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Prosperity gospel and the culture of greed in post-colonial Africa: Constructing an alternative African Christian Theology of Ubuntu

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Abstract

Christianity in post-colonial Africa is highly influenced and shaped by the prosperity message. The popular and materialistic gospel is sweeping across the continent like a gale-force wind, which is irresistible. Previous studies on prosperity gospel have indeed defined the concept as a global phenomenon and in an African context. This study is an interdisciplinary reflection on prosperity gospel and the culture of greed in post-colonial Africa. The study proposes the African Christian Theology of Ubuntu as an alternative to prosperity gospel. Ubuntu is prescribed here as an antidote to the culture of greed in prosperity gospel because it is a theology of life, care, solidarity, economic justice, hope and accompaniment. Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The paper challenges previous missiological perspectives on prosperity gospel and the culture of greed. The study proposes an African theology of Ubuntu as an alternative to prosperity gospel because it is a practical theology of life, care, solidarity, economic justice, hope and accompaniment.
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Verbum et Ecclesia
ISSN: (Online) 2074-7705, (Print) 1609-9982
Page 1 of 8 Original Research
Authors:
Thinandavha D. Mashau1
Mookgo S. Kgatle1
Aliaons:
1Department of Chrisan
Spirituality, Church History
and Missiology, University
of South Africa, Pretoria,
South Africa
Corresponding author:
Mookgo Kgatle,
kgatles@yahoo.com
Dates:
Received: 21 June 2018
Accepted: 04 Nov. 2018
Published: 11 Apr. 2019
How to cite this arcle:
Mashau T.D & Kgatle, M.S.,
2019, ‘Prosperity gospel
and the culture of greed
in post-colonial Africa:
Construcng an alternave
African Chrisan Theology of
Ubuntu’, Verbum et Ecclesia
40(1), a1901. hps://doi.org/
10.4102/ve.v40i1.1901
Copyright:
© 2019. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
is licensed under the
Creave Commons
Aribuon License.
Introducon
Christianity in post-colonial Africa is highly influenced and shaped by the prosperity message.
The popular and materialistic gospel is sweeping across the continent like a gale-force wind,
which is irresistible. This explosive growth of the prosperity gospel in Africa has received serious
attention among researchers (see Anderson 1987; Gbote & Kgatla 2014; Niemandt 2017). However,
it is a matter that requires appraisal from time to time as correctly noted by Togarasei (2011)
because of the massive nature of its influence on African Christianity, and exploitation that some
Christians in Africa are exposed to as a result of its spread. Prosperity gospel encourages poor
people to think positively and ignite the Godly power within them to instruct their cheque books
or bank accounts to yield more (abundance) or to embrace the spirit of ‘name it and claim it’ when
coming to material possessions. Poverty within this paradigm is defined as sin, laziness and lack
of faith. Human suffering is also perceived as a lack of Godly favour (Quayesi-Amakye 2011:301).
The prophets of this movement put emphasis on individual success but are silent about or have
not developed a systematic theological analysis of economic injustice and social marginalisation
that accompanies prosperity gospel.
In the South African context, the emergence of the so-called ‘paparazzi pastors’ like Pastor Ray
McCauley of the Rhema Bible Church or the so-called ‘celebrity pastors’, as reported in the City
Press (2011) of 16 April 2011, has prompted this study. This is coupled with the growing gullibility
and abuse of ordinary and unsuspecting poor members who are fed grass, petrol and even snakes
in their efforts to prove their faith in God (see Kgatle 2017:1). They are encouraged to give beyond
measure for them to prosper and move out of poverty. This article seeks to demonstrate that
whilst prosperity gospel has found a fertile ground in Africa, it continues to milk and disadvantage
the very people it seeks to serve. It feeds into the culture of greed in church and society, thereby
tapping into the capitalist economic global system. Our thesis in this article is that African
Christianity must develop an alternative spirituality of liberation which taps into the African
philosophy of life called ‘Ubuntu’. We argue therefore for a systematic development of the
theology of Ubuntu as an antidote to prosperity gospel. The question that we seek to answer is:
What are the critical elements of Ubuntu that can assist African Christians to stand against the
wrong elements of prosperity gospel as propagated by prosperity pastors over the correct biblical
understanding of prosperity? In order to achieve this, this article will first look at the definition of
prosperity as a global and African phenomenon and how it manifests itself (distinct characteristics)
Christianity in post-colonial Africa is highly influenced and shaped by the prosperity message.
