By Elias Munshya
Malawian Pentecostals must be very proud of themselves. They have managed to get one of them to become President of Malawi. What a great honour and privilege. Rev. Dr. Lazarus Chakwera is not only a member of the Pentecostal fraternity; but one of the classical Pentecostals’ well-known figure across Southern Africa and indeed the world. He has served as President of a Pentecostal grouping in southern Africa, in Africa, and the rest of the world. This is an extraordinary moment for Malawi. But more so, it is a great moment for all Pentecostals.
I am quite optimistic about Malawi’s future. However, I must be clear about the challenges that lie ahead. Malawi’s new President has a great vision for his country. He has prioritized the fight against corruption and wants his government to be based on the rule of law. He has pledged to revamp the country’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors. To all the widespread Malawian diaspora in southern Africa, President Chakwera’s message resonated, and we hope that the optimism of President Chakwera’s leadership will translate to change and hope in southern Africa. If Malawi can do it, so can other countries in southern Africa.
Words of goodwill have continued to pour in. Rev. Dr. Chakwera’s missionary friends are extremely happy for him, and they are also proud of the fact that their colleague is now at the helm of a country they served. For Zambia’s part, apart from the much-muted message from Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, opposition Leader Nevers Mumba was on hand to personally congratulate the new President in Lilongwe. Dr. Mumba is a personal friend of Dr. Chakwera. I have no doubt that, during his struggles as an opposition leader, Dr. Chakwera may have compared a note or two with Zambia’s second Pentecostal vice-President. If there is any country from which Malawian Pentecostals can learn how they can relate to a state in which one of their own is the leader, they will have plenty of lessons to learn from Zambia.
At this juncture, let me reiterate that the word “Pentecostal” may mean different things to different people. At most, there are at least four major groups of Pentecostalism. The first group is the one represented by Dr. Chakwera. This group can also be called classical Pentecostals. In Zambia, they are represented by the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zambia, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church, among others. The classical Pentecostal group is very evangelical in doctrine, traditional in outlook, and emphasizes theological education. The second group is what I would call the word of faith movement. In Zambia, it is epitomized by leaders such as Dr. Nevers Mumba and the several other ministries following in the paths of American word of faith teachers such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and many others. This is what makes the relationship between Dr. Chakwera and Dr. Mumba quite interesting. Dr. Chakwera is a proven leader within the classical Pentecostal group, whereas Dr. Mumba belongs to the word of faith wing.
Further, one of the exciting things about Dr. Mumba is how he manages to overlap with the traditional Pentecostal denominations. And so, naturally, just as Dr. Chakwera would not typically have kind words to say about the word of faith movement, he nevertheless may have some affinity for a leader such as Nevers Mumba. This is an exciting proposition. The third strand of Pentecostals is what I would call the revivalist. These Pentecostals are the ones that come out of “traditional” churches. This category of Pentecostals is challenging to understand because they combine classical Pentecostalism, the word-of-faith, and the traditions of their “parent” denominations. These churches would include Grace Ministries Mission International (which came out of the United Church of Zambia), and the BIGOCA (a church that broke away from the RCZ). The last category of Pentecostals is the newer “profita” movement. The profita movement is the closest to the African Traditional Religious Worldview ( ATR). In the profita movement, leaders function like mediums and witchdoctors. They use Pentecostal language but function like seers and witchdoctors. Going by various names – these leaders go by various names such as Commander, Major Prophet, and Seer.
A movement with such variety may have difficulties narrowing down its theology, let alone a political theology. However, a few pointers may be in order. Malawian Pentecostals should know that having Pentecostals in leadership does not necessarily mean that good leadership is assured. Zambia has had a Pentecostal president (Chiluba) and several Pentecostal vice-Presidents (Godfrey Miyanda, and Nevers Mumba). But even with these people in power, it required more than their faith to bring about any real change. Malawi will not change just because it has a Pentecostal pastor for its President.
Malawian Pentecostals need to know the blind spots inherent in the Pentecostal faith – the conceptualization of power. Pentecostalism is a religion of power. We are faith or sect that idolizes power. And that may present a serious problem politically. Now that a Pentecostal has ascended to Malawi’s highest office, there may be a temptation by Malawian Pentecostals to think that they have arrived. Pentecostals must always know that power should always be deployed to serve others. And if the new President deviates from such a calling, Pentecostals should call him to account. President Chakwera should be able to count on the faithfulness of this country as well as the criticism from his faith tradition. In other words, Pentecostals in Malawi must be willing to hold Rev. Chakwera accountable.
The election of a Pentecostal for President in Malawi demonstrates that our faith has gone mainstream. Regardless of how many strands of us exist, society had better pay attention. However, the goal should always be to serve society, and I hope this Pentecostal leader will do just that in Malawi.
The author, Elias Munshya, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org