Has Cameroon’s Paul Biya set a bad example…
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Sunday, August 18, 2013
… as he “fights” Pentecostal Churches and throws himself up for a long battle? Is his example worth emulating in Ghana and other countries where the so-called “spiritual” churches are brazenly stepping on toes, big or small?
The news report is that the Cameroonian President Paul Biya has ordered the closure of nearly 100 Christian churches in key cities, citing criminal practices organized by Pentecostal pastors that threaten the security of Cameroon (See http://edition.myjoyonline.com/pages/oddity/201308/111537.php). He did so to protect national security. And protecting national security means guarding the citizens against activities of the Pentecostal churches that either undermine the integrity of the state or expose the citizens to exploitation by the charlatans running these Pentecostal churches.
I call this a very audacious step, whether he has any ulterior motive or not. The Church should know its station in the body politic and remain there, doing things to solve problems, not to worsen them or create new ones to torment the system.
Indeed, the history of Pentecostalism in Cameroon and other parts of Africa is rich, replete with many tales of good and bad. Tales verging on the good may be those suggesting that converts to Pentecostalism have benefited immensely from the faith to renew their lives and find happiness in life and to prepare for life in the world yonder. They base their faith on miracles that influence their lives (the “Born-Again” encounter), turning their woes into weal and preparing them to live better lives. Only the beneficiaries can best tell their own stories of success. What constitutes the “miracle turn-around” for them is known to them and their Pentecostal godfathers alone.
On the flip side, those against the wave of Pentecostalism may have their own justification too. As the Cameroonian President Biya has revealed, the activities of the Pentecostal churches are detrimental to Cameroon’s well-being; thus, his action to discipline them, using the military to permanently shut down all Pentecostal church denominations in the country’s capital, Yaounde, and the North West Regional capital, Bamenda, which have the largest Christian populations in Cameroon.
The Cable News Network (CNN) has reported that more than 50 churches have now been closed, with the government targeting nearly 100 in eight other regions.
“We will get rid of all the so-called Christian Pentecostal pastors who misuse the name of Jesus Christ to fake miracles and kill citizens in their churches. They have outstretched their liberty,” Mbu Anthony Lang, a government official in Bamenda, told CNN Wednesday.
I am yet to know Biya’s own religious standing—whether he is a Christian (presumably of the Orthodox breed) or an animist or a pagan (misconstrued as an adherent of Traditional African religion). Whatever the case may be, Biya seems to have taken a stern action to right whatever wrong he thinks that the Pentecostal churches are committing in Cameroon.
But Pentecostal pastors said the move is evidence of Biya’s insecurity about the churches’ criticism of the government. And in his decades in power, Biya hasn’t been able to solve Cameroon’s fundamental problems to move the country out of the woods. He has had to exert maximum force to counteract the persistent challenge posed to him by opposition politicians (including Kenneth Fru Ndeh and Winston Ndeh Ntumazah) and to solidify his rule. Since he took over from Ahmed Ahidjo in 1982, Biya has done everything possible to remain in power although his performance is not matched by that longevity on the throne.
The fundamental problems confronting Cameroon since its independence have largely not been solved, and the country remains under-developed and still divided between two regions exhibiting the marks of European colonialism—both Francophone and Anglophone simultaneously. This “split personality” crisis still constructs the country’s identity and characterizes the politics of mistrust and antagonism that has persisted among the politicians over the years.
We are told that nearly 500 Pentecostal churches operate in Cameroon, but fewer than 50 are legal. As to what legality means, I can’t say; but I assume that it may have to do with whether the churches are officially registered and recognized to operate in the country as such or not.
The exact reasons prompting Biya’s actions are not known but one could be traced to immediate causes of concern. As the CNN reported, on Sunday, a 9-year-old Christian girl collapsed and died during a prayer session in Winners’ Chapel, a Pentecostal church in Bamenda. The girl’s mother, Mih Theresa, told CNN Wednesday that the pastor intended to cast out the numerous demons that were in control of her daughter’s life.
But she clearly wasn’t buying any of those reasons. “I want the government to stop these pastors who use mysterious powers to pull Christians and kill then for more powers. All my children have run away from the Catholic Church in search for miracles, signs and wonders,” she told CNN while holding back tears.
Many more revelations. Another Christian (Mveng Thomas) said his marriage ended abruptly when a Pentecostal pastor ordered his wife to dissolve their union. He said the pastor described him as “an unrepentant devil.”