The popular and materialistic gospel is sweeping across the continent like a gale-force wind,
which is irresistible. Previous studies on prosperity gospel have indeed defined the concept
as a global phenomenon and in an African context. This study is an interdisciplinary reflection
on prosperity gospel and the culture of greed in post-colonial Africa. The study proposes the
African Christian Theology of Ubuntu as an alternative to prosperity gospel. Ubuntu is
prescribed here as an antidote to the culture of greed in prosperity gospel because it is a
theology of life, care, solidarity, economic justice, hope and accompaniment.
Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The paper challenges previous
missiological perspectives on prosperity gospel and the culture of greed. The study proposes
an African theology of Ubuntu as an alternative to prosperity gospel because it is a practical
theology of life, care, solidarity, economic justice, hope and accompaniment.
Keywords: prosperity gospel; culture of greed; post-colonial Africa; African Christian
Theology; Ubuntu.
Prosperity gospel and the culture of greed in
post-colonial Africa: Construcng an alternave
African Chrisan Theology of Ubuntu
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Page 2 of 8 Original Research
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in the African soil. Having opened our eyes to see some of the
snares associated with prosperity gospel when incorrectly
understood and preached, this article will then conclude by
proposing Ubuntu as the African contextual theology that
can serve as an antidote to the poison of prosperity gospel
as taught by prosperity, paparazzi and celebrity pastors who
are preying on unsuspecting, gullible and abused members
who blindly follow their leaders without applying the
much needed spirit of discernment. The need for theological
scrutiny and reflection is critical with regard to these current
unconventional practices from new Charismatic churches as
argued by Resane (2017:1).
Prosperity gospel dened
In the effort to propel phenomenal growth in terms of
membership in their churches, prosperity preachers in
America and elsewhere in the world have developed a
theology of affluence called prosperity gospel (Ayegboyin
2006:73). Defining this theology is very complex and diverse.
For the purpose of this article, the definition by Gifford (2004)
is used and is captured as follows:
More significant than motivation in bringing about success is a
theology that is called the prosperity gospel, or faith gospel, or
the health and wealth gospel, according to which a Christian
(through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross) is already healthy and
wealthy, and all he or she must do to take possession of health
and wealth is to claim possession. (p. 172)
There are three distinct elements concerning the
aforementioned definition of prosperity gospel, namely:
(1) faith, (2) wealth and (3) health. It is critical for believers
to exercise their faith as a means through which they are able
to unlock or access their wealth and health. In the words of
Hunt (2000):
… [H]ealth and wealth are the automatic divine right of all Bible-
believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of
the package of salvation, since the Atonement of Christ includes
not just the removal of sickness and poverty. (p. 333)
Sickness and poverty are not ideal and therefore not
acceptable among Christians. At the core of prosperity gospel
is the ‘name it’ and ‘claim it’ syndrome which is captured
in the following words: ‘The gospel of prosperity therefore
teaches that all resources are there for people to claim them’
(Togarasei 2011:344). Faith and positive confession thereof
is viewed as the main condition for receiving abundance of
material blessing (Young 1996:7). Accordingly, this material
blessing ‘includes the areas of financial prosperity and
prosperity in the realm of physical health and well-being’
(Young 1996:5). Failure to accumulate material possessions
and good health can be accounted for as a sign of either
attacks from the devil or lack of faith.
Prosperity gospel as a global
phenomenon
Prosperity gospel is a global phenomenon. It is almost
synonymous with Pentecostal–Charismatic churches with its
roots in America (Niemandt 2017:205; Obadare 2016) and has
grown to become a success story on almost all the continents.
Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar,
Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen are mentioned among others as
the chief proponents of the American version of prosperity
gospel (Young 1996:4). Anim (2010:67) further remarked that
‘The Prosperity Gospel is significantly influenced by the
teachings of E.W. Kenyon, Norman Vincent Peale and Robert
Schuller’.
Prosperity gospel as a global phenomenon is riding on the
wave of capitalism which is sweeping the global economy.
