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Pastor Bugingo’s troubles and those of the church

Any Ugandan who travels and lives abroad consistently for a significant period of time would be familiar with that awful feeling where, upon returning, most things seem annoying, disgusting, shocking, weird and unsatisfactory.

In 2008, I left Uganda to pursue some academic endeavor in Europe. Before I left, Pentecostal churches had obviously existed for several years. However, there wasn’t so much publicity of every wonder that went on in each church.

When I returned five years later, among the surprising things were: regular video records aired on major TV stations showing the major highlights of “miracles” performed by various men and women of “gaad.”

The video clips [advertisements] also included mobile phone numbers with an emphasis that they were registered on mobile money! Suddenly, all the major Pentecostal churches owned TV stations, radio stations and invested heavily in showcasing their highlights on the already existing TV stations, radio stations and social media.

In all the advertisements, two things stood out: an exhibition of the superhuman abilities of the men and women of “gaad” to instantly cure all kinds of diseases, followed by lengthy sermons that emphasized the importance of giving tithe or “planting a seed.”

To corroborate what I saw on television stations; I spent some weeks visiting all the major Pentecostal churches and what I saw wasn’t much different from what I had seen on TV. Typical of all people who have just returned from abroad, there is that tendency to think that there is something you can do to change everything deemed inappropriate.

So, I started talking to some socially well- placed people about what I thought was an injustice and broad daylight robbery from gullible and some unsuspecting miracle seekers. I wondered how some scams would continue without the intervention by government. A prominent journalist assured me that it is a very sensitive issue to write about.

A prominent and high-ranking police officer friend of mine assured me that there is no legal and moral basis for intervening in matters where one chooses to solely go to a church instead of a hospital for medical services. Subsequently, I had to adjust my thoughts and approach to some Pentecostal churches.

For instance, I learnt not to give a hoot even if: people buy one kilogram of “holy” rice at Shs 50,000; HIV/AIDS patients are convinced to abandon ARVs drugs and concentrate on praying and “planting seeds”; pastors unlawfully acquire big chunks of land and evict entire villages; men of “Gaad” rape and molest some of their congregations (including children) and infect some with HIV; officially registered companies/ businesses are presented as churches to avoid paying taxes; men and women of “Gaad” don’t separate personal properties from those of the church and I also learnt not to care about the often inflated and perpetual “church building fees”.

The nauseating picture of infallibility and superhumanness that some pastors have painted of themselves has misled many and several people have quietly suffered due to terrible losses.

Considering the amount of sacrifices and trust that some pastors demand and subsequently get from their congregations, common decency and respect would be expected. If flawlessness and inflated ego were out of the picture, the entire trending hullabaloo about Pastor Bugingo’s marital crisis wouldn’t have turned into a national discussion.

All relationships and marriages have their ups and downs and some inevitably break up. Thus, I don’t find it plausible to gloat over anyone’s marital turbulence. My concern, however, is when thousands of church members have to be debased to the extent of unnecessarily being dragged into an otherwise two-people affair.

Any church leader will know that the two best predictors of a congregation’s survival are budget donations and attendance. It, therefore, follows that while founding pastors like Bugingo ought to be credited for the effort, each church member rightly becomes an interested stakeholder.

After several years of operation, a church building becomes more than just walls, windows and doors; it is also a sacred vessel that stores generations of religious memories.

Every Christian can relate to the feeling of a serious concern when the church in which they were baptized or where their parents got married several decades ago is in a crisis.

If there was any pinch of respect and accountability, church leaders would temporarily step aside whenever faced with a significant personal challenge and would avoid recruiting church members into personal fights.

Also, the separation of personal property from church property would ensure that the continuity of an entire church is not dependent on the personal circumstances of one “man of gaad”.

ssellwanga@gmail.com

The writer is a social critic and a social worker in Alberta-Canada.

Comments

+2 #1 Nakabo 2019-05-22 13:44
Mr. Sserwanga, I thank you for the article. I especially notice the issue of separating marital issues from church issues.

I also, like you, wonder why church leaders cannot put personal life separate from church life! But again, in retrospect, would that not be leading a double life? Is there life not supposed to be open, transparent, so that they lead by example? It is complex and all wrong!

You also wonder why the government does not intervene. Do you not think this acts as a tool to have many swallowed up by the vicissitudes of their church leaders?

As important decisions are taking place in the parliament, majority who are the poorest are enjoying the theatrical display in churches.

Remember that the same religion teaches not to criticize or complain about leaders and their behavior (unless that has changed of recent).

Besides using that as a tool, Ugandan's have generally mastered the art of benefiting from the ignorance of others. Thanks
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+3 #2 Ssekasi 2019-05-23 12:10
Right on the spot. Mr. Serwanga.

These churches are personalised! I find it awkward when the people say, so and so is my Pastor!

People listen to Pastor’s instead of God. Government has to come in and regulate the activities of these Pastors for the good of its people.
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+2 #3 Willy 2019-05-23 13:17
I entirely agree with the views expressed in this article by Mr. Deo SSelwanga.

It is also important to note that some "Miracle performing" pastors are disguised witch-doctors.
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+1 #4 Jama 2019-05-25 01:51
This phenomenon which in the beginning seemed to be of spiritual salvation has turned into a business affair.

One magician in a neighbouring country(name withheld)once claimed on the local media that he was frequented by several well known pastors for magical powers.

In the same country a pastor who charged 100,000 us dollars from a minister who had requested his services to be reappointed in case of a cabinet reshuffle, was arrested once the deal never materialised.

In the same country a pastor was charging 100 us dollars ,which was considered to fulfill one's wishes.

Appart from driving luxurious cars and possessing nice houses, these people have been of utility to oppressive regimes by turning a huge number of population into a dormant one.Convincing them that the cause of their misery is purely spiritual.
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+2 #5 Kalema John Bosco 2019-05-26 18:59
I also thank you for that mr sselwanga, for most of churches in the whole world are personal businesses ,unfortunately people go to these pastors to seek for help yet also pastors needs help from people so let God help.
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