North West Regional governor Adolphe Lele L’Afrique said on Wednesday that police had discovered the abduction of 30 children under age 18 by a pastor in Bamenda who was quoted as saying that he wanted to remove the children from a bad society.
Government officials also said that some pastors convince congregants that they do not need professional medical treatment for their ailments.
“How can a pastor say the sick needs no medical doctor? We need sanity in our Christian lives,” Nyang Blaise, a youth leader for Biya’s ruling party, CPDM, told the CNN.
One woman said her mother was refusing cancer treatments because of her pastor. “My mother’s condition is worsening after doctors confirmed she had cancer. She is dying silently, and yet we cannot persuade her to see a doctor for proper treatment, against her pastor’s wish,” Deborah Tanyi said.
With these happenings reaching high circles, Biya couldn’t look on any more but act decisively against these Pentecostal churches. We recall that sometime last year, tension had begun building between officialdom and the Pentecostal churches, leading to the Cameroonian government’s banning of the Nigerian charismatic preacher, T.B. Joshua, and his Synagogue from operating in the country.
The last straw to have broken the back of the proverbial camel came from the death of that so-called demon-possessed poor girl. And Biya acted promptly to prove to the Pentecostal churches where earthly power lay—with him as the fount of authority in office to defend and protect the rights of the Cameroonian people.
In reaction, the Pentecostal community is angry. As the CNN put it, pastors marched on Wednesday in Bamenda and Douala against the government’s decision, saying that the Biya government “sees the mass proliferation of churches as a threat”.
Boniface Tum, a bishop of the Christian Church of God in Yaounde, said that Biya—who has been President since 1982—is becoming insecure about the freedom of speech within these churches. “Authorizing only the Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Muslim, and a few other churches, is a strict violation of the right to religion,” Tum added.
To outwit the government, targeted Pentecostal Christians in Bamenda are transforming their private homes into churches.
It is clear from this happening in Cameroon that the authorities have decided to carry the battle to the Pentecostal churches. They may be aiming at instilling discipline and order in their activities. Certainly, from the reports, it seems the Pentecostal churches have come across as undesirable and need to be set right.
Considering the extent to which their activities have reached, Biya might be worried that if nothing was done to control them, they might end up doing more harm than good; hence, his bold decision to clamp down on them, damn the consequences. And that’s exactly what he has done.
By going this way, has Biya thrown a big challenge to other African leaders? The Cameroonian experiences with these Pentecoistal churches is similar to what happens in Ghana and other African countries, where the wave of Pentecostalism has dominated the religious scene, causing more hiccups than the expected revival of lives and drastic positive changes in attitudes for national development.
We in Ghana have had good cause to complain about the dizzying heights to which some church leaders have carried their activities; but our leaders haven’t mustered the political will to act as Biya has done. Are we anywhere near that point where officialdom will step in to ensure that these Pentecostal (so-called charismatic churches and their leaders) know their limits and don’t use the church for activities that end up endangering the security of the state and citizens?
Of late, the so-called men-of-God have stepped out of bounds into hardcore politics, coming out with frightening prophecies that have very serious implications for national security. Our government hasn’t reacted in any way nor is there any clear-cut regimen in place to prevent any spilling over of such prophetic missions into the unexpected.
From Biya’s action, it seems that his government is concerned at the extent to which the so-called Pentecostal religious fervor has been pushed. Not waiting to be overtaken by events, he has acted. I am in no position to judge him as being harsh, irreligious or anything else. After all, he is in charge and can best tell what he expects anybody or institution operating in his country to do to advance the cause of humanity. But if the activities of these Pentecostal churches raise eyebrows, he needs to do what he has to do. Not every Cameroon subscribe to the Pentecostal faith.
For whatever reason, he has left intact the orthodox churches, which raises serious questions on what exactly these Pentecostal churches think they are worth that the orthodox churches are not. Pentecostalism has its history, ups-and-downs. It isn’t the answer to all questions facing humanity, which is why the activities prompting the Biya government’s clamp-down on them in Cameroon have to be appreciated in context.
We conclude with two main questions: Will Biya qualify as an anti-Christ” in the lexicon of Pentecostal Christians operating in Cameroon? With what implications? And how will they counteract his draconian measures? Should Paul Biya’s example be an eye-opener for other African countries facing similar problems from the so-called Pentecostal churches? Only time will tell.
I shall return…
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