Speaking of the African context, Umoh (2013:655) accedes
that: ‘Today in Nigeria (perhaps more than elsewhere) the
spirit of capitalism sweeping through the whole world, is
well adopted as an indispensable component of the Christian
religion’. Neoliberalism seems to have found a partner in
Pentecostalism in Africa to a point that Obadare concluded
that: ‘… It is not unreasonable to suggest that, so far as
prosperity is the raison deter of neoliberalism, Pentecostalism
may rightly be seen as its religious mode or extension’
(2016:4). The underpinning theology for such a movement
is the theology of affluence (cf. Ayegboyin 2006:73). This
theology has given birth to the gospel of ‘greed and
consumption’. It feeds into consumer culture. Members are
encouraged to give in order to receive God’s blessings
(Achunike 2007:91; Gbote and Kgatla 2014:5). Mashau (2013)
concluded that:
[…] giving has become more controversial in the city context
because of the abuse at the hands of ‘healing and prosperity’
ambassadors who milk people in terms of requiring them to give
more than the measure of grace accorded to them in the name of
seeking God’s blessings. (p. 78)
The African face of prosperity
gospel
Prosperity gospel found fertile soil in Africa in what Gifford
(2004:169) calls ‘[t]he explosion of charismatic Christian
churches’. Prosperity gospel in Africa is synonymous with
the Pentecostal–Charismatic Christianity. It is correctly
asserted that: ‘The impact of the Prosperity Gospel in
contemporary African Christianity has been noted by scholars
and it has often been associated with the development of
new charismatic movements’ (Anim 2010:67). As much as
this movement has historical roots in the United States, it has
grown to become a global phenomenon which has also found
its home in Africa. Historical evolvement of prosperity gospel
on African soil is well articulated by Gifford (2004:13) as
follows: This prosperity gospel spread widely in Africa in the
1980s. One of its means of diffusion was Bonnke’s ‘Fire
Conference’ in Harare in April 1986. At this conference, which
drew 4,000 delegates from 41 African countries, Kenneth
Copeland conducted one of the key seminars on ‘The Gospel
and Prosperity’. Now this doctrine is associated with many of
Africa’s fastest-growing churches: the Rhema churches of
South Africa and Zimbabwe; Andrew Wutawunashe’s Family
Church in Accra, Ghana; Benson Idahosa’s Church of God
Mission International in Nigeria and countless others.
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Prosperity gospel, with both its positives and negatives, has
grown in Africa to become one of the successive stories that
is paradoxically placed. There are distinct characteristics of
prosperity gospel in the post-colonial era and the following
can be cited:
It is the gospel of affluence: Africa is home to some of the
richest religious leaders. Here, we can mention the likes of
flamboyant pastors like the Nigerian pastor and Christian
author David O. Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church
Worldwide (Winners’ Chapel), Nigerian pastor Temitope
Balogun Joshua (TB Joshua) of The Synagogue, Church of All
Nations (SCOAN), Nigerian-born pastor Chris Oyakhilome
of Christ Embassy, South African televangelist pastor Paseka
Motsoeneng (Mboro) of Incredible Happenings, South
Africa–based Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri of the
Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) and many others.
The grass and petrol pastor, Daniel Lesego of Rabboni Centre
Ministries is one of the emerging and controversial pastors in
Tshwane. Speaking of the Nigerian context, which is relevant
elsewhere in Africa, Umoh (2013:656) concluded that ‘religion
appears to be the most lucrative business today’.
It is the gospel which is paradoxically placed: In his article,
‘The Pentecostal gospel of prosperity in African contexts
of poverty: An appraisal’, Togarasei (2011) concluded that
prosperity gospel is thriving in the context in which it is
paradoxically placed because of extreme poverty. Komolafe
(2004:220) adds that: ‘[t]he contours of ‘prosperity gospel’
portray an attempt to project a collective perception of
victorious living in an age of socio-economic and political
decline’.
It is anchored in the spirit of ‘name it, claim it’ syndrome: It is
asserted that: ‘[t]he gospel of prosperity therefore teaches
that all resources are there for the people to claim them’
(Togarasei 2011:344). The bluff with prosperity gospel is that
African Christians who have embraced this message continue
to ‘name it’, whilst their pastors are the ones ‘claiming it’.
