Monday, August 20, 2007

The prayer of Jabez

The Prayer of Jabez is a minor prayer by a minor figure in a minor part of the Bible. However, its influence belies its insignificance.

The Prayer of Jabez is a major bestseller that is a major component of a major Evangelical marketing campaign. Nine million copies sold. Top of The New York Times bestseller list. Numerous spin-off products.The core product is the overpriced, undersized book The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking through to the Blessed Life by Protestant minister Bruce Wilkinson. Wilkinson says a number of years ago he began to say a short prayer daily and, in response, God poured out blessings on him. Now he encourages others to say the prayer daily in expectations of blessings. In many cases such 'blessings' equate with financial gain.

Should Christians pray the Jabez prayer? Well, sure. There isn't anything wrong with the prayer itself. The problem is Wilkinson telling people they should say it daily, expecting God to uniquely reward this prayer.There is no such thing as "the Jabez blessing." God made no such promise, and inflating a microscopic Old Testament character with modern, Madison-Avenue, Evangelical ad-speak does not create one.

Unfortunately the ruthless gold digging TV Evangelists and 10-a-penny Pastors exalt the Jabez prayer as they preach a prosperity gospel devoid of any human compassion.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A recruitment drive at a funeral

A few years ago my wife and I went to a funeral of one of her friends in Lusaka, Zambia. The service was held in a very impressive modern church. Mary, the deceased, had been an active member of the church and the building was packed full of mourners from the church and her family and friends.

The service took the normal sort of pattern. A few hymns, readings from the Bible and some preaching. The preaching was the usual sort of fair I got used to in Pentecostal style churches. The Pastors were charismatic and good orators but thoroughly lacking in any theology to underpin their preaching.

Half way thrrough the service I was sickened by what took place. The leading Pastor (perhaps a self ordained Bishop?) took to the Pulpit and began to preach fire and brimstone type material. He praised the late Mary for choosing Jesus to be her 'personal saviour' and then went on to warn those of us who hadn't done the same thing that we were to be damned unless we repented and proclaimed 'Jesus Christ to be our personal saviour.' To my surprise about a dozen members of the congregation were inspired to rise from their pews and to go to the front of the church to be blessed by the Pastor/Bishop. These people were then taken by one of the other Pastors to 'sign up' for the church. All this took place as the deceased lay before the altar in an open casket. To my mind the whole thing lacked decency and showed little respect for the deceased. However, I'm sure that the dozen new converts would have brought in some extra revenue for what was clearly a fast growing and vibrant business (or do I mean church?)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The evil of the Tithe

The TV Envangelists will always preach about 'the tithe'. The tithe has its origins in the Old Testament; Abraham giving 10% of his possessions to the priest Melchizedek became the precursor to the tithe being established under the Law of Moses. Interestingly although firmly established within the Old Testament there is no Biblical evidence that the culture of tithing continued within the early Christian communities. In contrast the early Church encouraged freewill giving whereby memebers of the community made offerings of money or goods depending upon their own conscience. As tithing was only a requirement found in the Old Testament, some consider it to be a practice that has no place in modern Christianity. Others, such as Word of Faith advocates, espouse that tithing, which is inspired in the individual by God, will enable blessings, usually financial, with references to ten or hundredfold increases. This unfortunately is the message which many vulnerable people have preached at them in Sub Saharan Africa. Whilst the mainline churches encourage their faithful to give as they can afford the Evangelical/Pentecostal 'churches' rigidly enforce the culture of the tithe. Not only do the Pastors of the churches preach that those who tithe will be blessed but they also warn those who do not tithe that they will be cursed by God!

Whilst some might argue that this matter is one of differing theologies (if one accepts that their is any theology underpinning those who preach the prosperity gospel) others see it as the ruthless exploitation of the most vulnerable people in the world. It is no wonder that there are literally thousands of self professed Pastors across Sub Saharan Africa. It can be a very prosporous way of life. Afterall the Pastor is taking 10% of the gross income of all members of their church - regardless of the persons ability to pay. I cannot help but be cynical when I see the Pastors fighting over potential members of their churches. Are they interested in saving souls or profits? I wonder!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

TV Evangelism and its impact on Sub Saharan Africa

Being a minister of God may not sound like the normal route to becoming rich. Certainly here in Europe one does not think of one's local Priest or Vicar as being in it for the money. However, in other parts of the world Christianity is big business! The phenonomean of the American TV Evangelist has spread across the world and is particularly influential in the developing world. Millions of people hoping for a better life are taken in by charlatans such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch and T.D. Jakes. These ruthless conmen and their associates have broadcasting deals established all over Sub Saharan Africa. TBN and other such networks are broadcast from daybreak to beyond sunset into the homes of millions of Africans. In many cases it is the only channel on air during the morning and afternoon as the national networks often don't come on air until evening. As a result the viewing figures for such programmes are substantial as is influence of these rich Americans who claim to have found blessings and riches through God (rather than through the most sickening exploitation of the world's most vulnerable people!)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Exploitation of the poor by Christian Pastors

One of the worst types of exploitation that I have witnessed in Southern Africa is the ruthless exploitation of vulnerable people by so called Pastors. What I would call the business of being a Pastor is rife across much of Sub Saharan Africa. Self professed ministers of God - often claiming to be literally guided by the voice of God - target the poor, the sick, the recently bereaved and make them promises of great blessings from God. They often convince the vulnerable, and usually uneducated, that they are suffering because they have displeased God and that by placing their faith in Him they will be blessed with countless riches. The Pastor often claims that God has told him, or occasionally her, that if the person repents and puts their faith in Jesus Christ as their 'Personal Saviour' then such blessings will follow.

To be fair some of these Pastors do bring short term comfort to the needy. They are there to comfort the bereaved when the mainline churches often fail to do so. This is largely due to the logistics that the mainline churches face of a handful of priests/vicars/ministers serving vastly populated pastoral areas. The Pastors however are usually quick of the mark when someone in their neighbourhood has been bereaved. The cynic in me can't help believing that this is because they want to comfort the bereaved before their rival Pastors do the same! You see these Pastors are everywhere and their is a sickening competetion between them. Afterall being a Pastor in Sub Saharan Africa can be a profitable little number!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Help Zambia fight back against the vultures

In 1999, a 'vulture fund' called Donegal International bought a debt owed by Zambia, originally worth $15 million and then valued at about $30 million, for a knock-down price of $3.3 million. It then sued Zambia in London for the full amount, plus compound interest – a staggering total of over $55 million! The judge rejected the size of Donegal's claim, after Zambia fought back in the courts. But he nevertheless ruled that under law Donegal is entitled to something from Zambia, and awarded the company $15.5 million.

Zambia desperately needs all its money to invest in teachers, doctors and infrastructure. Thousands of campaigners have contacted Donegal, urging it not to take the money. But it's ignoring our calls. The UK and other wealthy governments need to take action to prevent this kind of predatory action. Please add your voice to the call of the Jubilee Debt Campaign by taking action by clicking on the link below and contacting your MP.