“Wit, whither wilt?” That is vintage Shakespeare, meaning, “Where to now, clever one?” This is the question hovering in my mind, with respect to our faiths, spirituality and morals. In the face of the bizarre stories coming out of our places of worship, I cannot help wondering where we are heading in matters of our beliefs and behaviour befitting people of God.
I tried to steel myself against the femicidal/suicidal horror of a “pastor” butchering his wife and then himself in front of “their” congregation, in Mombasa, treating it as a rare moment of madness. But then, the outrageous stories of believers’ wayward pranks, from both conventional institutions and the new “spirit” churches, kept pouring in. Here is a sample of episodes from the Land of Matoke, where I have been spending my early weeks of the year.
A prominent leader at a mosque in the Eastern Central Region, near the Nile, is facing charges in court for “beating” (publicly celebrating) a wedding with a fellow man. Same-sex marriages are illegal out there. But the unfortunate suspect claims that he was deceived into believing that his “bride” was a woman. Who is the victim, who is the offender?
Meanwhile, another court has dissolved the relationship between my favourite gospel singer and her second “husband”, a member of parliament, who has denied paternity of her four-month old baby. The singer is also an MP, but her biggest following is among lovers of gospel music, including me, who appreciate her songs as sources of genuine Christian inspiration.
She was thus a role model of spirituality for many of us. We were sad but sympathetic when, some years back, she quietly separated from her first husband, a pastor in one of the spirit churches, especially as we believed that our sister faced genuine domestic problems.
We were, however, considerably dismayed when, in mid-2018, our Honourable Songbird staged a weird “introduction and wedding” ceremony with her fellow parliamentarian, the man who has just repudiated and divorced her. It was public knowledge that this Honourable gentleman was in a steady relationship with another woman, with whom he had fathered twins, and to whom he has now returned, after messing up our singer.
Judge not, lest ye be judged, says the scripture. But, surely, such encounters risk trying and testing our faith to the extremes of endurance.
Speaking of denial of paternity, an utterly stupefying drama ensued between two clergymen of one of the most respected conventional churches who accused each other of having fathered a child with a musician at one of their presbyteries. The younger preacher, whom the mother named as the father of the child, flatly rejected responsibility, claiming that one of his superiors was the father, and he had only foisted the musician on him after realising that she was pregnant.
The situation was only saved, in a way, by the minister responsible for women’s and children’s affairs at the Ministry of Gender, a no nonsense lady, who summoned all the parties in the dispute, stating that she was going to demand DNA tests, and she would take appropriate and stern action based on the outcome. It was then that the young preacher agreed, without a need for the DNA, to be paying maintenance for the musician’s child.
The following weekend, the young preacher was formally “introduced” by his fiancée, a different woman, to her parents, also prominent members of the clergy. They will soon be joined in Holy Matrimony, and if anyone has anything to say, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.
Now, a senior pastor and televangelist in the spirit churches community, has emphatically pronounced himself on the subject of marriage. It appears that, according to him, marriage is not biblical and the so-called marriage vows may be “satanic”. Another minister, the one for Ethics and Integrity and a churchman himself, has summoned the pastor to clarify his utterances, but the pastor has so far ignored the summons.
To put this development in context, this same pastor was once reported to have ordered the burning of Bibles that contained English words that he did not like. He is also said to have urged his followers to throw away their wedding rings. Last year, advocates of women’s rights demonstrated against the pastor on the streets of the capital after he exposed a number of bedroom secrets, including an issue of blood, between him and his wife of over thirty years.
It is difficult to tell whether the pastor’s new teaching on marriage is related to a much-publicised liaison between him and one of the female workers at his media empire, and his decision to part ways with his wife. Nor do I dare decide for you whether a cover-to-cover reading of the Bible yields no defence or justification of marriage.
There are, however, a few important questions that we need to ask in the face of all this. What exactly do we believe? What is our faith? What is the truth about our relationship with God and where can we find it? What is the relationship between what we believe (or say we believe) and the way we behave? To whom should we listen and whom should we follow?
I do not rush into commenting on matters of religion, spirit or faith for one simple reason. I believe that only properly and fully trained, anointed and appointed people should handle these matters. The increasing trend of all sorts of people claiming to be “spirit-inspired” and declaring themselves to be pastors, prophets, apostles, bishops, or even divinities, is problematic and disturbing.
The liberalisation or opening up of the faith space has turned it into a phenomenal growth industry. It is, literally, a multibillion-dollar international business. This, inevitably, attracts all sorts of characters, including fraudsters, opportunists and predators, wolves in sheepskins, ready and willing to prey on us unsuspecting flocks. How do we survive? Consult your pastors, after closely observing their credentials.
Incidentally, I still enjoy the songs of my gospel artist.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature; [email protected]