Prophets of prosperity gospel continue to live conspicuous
materialistic lifestyles in affluent suburbs and drive the
most expensive cars on the market, whilst their congregants
are drowning in the triple unholy alliance of poverty,
unemployment and inequality. According to Umoh
(2013:665), ‘[t]hey [the poor] continue to hope against hope,
even in their hopelessness’.
It is highly commercialised: We are going to expand more on
this aspect when dealing with the economics of the prosperity
gospel below; however, at this point in time we need to note
that commercialisation of the gospel under the disguise of
prosperity gospel, promoting the culture of consumerism to
unsuspecting and gullible followers, is causing a serious stir
in South Africa that has prompted the CRL Rights Commission
to investigate this very aspect of our religiosity as African
Christians (Kgatle 2017:1).
It is explicitly linked with ‘deliverance’ theology (Gifford 2004:172).
Sin and demonic powers are to blame when one is not
receiving the promised prosperity. Gifford (2004:172) adds
that: ‘it is these spiritual forces that are holding me back from
the success and wealth that are my right as a Christian’.
Whilst members are encouraged to pray and hold all night
prayers, the emphasis is on the spiritual powers of deliverance
which the ‘anointed man of God’ possess. Gifford (2004)
captures this as follows:
An ‘anointed man of God’ could release your blockage. He did
not need a questionnaire. He often did not require you to tell him
your problem; both the problem and the remedy are either
evident to him because of his gifts, or are revealed to him. In the
past few years this anointed man of God, or prophet, has become
the standard means of deliverance. Often before the suppliant
speaks (often before one knows one is a suppliant), the prophet
can tell what is the spiritual cause of ‘stagnation’, and can affect
the deliverance right there. (p. 173)
It has gone virtual and viral. The growth of prosperity gospel in
Africa is fuelled by the use of media. Recently Kgatle (2018:1)
presented a missiological perspective on the use of Facebook
and its impact on the emergence of prophetic churches
in southern Africa. Another dimension of this media
is television. The Trinity Broadcasting Network channel
continues to broadcast ambassadors or prophets of the
prosperity gospel week in and week out. Viewers are not
only promised abundance in terms of material gains and or
health, they are also encouraged to ‘touch the screen’ and
connect with the ‘anointed man of God’ for them to receive
their anointing or blessings. Those who benefit from these
services are encouraged to contribute financially towards the
sustenance of such ministries.
It is highly sensationalised. Testimonies of claims to have
received one’s health and or wealth are well recorded and
publicised in both print and electronic media. Church
services within this movement are also flooded by such
testimonies. Gifford (2004) asserts that:
Testimonies are an important aid in establishing what this new
Christianity is about. Besides the continual stream of testimonies
over the airwaves and the readily proffered testimonies of
Christians you meet, a good many of these churches have time
within services for testimonies from members. The testimonies
almost invariably focus on the material realm, on finances,
marriage, children, visas, jobs, promotion, [and] travel. Only
a small fraction, perhaps 10%, refer[s] to moral reform or
deliverance from laziness or drink. Testimonies support the
contention that these churches are about success in the way
described above. (p.173)
The economics of prosperity gospel
Sowing and watering the seeds of faith is one of the basic
tenets of the theology underpinning prosperity gospel. It is
asserted that: ‘The new-Pentecostal churches emphasize the
seed-faith principle of sowing and reaping’ (Ayegboyin
2006:78). The reason for giving therefore is grounded on the
blessing motif. It is asserted: ‘According to the prosperity
gospel Christians who decide to give are sure of God’s
blessings or happiness. Giving is depicted as a means of
enjoying happiness’ (Gbote & Kgatla 2014:5).
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Prosperity gospel is highly commercialised. According to
Ayegboyin (2006):
Apart from the ‘give and prosper messages’ in some of the
prosperity gospel ministries, there is full-scale commercialization
of the Gospel through the sale of ‘break-through handkerchiefs’
(called mantles), anointing oil, prayer books and vow-making.
(p. 78)
In the South African context, the commercialisation of
the gospel has led the Commission for the Promotion and
Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic
Communities (CRL Rights Commission) to institute an
official investigation on some of the expressions of the
prosperity gospel by prosperity gospel preachers (Kgatle
2017:1; Niemandt 2017:204). The commission had to probe
how churches are generating and spending their revenues.
