I have been following the feud which has rocked Maranatha Church and the questions about whether or not Pastor Gitwaza owns a Hummer as it appears in the press, but had restrained myself from commenting on the matter.
The reason for my restraint being that you cannot do it without appearing to be judging the parties involved, which the Bible restricts us to do. [It is prejudice to discuss such cases because they are already before God’s court].
I have, however, been enticed to overcome my self-restraint after listening to Joyce Meyer’s most recent sermon on one of the FM radio stations in town. Joyce Meyer heads a Christian ministry and she [or her agents] has bought airtime on many airwaves for preaching the gospel.
Meyer, in her sermon, says people are jealous of other people’s property because they themselves don’t own such property; such jealousy is the devil’s work.
Those who lack property, she says, lack because they do not involve themselves in the same activities that the propertied class do.
She proudly cautions her audience against feeling jealousy if “she flies herself in a personal airplane or cruises in a posh car.”
Meyer ends by pronouncing, “We need to shut up about other people’s private lives,” a statement that garners applause from her audience.
Such reasoning definitely tries to exonerate Pastor Gitwaza from an accusing finger here at home and many others in a similar situation, let alone Meyer herself, but it does not dispel the fact that some church leaders extort money from Christians.
First of all, not everybody engaged in church ministry work has the chances of endowment to the likes of the Gitwazas of this land, or Meyer for that matter.
When I look at a pastor at a village church in Kaduha, who does exactly the same work of preaching every passing Sunday or Saturday, I see only a bleak picture of the man here on Earth. I leave the rest of my imagination to the next world where I even hold no blurred view of what exactly will happen.
So that is where Meyer’s reasoning beats one’s understanding of whether there is a direct linkage between what she and Gitwaza do, and the material wealth many church leaders have amassed.
The character of the religious leaders just exposes how religion has become a big business. The infighting in Maranatha Church over church donations corroborates this widely held view. These people will use every opportunity to get a big following then ‘sell them blessings’, just the same way a business man employs tricks to get enough customers to stay in business.
I recently read an advertisement for the sale of church premises in the classified pages of one newspaper, which left me wondering how one could conceive the idea of selling a church.
Simple economics would tell you that with market, being one of the factors that determine location of a firm, the absence of it would make one change location to a more strategic area.
Originally, we were meant to believe that church leaders are ordained by God, but in Maranatha Church, they are proving us wrong by their infighting for church positions.
Everybody wants to be at the dining table as the only sure way of not eating crumbs.
Such conduct leaves the Christians confused.
We begin thinking whether this is the time talked about in the Bible in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, that “in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, false accusers, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God…”
I think in Rwanda, many unscrupulous church leaders can easily find many a gullible follower because of the history of the Genocide which left many people seeking solace in the church.
But to safeguard such people, the government should regulate the activities of churches and, where possible, make them pay taxes.
It is clear that these religions gain a lot of wealth for their owners; the leaders live opulent lives, have built marvellous churches and guest houses which are rented out to their followers. But the tax man does not pass their way to get even a single toll.
The writer is The New Times bureau chief in Bugesera