African Church: Beware Prosperity Gospel Lies
African Church leaders have cautioned churchgoers against a false “gospel of prosperity” after a bishop in Ivory Coast said it was gaining ground in Catholic parishes.
“People seeking quick solutions are being hypnotised into believing a single prayer can become a magic formula for riches and the good life,” said Fr Paul Sandi, secretary-general of the Inter-territorial Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Gambia and Sierra Leone.
“Although it isn’t rampant yet in the Church, we’ve had to caution charismatic priests not to encourage the prosperity gospel, especially when it’s brought in by outsiders,” he said.
The priest’s concerns echoed a warning from Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo of Katiola, president of the Ivorian bishops’ conference, who has urged theologians to defend the Church against “drifts and deviations” in teaching.
Fr Sandi said each Catholic diocese had its own pastoral plan for tackling prosperity gospel notions, which are being driven by widespread poverty.
Promise of Jobs and Economic Reward
Mgr Lazarus Anondee, secretary general of the Ghanaian bishops’ conference, confirmed the rising popularity of the prosperity gospel as Christian preachers attract young people with promises of jobs and economic rewards.
“The Church will never endorse such ideas, which deceive people into thinking that, by some so-called miracle, manna will fall from heaven,” he said.
“You have to work to achieve something, and the Church would rather empower people through education and vocational training,” Mgr Anondee said.
Associated with several US televangelists, the prosperity gospel suggests God rewards financial donations to a church with material benefits and physical well-being. The concept has gained influence since the 1980s among Pentecostal and charismatic movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
It draws on biblical texts to highlight God’s will that people should be happy and prosperous. It sees sickness and misery as curses alleviated by a devout faith and selfless giving.
In an address to Catholic theologians in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, Bishop Dogbo said he was concerned prosperity gospel concepts were finding their way into the Catholic Church as gullible parishioners erred in seeking material salvation.
He added that “charlatan priests” abused their training in theology and canon law to promote false teachings.
“It’s not uncommon now to see adverts for evangelisation campaigns at which miracles are promised and prosperity offered with waves of a magic wand,” Bishop Dogbo said.
Mgr Donatien Lolo, assistant secretary general of the Ivorian bishops’ conference, said the Church feared the gospel of prosperity was being “preached more and more in place of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. He said efforts would be made through parish vigils, bible study and prayer groups to persuade Catholics to “deepen true understanding of the Church and Scripture”.
“The evangelisers of prosperity have gained a foothold here because of the crises affecting our countries and the search for an escape from poverty and instability,” he said.
“We now need to help Christians reorient themselves against these popular misconceptions and misplaced expectations. You can look to the gospels to solve many problems, but not as a means of material gain,” he explained.
Governments in South Africa and Kenya have expressed concern about popular prosperity gospel preachers, some of whom are listed by Forbes as among Africa’s richest residents and who control massive media empires.—By Jonathan Luxmoore, CNS