Prosperity gospel has given birth to the culture of greed and
consumption. Prophecies are given to business persons
about their prosperity, but the rationale behind this is that
when they succeed, the prophets will also prosper. The
severity of the matter is noted by Ayegboyin (2006:81) as
follows:
Some rush into business situations based on such personal
prophecy because they believe such prophecies are harbingers
of prosperity. However, quite a number of them end up
giving out the little they have only to wait endlessly for
a hundred-fold multiplication of what they have given.
Some prophets are later discovered to be charlatans who are
just making merchandise of the gift of God. Kgatle (2017:6)
mentions some of these prophets, namely, Lesego Daniel,
Lethebo Rabalago, Penuel Mnguni and Paseka Motsoeneng,
who have abused church members in the name of religion.
Ubuntu as an andote to greed
culture in prosperity gospel
Ubuntu as the African philosophy of life:
muthu ndi muthu nga vhathu
Ubuntu as the African philosophy of life has been expressed in
different languages. Gathogo (2008) summarises in this way:
As a spiritual foundation of African societies, Ubuntu is a
unifying vision or worldview enshrined in the Nguni maxim
Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, that is, ‘a person is a person through
other persons’. This Ubuntu concept is also found in other African
communities, even though there are different vocabularies
and phrases that are used to describe it; and it will suffice to
illustrate it by citing a few examples. The equivalent of it is
seen in a Kikuyu idiom, which says: Mundu ni mundu ni undu wa
andu, that is, ‘a human being is a person because of the other
people’. The same can be said of the Sotho whose idiom says:
Motho ke motho ka batho ba bang, and with similar translations
to those of other African communities. It is also the same, as:
munhu munhu nekuda kwevanhu, used among the Shona people of
Zimbabwe. (p. 46)
Although Ubuntu is expressed in different languages, there
exists a common bond between all people and it is through
this bond, through interaction with fellow human beings,
that humanity discovers human qualities. Or as the Zulus
would say Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, which means that
a person is a person through other persons. Humanity is
affirmed when there is an acknowledgement of the humanity
of others. It speaks of the fact that one’s humanity is caught
up and is inextricably bound up in others. I am human
because I belong (Munyaneza 2009:101).
In governance, for example, botho/ubuntu was best described
by the saying, kgosi ke kgosi ka batho, namely, that a ruler
can only rule in consultation with people, or could only
rule through people. Accompanying this ethic of valuing
community in governance were the sayings that, mafoko a
kgotla a mantle otlhe and mmualebe oabo o bua la gagwe or that in
the public court/meeting everyone must be free to express
their views. It is also held that kgosi thothobolo e olela matlakala
or that a public leader or king, like a dumping site, should
welcome and hear all people. These sayings affirm the dignity
of both the individual and the community (Dube 2016:4).
Kgosi ke kgosi ka batho in a church setting can be interpreted as
Moruti ke Moruti ka Phutego, namely, that a pastor can only
lead the congregation in consultation with the congregants.
However, this is not the case in many congregations where
pastors lead by themselves and take key decisions without
consulting the congregants. Hence, we say here that Ubuntu
is an antidote of the culture of greed in prosperity gospel. In
Ubuntu, the leader of the congregation needs to value people
regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, social status and so on.
Ubuntu refers to a set of ideals that guide and direct the
patterns of life, which involve being neighbourly and having
some social consciousness (Mnyaka 2003:154). Ubuntu
recognises the rights and the responsibilities of all people,
whether individual or collective. It promotes social and
individual well-being and wholeness. It is a concept which
attempts to describe the relationship of a person as being-
with-others. It sets the limits or recommendations of what
being-with-others entails or requires. It encourages persons
to open themselves to others, to learn of others as they learn
about themselves too (Lenkabula 2008:379).
Ubuntu highlights the importance of values in life, other
than capital, self-interest and individual autonomy, as the
perceived values or motivation. It emphasises abundant life
grounded on considerations beyond accumulation of capital,
monopolisation, hoarding and concentration of wealth,
power and economic possibilities (Lenkabula 2010:114).
Based both on the community and the person because it was
founded on dialogue and reciprocity, the group had priority
over the individual without crushing him/her, but allowing
him/her to blossom as a person (Battle 2010:427).
