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“The Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation: Blessing or Curse”: What Gershom Ndhlovu Misses About Pentecostals

By E. Munshya wa Munshya

The book The Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation: Blessing or Curse is Gershom Ndhlovu’s debut book. It is available at amazon.com in kindle edition. It is a book for the modern person in many ways, first, as a publication utilizing modern technologies. And second, by how much it makes use of the Internet and social media for its resources.

For about $12.00, the book simultaneously downloaded to my kindle on all my three devices. The wonders of modern technology had fused with the awes of creative writing employed by Mr. Ndhlovu. I swiftly commenced my reading, switching between devices as time and opportunity allowed.

The publication of this book in kindle format has implications for Zambia. It is limiting to the extent that only those with Internet and a credit card could probably purchase it. This drastically restricts the reach of an otherwise good historical book. Second, this publication goes to show that the leaps towards modern technologies are here to stay. Zambian authors can therefore publish their books in the most inexpensive manner using such devices as amazon’s kindle. As such, Ndhlovu’s work is a mixture, both a blessing and curse.

Mr. Ndhlovu explains the purpose of his book in the last pages. He states that he was motivated to write this book because pastors and politicians who had been abusing the Christian faith to advance their personal agendas had disillusioned him. These pastors and politicians actually sidelined people, obviously like him, who “wanted a secular system of governance”. He then continues to state that he hopes that “the objective of promoting the separation of church and government would have been met by the facts presented” in his book. After reading the book, I have doubts whether Mr. Ndhlovu actually discharges this objective.

I think the book is good in presenting some political history of Zambia. However, even then, the history Ndhlovu presents is not necessarily new. He has repeated much of the same history written by other authors. Where he stands out, however, is when he addressed the story of Anderson Mazoka and the issue of Zambia’s struggle with homosexual rights. For a young nation like ours – the challenge for equality for our homosexual citizens remains a very important matter and Ndhlovu does very well to give this matter some visibility.

My critical review of this book therefore will centre on Ndhlovu’s treatment of the Pentecostal faith. This book on the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is undoubtedly a book about Zambian politics as much as it is about the Pentecostals as important players in the declaration drama.

First, when Ndhlovu mentions that pastors disillusion him – he has explained clearly which pastors he has in mind: the Pentecostal pastors. As such, in his attempt at perhaps questioning these pastors he mischaracterizes the history and doctrines of Pentecostals. For example, he mentions that Pentecostals seem to have grown in Zambia because people flocked there to identify themselves with the president. As a result, “some clergy became some the wealthiest people in the land through tithes that congregants had to pay and other connections they forged with the government.”

While I am sympathetic with Mr. Ndhlovu’s loath for Pentecostals, I find it rather surprising that he could actually misdirect Pentecostal history in this manner. It is open knowledge that Pentecostalism has grown exponentially in Zambia. But this growth cannot just be attributed to a Pentecostal president. In fact, Pentecostalism was on the increase from the early 80s. It is during KK’s tenure that Pentecostalism saw its most substantial development. Chiluba only brought visibility to Pentecostals, something that never existed under the dictatorial rule of Kenneth Kaunda.

It is common knowledge that there are very few rich pastors within Pentecostalism, especially in Lusaka. However, most Pentecostal pastors remain very poor – as poor as their congregants. Three rich pastors in Lusaka cannot be the standard to measure Pentecostals just as the rich Catholic Bishops should not be used as a standard for all other Catholics.

Second, Ndhlovu does not seem to appreciate the grievances that Zambians had with Kenneth Kaunda’s involvement with Eastern Mysticism. It is not for me to debate the merits or demerits of Zambians’ aversion for Eastern Mysticism. My duty is just to acknowledge this reality. In Zambia, Eastern Mysticism has been associated with religions foreign to Zambia. When Kenneth Kaunda started to experiment with these religions – most Zambians (Catholic and protestant alike) were uncomfortable with Kaunda. This was not just the case of overzealous Pentecostals misunderstanding Kaunda. Kaunda in his own book “Letters to my children” expressed how that he had abandoned his father’s Christian beliefs in favour of a more syncretic worldview. Meeting the Catholic leaders in the 1980s Kaunda even intimated to Archbishop Mazombwe that he had met an Indian spiritualist that had helped him understand God better.

