Thursday morning at 11:00 am I arrived in Mpombo, the western section of Valdezia to visit house by house and begin Bible studies in ongoing efforts to evangelize. The houses display a mix of the middle class and the poor. But as I walked between them, I heard a Tsonga man “preaching” in English while a Tsonga woman translated after him into Tsonga. Because the grass was growing tall, I could not see the unusual church that would have a service on Thursday morning. The man shouted that “all my enemies will fall before me” along with all the other mantras of the prosperity religion.
Eventually, I met two men on the road who were both drunk and carrying bottles away from the sound of the “preaching.” I spoke with them briefly about their souls, but they could not carry any serious thought. Shortly after them, I reached a beautiful home with a gardener and a decorated wall. The woman at home kindly told me that the bottle store (bar, see the photo) next door was owned by her and that she played these things from the TV in order to attract people to drink there. The two men I had met came from this place.
So here is the situation: A shouting preacher is being blasted by enormous speakers from a tavern throughout a large swath of Mpombo. The owner and the inhabitants appear to find no noticeable incongruity between the religious message or the business of alcohol. Why?
1. The Prosperity Gospel appeals to the base sentiment of globalized entertainment.
The overall volume combines with the undulating rhythms of the speaker’s voice. He has copied so many television preachers that he can bounce and screech in an ear-catching way. There is a lot about vague “enemies” who are trying to “take you down.” And there is a lot of God-talk about a salvation without the Cross from the demons of poverty.
2. The Prosperity Gospel soothes carnal habits rather than confronting sin.
Nothing about this kind of preaching would awaken a drunkard. There is no word of warning unless the preacher begins to shout about someone “coming out from under my umbrella of authority.” I have a newspaper behind me on my shelf from a prosperity preacher in this area announcing that sex before marriage does not matter. I don’t think most Africans in the rural areas are surprised at these things because they have grown up nourished with a diet of ATR over which they don the clothes of Prosperity. Many in the West however accept this as Christian.
3. The Prosperity Gospel bypasses the Christian God.
There is no tremendous lightning and fire coming from the Mountain to terrify sinners. There is no heart-stopping grace to melt hard hearts. There is no exaltation. A man might understand and enjoy the presentation of this kind of religion immediately without the interposition of a new heart or even any conviction of sin. Though it is loud, it deadens the senses by an entire visceral experience.
In the mind of the average person in the rural areas, alcohol is immediately and intrinsically connected to drunkenness. The rural mind takes alcohol as antithetical to Christianity because traditional brewing took place among the Tsongas after the harvest and lasted a number of days during which drunkenness and sexual sins were commonplace.
The point of this post is to demonstrate not the evil of beer, but the unconscious statement that the dominant religion in the villages fits neatly with the culture of the bar. It does not call for and could not co-exist with holiness, repentance, Bible study, reflection, or Christian faith.