The philosophy of Ubuntu is one of mutual concern, care
and sharing that holds out the promise of eradicating the
preventable and deadly poverty that currently envelops most
of Africa (Ramose 2006:15). Ubuntu is a philosophy that
places communal interests above those of the individual, and
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where human existence is dependent upon interaction with
others (McDonald 2010:139). To be human is to participate in
life and respect the conditions that make life possible. To
participate in life means ultimately to participate in the
fellowship of the community. It emphasises solidarity rather
than activity, and the communion of persons rather than
their autonomy. Personhood is identified by an individual’s
interaction with other persons; however, it does not eliminate
personal identity (Forster 2010:250).
Ubuntu has a lot to contribute to the building of a healthy
world community and to the development of an ‘expansive
vision’ of human well-being and flourishing. Indeed, from a
post-colonial perspective, Ubuntu, as a form of indigenous
knowledge, is a great resource for bolstering the identity of
African people and empowering them, in the current context
of stifling globalisation, to find their own voice and use it to
contribute to their own well-being and to the well-being of
the world. There is great wisdom in Ubuntu for our life
together as a world community (Nyengele 2014:26). In
addition, Ubuntu, as a form of indigenous knowledge and
African philosophy has the ability to reverse the greed culture
in prosperity gospel, whereby the income in most churches
will benefit everyone including the poor. At present, in
prosperity gospel, only pastors benefit and no one else.
The development of the theology of Ubuntu
In this section, the development of the theology of Ubuntu,
we have to ask the main question: is Ubuntu a theological
concept? In answering this question, Dreyer (2015) opines
that there is a natural synergy between theology and Ubuntu.
Dreyer continues to say that:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is rooted in a strong Christian
tradition and the broader Anglican Fellowship, has regularly
preached about the closeness of this relationship. His work and
that of other theologians in South Africa has given rise to the idea
of ‘Ubuntu theology’ [Ubuntu] – where ethical responsibility
comes with a shared identity. (p. 193)
The theological definition of Ubuntu according to Membe-
matale (2015:274) is reminiscent of the passage from
scripture:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one
heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any
possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as
owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of
what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was
distributed to each as any had need. (Ac 4:32–35)
The early church of lived up to the concept of sharing with
one another.
As a theological concept, Ubuntu holds humanity accountable
to one another, whilst honouring the biblical command to
love one’s neighbour as oneself (Lv 19:18; Mk 12:31; Mt
19:1922–1939). It is within this theological context according
to Meiring (2007:737) that God expects humanity to advance
community well-being whilst protecting the rights of the
socially marginalised and the powerless. In the theology
of Ubuntu, our relations within the community determine
our relationship with God. With the advancement of the
community well-being, the theology of Ubuntu can become
an antidote to greed culture that has dominated the prosperity
gospel.
Battle (2010:427) states that an Ubuntu that is informed by
Christian theology stands a good chance of becoming a
system that simultaneously places a high value on community
whilst honouring the belief that each person is unique and
irreplaceable. Barrett (2008:24) reiterates that the notion of
Ubuntu can, of course, be strongly linked to theological ideas
of human personhood. People are what they are only by
virtue of what they give and receive from each other. At the
heart of the Christian faith lies the truth that we find our
true being only in relationship, supremely in relations of
‘self-giving love’. Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity points
to human reality as intended for ‘wholeness being-in-
relatedness’ (see Barrett 2008:24).
However, theology that takes the principles of Ubuntu into
account will be challenged on different levels. In terms of
content, it will obviously have to tackle issues such as
human dignity and reconciliation, and it will have to be
prophetic in addressing social ills. It will also have to adapt
to different methodologies in order to achieve a theology
that makes a difference in post-apartheid South Africa
(Cilliers 2008:12). In addition, this theology must shy away
from becoming a victim of traditional thinking. In this regard,
the Ubuntu theology needs to move from the ‘zombie
categories’ of orthodoxy, that is, clericalism and the self-
culture of individualism and introspection, to the dynamic
categories of orthopraxy, that is, the systemic and relational
interconnectedness of habitus as introspection (Louw
2011:183).
Building on the principles listed above, there needs to
be a new emphasis on holistic theology expressed in the
interconnectedness of life and convergence. Holistic theology
so expressed manifests a theo-praxis, which is exemplified by
Ubuntu. Such a theology should, among other things, speak
to the following:
issues of memory, shame and guilt of the past, enabling
liberation for all God’s people and creation
the denial of the dignity and sanctity of people which
leads to issues of identity and belonging
privatization and commodification of life and elements of
life, such as water, land, knowledge, etc.
reaffirmation of the lived experience of people and
cultures (Africa Focus 2007:1).
