Rags To Riches In Africa: Become a Pastor
July 3rd, 2010
Dan Savage was tipped to a Ugandan Pastor that is speaking at a Seattle-area church, and asked me if I knew who he was. I hadn’t heard of him, and neither had any of my Ugandan contacts. So I responded:
I’m afraid I’ve never heard of this guy. Uganda is crawling with evangelical pastors. All it takes is a white shirt and a tin-roof shack somewhere and suddenly you’re a pastor. And in some cases you don’t even need a shack. Just a street corner will do. And if one of them can finagle a trip to the US where Ugandan pastors are very fashionable, they’ve hit the motherlode.
I have no idea whether this Frank Butyai is legitimate. But the larger point stands: becoming a pastor in a desperately poor country has been a proven pathway to riches, so says The Economist:
Ms Wanjiru’s own church, Jesus Is Alive Ministries, is a good example of the new genre. She can draw 100,000 worshippers to a meeting. Add in a visiting televangelist and the number can rise to as many as 500,000. Ms Wanjiru has lived the Pentecostal dream. She is from a poor family of casual labourers and eked out a life as a housemaid and toilet cleaner before working her way up to a marketing job. She then experienced a vision from God calling on her to save Africa. These days videos, CDs and other accessories can be bought from her website using credit cards or phone credit. She makes good use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. She is not afraid to court controversy, last year baptising the boss of the Mungiki organised-crime outfit, Maina Njenga. Mr Njenga’s gang had been involved in extortion and had a history of hacking off the heads of its enemies.
But the business of owner-operated churches is competitive. A few dud sermons and the crowd thins. That is one reason why they are so upbeat and aspirational. …However, there is also plenty of hucksterism. You will be blessed with health and wealth by God, congregants are told, especially if you give generously. As in other parts of the world, the new churches in Kenya and Uganda provide a place for the ambitious poor to get ahead….
Get ahead, indeed. The sight of Ugandan pastors driving Humvees and other expensive SUV’s is not uncommon. And of course, you can’t talk about Evangelical pastors in Africa without mentioning Martin Ssempa:
A Ugandan Pentecostal preacher, Martin Ssempa, for instance, has mined a rich seam of homophobia in Uganda to help build up his standing. He and other Pentecostals pushed for the tabling of an anti-homosexuality bill in the Ugandan parliament, which advocates spying on gays and proscribes imprisonment for sodomy. Earlier versions of the law called for the death penalty in some instances. [Editor's note: This is incorrect. Despite reports like this to the contrary, the bill has never been officially modified to remove the death penalty.] Mr Ssempa has in the past had ties with a prominent American evangelical, Rick Warren (who has condemned the anti-gay law), and with Uganda’s born-again first lady, Janet Museveni. “In Africa sodomy is an abomination,” he says. Some of his actions, such as screening gay pornography to his congregants, look clownish and self-publicising, but Mr Ssempa has been astute in targeting students at Makere, Uganda’s best university.