In The Name of God: Should The Zambian Government Ban Immoral Clergy?
E. Munshya, LLB (Hons), M.Div.
Registrar of Societies Kakoma Kanganja has proscribed a Lusaka pastor from ministry. This pastor, as widely reported in the media, was accused of among other things, practicing Satanism, sexual misconduct and several doctrinal hullabaloos. Kanganja appears to be more deliberative in his decision making process. In this article, I wish to explore at least two points. I will highlight the rise of the prophetism phenomenon. After this, I will then explore the role, if any, that government can play in controlling some controversial practices.
There are so many people claiming to be prophets that it is difficult to tell one from the other. Some are performing bizarre practices. For the prophet in question, his practices allegedly involved asking members to shave all the hair on their bodies and taking pilgrimage into the bush. Others have alleged sexual misconduct on the part of the prophet.
The prophetism phenomenon calls for serious discernment. It is the duty of all citizens to be able to question and reassess what these prophets are teaching. It should not be difficult for anyone to figure out that any prophet who demands huge sums of cash, as a prerequisite for a miracle, should be doubted. Additionally, it should be clear that any prophet who asks for sex as a way to exorcise spirits is most probably a charlatan. There is no wonder working power in any pastor’s penis. In so saying, I am not in any way suggesting that any form of sexual indiscretion by clergy is a sign that they are false prophets. Indeed, it would be ridiculous for me to claim that. What I am suggesting is that any one who uses religion, as a way to habitually manipulate followers into immoral behaviour is most probably a false prophet. And the people of Zambia should be the best judge of such behaviors.
If we are to learn from PK Chishala’s hit song Pastor Changwe, we see that some controversial pastors can use scripture to justify transgressions. In PK’s song, Pastor Changwe even goes to misquote the Bible as a way to justify his desire to sleep with his deacon’s wife. “Ati wakana ine ninshi wakana Paulo”. Pastor Changwe went on to claim, “Yesu alikwete Maria Magdalena, Paulo nao ali na Phoebe, Petelo alikwete Dorcas”. Clearly, this is twist of scripture. Having supposed that, PK Chishala is not in any way suggesting that Pastor Changwe is committing a crime or an offence. We must create a distinction between conduct that is morally reprehensible and that which is illegal. We should not impute illegality on conduct that might be immoral but not necessarily illegal. I will come back to this later.
Having regard to the reality of deceitful prophets among us, the next question should be, how could we control them? Some members of the said pastor’s church went to the Registrar of Societies and after investigations and to his credit Kanganja decided to ban this pastor. I am alive to the fact that Kanganja did his due diligence. However, even if he had done his due diligence, the decision to ban this pastor does seem to have been an overreach of his powers. It would be a terrible Zambia where we allow a government officer to chose for us who should and who should not be worthy to lead a religious organization. The government should have no role in determining for its citizen the ritual, moral or spiritual fitness of its religious leaders. Even if that pastor were alleged to have been involved in all those activities, the Registrar of Societies does not have the powers and neither should he have the powers to proscribe any citizen from leading a religious organization. Just as government has no powers to determine ritual fitness of Sosala to be Chitimukulu so doesn’t government have powers to determine the ritual fitness of any pastor.
The problem with allowing Kanganja’s conduct to continue is the chilling effect it will have on religious liberty. Today, he might be justified in stopping this rowdy pastor, but tomorrow who knows what Kanganja might be up to? It should be left to the members of a religious organization to determine how they will handle the affairs of their churches. Indeed, a government officer should be blind to internal squabbles that border on religious doctrine. If we allowed government to interfere then there is nothing that would stop Kanganja from entering any independent church and “discipline” randy pastors. In fact, Kanganja’s predecessor, wanted to overzealously ban the bus station pastors. This guy seemed to have had no clue that having the power to register societies in Zambia did not necessarily give him the duty to regulate religious expression, regardless of how annoying it gets.
I take notice of the seriousness of the allegations leveled against the banned Lusaka pastor. But even if these practices are morally questionable and in fact could be unbiblical, they are not in themselves illegal. If a group of citizens decide to shave their hair as a way of their religious ritual, it should be within their right to do so. If a pastor commits sexual immorality, it is immoral obviously but that should not, by itself, make government to disqualify such a pastor. Again, it is not government’s job to do so.
The sexual immorality thing does seem to be quite a petulant subject at the moment. If a religious leader rapes women, then he must be arrested and the law should take its course. If there is no rape, and the leader has consensual sex with consenting adults, while such conduct falls below expected moral standards, it should not by itself lead to government interference in religious matters. If indeed, we allowed government to do so, then even the Mother Church herself would have long closed its doors. Contrary to some perceptions, the problems of sexual immorality are not unique to one social institution or one church. They are prevalent in mainline churches as well as newer religious movements. If Kanganja has to defrock immoral clergy, we might have to suggest that he starts with the Mother Church herself – Ekklesia Katolika. And so, if he has no guts to defrock Catholic clergy, where on earth does he get the authority to defrock an independent church?
It is quite telling that rumors of Satanism have been circulated against even more orthodox Christian organizations. I know a church situated near John Laing and Misisi compounds. This church has the reputation of being “satanic” simply by the many cars that park there each Sunday. Rumors of Satanism have unjustifiably been circulated against organizations such as the Mormon Church and other organizations in Zambia. In fact, on at least two occasions, the Zambian government banned the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) alleging that the church was practicing Satanism. In both of these instances, the Zambian courts took exception to government of overreach and made it clear that religious freedom is sacrosanct. You cannot proscribe a religion simply because of rumors.
This brings me to the consultation Kanganja did with the chairman of ICOMZ – David Masupa. There is this mistaken and irritating belief by some of our people that the mother church bodies are the de-facto regulators of religious expression in Zambia. This idea is neither biblical and neither is it legal. Citizens have the right and freedom to express their religious liberties without recourse to a “church mother body”.
The best adjudicators of any religion are the ordinary people. Government should only interfere if a church or a pastor is committing crimes or corrupting public morals. It should not be the duty of government to intercede on a matter of how some pastor decides to shave his pubic hair as a way of his own religious ritual. Reprehensive as it may seem, it is within the confines of human liberty. Government should stay out of the Church, including the most reprehensive of the churches.
Update: On 23 August 2015, we changed the title of this article from “In The Name of God: Should The Zambian Government Ban Randy Clergy?” to “In The Name of God: Should The Zambian Government Ban Immoral Clergy?”. We essentially removed the word “randy” and replaced it with “immoral”.