Ubuntu as an andote of the culture of greed
The theology of Ubuntu is or can become an antidote to the
greed culture that dominates prosperity gospel. However, in
order to achieve this, the theology of Ubuntu needs to become
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relevant to the community and the people of that community.
It does not only have to draw its principles of togetherness
and personhood from the Bible but also needs to apply such
biblical principles to real-life situations. It needs to draw
its foundation from the first church in the book of Acts
where people came together and shared everything among
themselves.
In addition, Ubuntu needs to embrace five areas of theology
that contribute to the whole. The first one is called a theology
of life. Unlike prosperity theology, Ubuntu seeks to preserve
life rather than to destroy it. Ubuntu also believes that everyone
can have a good life instead of the selected few. Dreyer
(2015:200) adds that it is important to note that the ‘good life’
does not only refer to the individual dimension. It also includes
the interpersonal and societal components. Dube (2016:3)
opines that relationality and respect for humanity is explicit in
the understanding that human life cannot be fulfilled unless it
is lived within a web of interactions with others.
This brings us to our second theology called the theology of
care. Dreyer continues to say that with regard to care and
concern for others (solicitude), we have to treat others, as
we would like them to treat us. This implies that unlike in
prosperity gospel where only the pastor receives everything,
we all share the responsibility for ‘our togetherness’, and this
togetherness in turn empowers each individual. It is only in a
community that a person finds his or her personal identity
and true humanity (see Dreyer 2015:202). Nyengele (2014:10)
adds that just as one gains happiness from social support,
one can also gain happiness by providing support and care
to others.
In connection to care, there needs to be solidarity which is
our third theology. Ubuntu as a worldview advocates for a
profound sense of group solidarity and emphasises the fact
that our true human potentials can only be realised in
partnership with others (Nyengele 2014:19). The application
of the Ubuntu philosophy optimises the indigenous setting
of an African organisation. The Ubuntu philosophy believes
in group solidarity, which is central to the survival of African
communities. An African is not an individual in isolation but
a person living within a community. In a hostile environment,
it is only through such community solidarity that hunger,
isolation, deprivation, poverty and any emerging challenges
can be survived, because of the community’s brotherly and
sisterly concern, cooperation, care and sharing (Khomba
2011:242).
One of the causalities of prosperity gospel is economic justice.
Instead of fighting the triple challenges of unemployment,
poverty and inequality, prosperity gospel perpetrates such
challenges. In order to counteract such, there is a need for
what we call the theology of economic justice. According to
Dreyer (2015:201), economic justice is the importance of
equality, of distribution and ‘fair shares’, of the will to live
together, of dealing with plurality, the role of power and most
importantly justice as the indispensable condition for living
together. Economic justice in this context does not refer to
legal justice, which forms part of duty ethics, but a sense
of justice oriented to the good. Ubuntu documentation
(2008:384) adds that economic injustice compels us to
urgently explore the possibility of life-giving civilisation
which affirms relationships, coexistence, harmony with
creation and solidarity with those who struggle for economic
justice.
The last one is called a theology of hope and accompaniment.
Accompaniment is the process of walking alongside someone
and joining with him or her in solidarity. A Theology of
Accompaniment refers to how individuals and communities
enter into relationship with one another for the sake of
fulfilling Christ’s message of reconciliation (White 2007:1).
In this context, it means that prosperity pastors need to
walk with poor people in their churches. Instead of taking
from them, they need to give them real hope by being
compassionate and attending to their needs. According
to Mashau (2014:7), the theology of accompaniment should
TABLE 1: A comparison between prosperity gospel and Ubuntu.
Prosperity gospel Ubuntu
Accumulaon of individual riches. Sharing of personal riches with the community, especially those who are needy.
Poverty and human suering are the result of sin and is undesirable among
Chrisans.
The poor will always be among us and it is the responsibility of the Chrisan community to
love and take care of them by sharing their resources for the well-being of all.
Faith and the need to sow the seed by giving is needed for one to receive God’s
blessings in his or her life. The more you believe and the more you give the more
God blesses you.
