Anyone familiar with charismatic expressions of Christian belief in Uganda (mainly through Pentecostal/Balokole/Born-Again/Evangelical churches) knows that emotions and fanfare play a large part in the proceedings.

Typically struggling with everyday problems and desperate for divine intervention, every week (and sometimes more frequently) millions of believers flock to these churches in search for their ‘miracle’. Problems such as unemployment, marital trouble, poverty, and illness are deferred to Jesus Christ who they believe will solve those problems, or give them the strength to persevere through them.

In Charismatic Christianity in Uganda (Part 1 – Introduction) I wrote that:

The popularity of this form of Christianity has exploded over the last few decades because the doctrine promises poor, under-educated believers miraculous solutions to their everyday problems. Understandably, on an impoverished continent like this one, a religion that offers quick fixes to all the pressing problems in life will be immensely popular, and that is exactly what we see happening. Among charismatic Christians, things like unemployment, failure of business, failure of marriage, sickness, corruption in government… all the problems an individual or society could possibly face… are attributed to Satan, demons and other evil spirits – and Jesus is presented as the antidote.

Such an iteration of Christianity fits perfectly well with the mindset of most native Africans, most of whom have, since time immemorial, taken seriously the perceived threat of curses inflicted upon them by spirits and other bad omens. This is probably why charismatic Christianity has proven to be a raging success in sub-Saharan Africa.

This has literally created a cottage industry of make-shift balokole churches all over the country, typically run by  unscrupulous, opportunistic individuals looking to earn a living from the lucrative business of ‘selling’ Jesus.

Competition is fierce among pastors of rival local balokole churches, after all, having more worshippers usually means bigger collections.

Indeed, this competition for ever bigger collections has produced a crop of what can best be described as showmen, rather than clergymen – evangelists, who, using their knowledge of human psychology are able to enthrall the masses with charismatic styles of preaching. By also knowing which emotional buttons to press, they are able to compel hordes of their desperate followers to part with their meager earnings in exchange for the promise of a miracle. Many of them are now also televangelists, recording their sermons and broadcasting them on television to broaden their reach.

It is difficult to tell who among these characters actually believes in the things they teach, and who are just doing it as a business. What we are seeing is probably a combination of both. Perhaps they see themselves as providing encouragement to their desperate flock, and feel that the ends justify the means. So whatever it takes to get the the people excited and motivated, is what they will do. People want spectacle – and the evangelists supply it by the truckload. Speaking in tongues, casting out demons, slaying the spirit, shouting, yelling, ‘healing’ and singing – all of it working up the flock into a frenzy, almost to the point of hysteria.

These kind of evangelists are not unique to Uganda, or Africa.

Evangelists like these have been in business in the United States for years, and many of the successful ones are even well known to Ugandans.  Lighthouse Television, which is the local Trinity Broadcasting Network affiliate, on a daily basis broadcasts sermons and crusades by such televangelists as Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, T.D Jakes, Creflo Dollar and others.

Ever stopped to ask yourself how they pull it off?

Marjoe

This Freethinkers’ Night, we will be screening the Academy Award winning 1972 documentary titled Marjoe:

Part documentary, part expose, this film follows one-time child evangelist Marjoe Gortner on the "church tent" Revivalist circuit, commenting on the showmanship of Evangelism and "the religion business", prior to the start of "televangelism".

In this film, Marjoe Gortner (his real name) takes us behind the scenes to show us the ‘tricks of the trade’ in modern evangelism. After watching this, you’ll never look at a church service or revival the same again.


The February 2012 Freethinkers’ Night will take place on Thursday, 23rd February, at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.

If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are more than welcome to join us.

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