And contrary to Ndhlovu’s characterization, when Kaunda hired the Indian mystics to be his spiritual advisors he fired all Christian advisors. This was most probably very offensive to Zambians and that is why it formed part of the many reasons responsible for Kaunda’s removal. In this case, it was not only the Pentecostals that de-campaigned Kaunda – even his own UCZ pastors were at the forefront in Kitwe in denouncing Kaunda’s sacrifice of the nation’s soul to Eastern religions.

Third, Ndhlovu then goes into theology. He discusses the merits and demerits of the “born again” concept and uses scripture and tradition to explain that evangelicals are probably mistaken in their view of being born again. When writing a book like this, probably Ndhlovu should have kept himself away from engaging in theological disputes. Church practices never make sense. They are not meant to make sense. If he holds that traditional churches are more biblical in requiring “catechism” which the Pentecostals don’t, that argument should be left to theology rather than history. Traditional churches also have doctrines and practices that they hold on to which in many cases don’t make biblical sense. Could we go on to the dogma of Immaculate Conception? Or the dogma of Papal Infallibility? Or even then of other doctrines held by historical denominations. When making arguments for or against the Church’s involvement in politics it is hardly a good strategy to discredit other denominations based on theology. Theology is an uncertain discipline to prove anything.

I must mention though that as a theologian, I found Ndhlovu’s love and treatment of Scriptures to be quite refreshing. His own writing does seem to confirm the idea that many Zambians take Christianity very seriously. It is no doubt that Ndhlovu relies heavily on the Bible to prove his points. Ndhlovu’s love for the Bible and his use of the Bible also fortifies the general view that Zambians are thoroughly Christian and would rely on the Bible to prove anything. If Ndhlovu feels that politicians have abused the Bible – he could also count himself among them. He has clearly relied on the Bible heavily to push his own agenda.

Fourthly, Ndhlovu mischaracterizes history when he claims that Pentecostal churches mostly welcomed the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation without support from other denominations. Eight days after the declaration all the three church mother bodies issued a joint pastoral statement supporting President Chiluba’s decision. The EFZ, ECZ, and CCZ all took the declaration as a step in the right direction. The idea that the mainline denominations were opposed to the Declaration belongs to later revisions of history and not to the events surrounding the original declaration in 1991. Unfortunately, Ndhlovu takes the bait and documents a revisionist narration.

Fifth, Pentecostal churches have been shown in Ndhlovu’s book as being very supportive of Chiluba and of following him blindly. But a critical look at Pentecostals would show that Pentecostals are not a unified body and neither is it desirable that they should be so. To take a few voices and impose them on all Pentecostals is not fair analysis. In any case, it is from the Pentecostal fraternity that Chiluba got one of the greatest opposition. Pastor Nevers Mumba, at a time when it was not fashionable to do so, abandoned the pulpit and directly challenged President Chiluba’s corruption. Had Ndhlovu wanted to present a more balanced view of Pentecostal response to the excesses of President Chiluba he would have also mentioned Nevers as an opponent of Chiluba’s.

A few facts might be in order. Even if Chiluba was of the Pentecostal faith, most in his cabinet were actually non-Pentecostal. Indeed, the Post Newspaper when criticizing Father Chilinda noticed that it is actually St. Ignatius Catholic Church that had produced the most corrupt government officers under president Chiluba. What this demonstrates is that corruption and government excesses should not be portrayed as a preserve of one church or one faith.

Sixth, it is quite disquieting that Ndhlovu does seem to suggest that Pentecostals never supported Michael Sata’s ascension to power. Pentecostals were among the most ardent supporters of the Patriotic Front and many continue to support President Michael Sata today. Like most Zambians, the voting pattern of Pentecostals is very complex and they do not just vote based on faith. Had this been the case, Nevers Mumba would have enjoyed their vote since 1998.

Pentecostals are citizens like everyone else and they do support politicians not only based on faith but also based on their stomachs. They supported Michael Sata because they believed that he would help bring change to Zambia. In fact, one Pentecostal congregation produced 3 councilors for PF in the 2006 elections in Lusaka. Among these was the mayor of Lusaka. In fact, Lusaka at one time had two successive PF mayors of the pentecostal faith.

A book like Ndhlovu’s is a good start for history. It has lots of positives. But the Pentecostal story needed a response and I hope my critique above will help strengthen the very ideals that Ndhlovu wanted to promote. I highly recommend Ndhlovu’s book and look forward to further dialogue with him on some of these matters.