Giving is important but it is in accordance with the measure of faith that one is given by God.
God does not reap where he has not sown; and as such Chrisans have to reect God’s grace
in their life by faithfully giving to the Lord in gratude of what God has already done for them.
Churches are run as private and personal business by the lead pastor who passes
on the baton to family members as if the church is their inheritance.
Communal running of the church with properly constuted structures in line with biblical
principles.
The gospel is highly commercialised and merchandises are sold in the church
facilies as part of gospel proclamaon.
Personal calling, commitment and sacrices are made to bring the gospel to the marginalised
communies without exploing and abusing them, that is, by asking them to pay for the
gospel that they are receiving.
Gospel is highly sensaonalised with members expected to share their tesmonies
of miracles received, including employment promoons, healing and purchase of
new cars and houses even when people were declared insolvent by their banks.
Serving the gospel and God’s people with great humility is highly emphasised and celebrated.
All miracles are accredited to God and all glory goes to God and not a miracle worker or a
person that God used to heal or transform someone else’s life.
Faith manipulaon which pushes people to believe in the prophet and not God
takes place like quesonable pracces by others of eang grass, drinking petrol,
eang snakes and accepng pastors to spray doom on them in the name of
Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s name is even abused and misused in the process.
Faith in God alone as revealed in scriptures is highly emphasised. Emphasis is on walking by
faith and not by sight and taking whatever God brings your way as is, including pain and
suering in some instances.
God must prove himself by working miracles sll, including increase in one’s
nancial and physical health.
God has already proven himself when Jesus Christ died as a ransom for our sins and therefore
there is no reason for him to prove himself; what is required is a walk of faith.
Selecve reading of the Bible to jusfy one’s beliefs, which is text-proong, is
the order to the day.
Holisc approach to the reading, interpretaon and applicaon of the scriptures is highly
emphasised. The meaning of one Scripture is conrmed with the comparison of other similar
scriptures in the process of searching and nding the truth, even on issues of health and
prosperity.
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take into cognisance, the context in which the people live,
meaning the poor people.
Encounterological reecon of
prosperity gospel and theology
of Ubuntu
In his confession, Methula (2017) identified the biggest
problem of prosperity gospel as follows:
As a devoted Pentecostal-Charismatic pastor who attended
prosperity churches from 1992 to 2007 till I opened my
Pentecostal congregation, my theological outlook was largely
influenced by prosperity preachers such as TD Jakes, Joel Osteen,
Musa Sono, David Adebayo and others. I listened to their
inspirational, motivational and encouraging messages on
Trinity Broadcasting Network every morning and every night
till I realised that though they can inspire and motivate, the
problem is they leave you without a desire and passion for social
justice, structural transformation and overcoming the evils of
capitalism. (p. 6)
The quest for social justice, structural transformation and
overcoming the evils of capitalism as highlighted by Methula
above captures the very core of Ubuntu over the spread
of prosperity gospel. It shows how prosperity gospel is
paradoxically placed with Ubuntu (see Table 1).
Conclusion
The theology of Ubuntu, if well imagined and developed,
can provide an alternative to the theology of affluence –
prosperity gospel. The theology of Ubuntu is an array of
theologies that are knitted together like a rainbow. It is a coat
of many colours but one that is able to bring warmth to those
who are naked, marginalised, exploited and abused by
religious leaders who are prosperity gospel preachers. These
colours will include among others:
theology of life
theology of care
theology of solidarity
theology of economic justice
theology of hope and accompaniment.
Ubuntu is the theology that Africa needs. The above-
mentioned array of theologies, knitted together can help the
African church to be as discerning against all forms of
teaching that seek to exploit and abuse it. At the same time, it
will help the church to identify and correct all the wrong
teachings associated with prosperity of the gospel with an
eye to expose and correct this in the process. In this way,
African Christianity will be able to stand against any form of
the gospel that seeks to promote the spirit of consumerism
and idolisation of material and physical health as the ideal
that must be pursued.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support
received from the University of South Africa.
Compeng interests
The authors declares that they do not have competing
interests with regard to the writing of this article.
Authors’ contribuon
T.D.M. contributed to prosperity theology and culture of
creed sections of the article and M.S.K. contributed toward
the Ubuntu sections of the article.
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