor and the despised. Our dikgosi, from Khama, the great, to Bathoen I, all embraced the life changing message of the cross. At the bottom of the Bangwaketse crocodile are those words of total surrender: Let their will be done. Ours is a nation established on God. Actually our very national anthem perceives this nation in its totality as a gift from God, an inheritance from our forefathers: Fatshe leno la rona ke mpho ya Modimo; ke boswa jwa borraetsho. God has for many years been at the centre of our society that almost every formal government activity begins with prayer. Prayer to God has been at the centre of our school life and family life. Individually we have grown in families that pray & some of us have lived lives where prayer was at the centre of our families and communities. So what really is the problem? Has our government turned into a bunch of satanists who want to make it difficult to worship at the feet of Jesus in this land which is a gift from God? Is the problem really the mushrooming of churches around us? I am inclined to think not. If a church is such an excellent institution which has attended to the soul, spirit and physical life of the society, why would anybody wish to make it difficult for a church to open its doors in Botswana? Why? We have had the mushrooming of bars across the country and we have never really been so animated to create laws that restrict the acquisition of a license to open alcohol joints. We have been a fairly liberal societies which has accorded space to all faiths, including those that we despise.
But we must also be sincere. The problem is really not the mushrooming of churches. The problem is the mushrooming of what appears to be churches led by con-men and women who come through the church, either aiming to acquire Botswana citizenship using the church as a cover or coming through the church to swindle unsuspecting citizens who are sometimes sick and impoverished. Heelang banna, batho ba re direla bosigo ka kobo! The stories are many. Con-men with pointed shoes and shiny three-piece suits distorting Christian doctrine and manipulating God’s people to give that which they cannot afford have come amongst us like a legion of demons. Most of these men don’t build churches and schools. They don’t provide education and health facilities. They are passers-by. They rent halls or meet in tents in residential areas. Their churches cause unbearable noise pollution to neighbourhoods at awkward hours of the night. Families under pressure from economic downfall of the past few years have been moved by the eloquence and charisma of these men to sell their houses and cars to support these men who mainly preach wealth for themselves: The man of God cannot be poor they say. It is the responsibility of the flock to take care of the shepherd! They have their theology on its head. Money is therefore poured into these churches…really into the bank accounts of these swindlers with a sweet tongue. They convince families to sell their cars and houses or give them to the church as a sign of commitment to God. They are sowed as a seed, they say. The teaching is that the more you give, the more you will receive. It has a semblance of truth. Giving to God then becomes increasingly like motshelo. Those who believe in this kind of doctrine sadly neglect their families and plunge the entire family into unimaginable debt and poverty. Family lives are strained, while the pastor becomes richer and flashier and more arrogant and flamboyant. Those who try to question this twisted scenario in the church there is a swift and decisive response: Touch ye not my anointed: and do no evil to my prophets. Put differently: the man of God, the moruti, the prophet, is beyond reproach and question. So unlike churches of the past which were changing communities through preaching, teaching, feeding the hungry, building hospitals and schools, taking care of widows, the modern offending churches take care of the leader. They feed him and clothe him. They put him on a pedestal. The leader takes on the father figure. He is called daddy, papa, or father regardless of how old he is. Members of the church become children, his children, the de facto sons and daughters, not just of God but of the church leader himself. The churches promise healing; they promise miracles, quick wealth; A child of God isn’t supposed to be poor. How can he be when the Father owns the entire world with its gold and silver? If you are poor it is your fault; it is a sign of lack of faith. Just tap on Jesus! Give more! If you give more and you don’t receive more, it is still your fault. You lack faith. Have faith in God and you will see his wonders! Guilt kicks in, inadequacy seeps in.
This is the kind of exploitation and manipulation that has worried many in government. They wonder: How can we fold our arms and watch when our people are exploited in this way? I understand government’s frustration and yet I disagree with the government’s proposed law. Increasing the number of members required for a church to register fails to address the real problem: how to deal with churches/ministries which swindle their followers. The problem does not arise from ease of registration. Most of these churches which swindle their followers pull fairly large crowds within a short time, while many of the good churches don’t. This means that many good small local churches will increasingly find it impossible to get established. The second problem is that the law is unfairly targeting churches, something which is grossly unconstitutional. What about other establishments, and characters such as healers and medicine men who swindle many of our people? What are we doing with them? Sadly in a democracy we must accept that we have to allow space for the existence of religious persuasions with which we disagree to coexist with those that we approve of. We cannot be like those dikgosi of old who used to chase out of their villages people and churches they disagreed with strongly. The state cannot legislate what theology is right for its citizens. So the question: Has our government turned into a bunch of satanists? must be answered with a resounding NO. My opinion is that the government is just ill-advised.