Prosperity Gospel and
Spiritual Warfare in African
Christianity and Diaspora:
Some Ethical Implications
Mika Vähäkangas, Lund University
The Setting of the Question
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Paul Gifford (2009) paints a bleak picture
of Kenyan Christianity:
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Worship of success binds the corrupt state
elite and religious elite clientelistically
together, corrupting also the latter
Many charismatic churches have become
private businesses à la prosperity Gospel
Spiritualized (re-enchanted) world-view allows
for explaining away obvious political and
financial mismanagement.
Systemic level - Africa
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Prophetic voice is missing; eclectic use of the Bible:
Job skipped, cross replaced by immediate victory →
the means of reaching success seldom asked of
public leadership.
Obedience valued: church discipline
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Directed to the poor
The rich and the clergy are in a mutual dependence: the
clergy needs income, the rich need legitimization → no
church-discipline applies
Official purity vs. hidden corruption

In a clientelist state, success seldom possible without
corruption. Corruption needs, however, to be hidden
under the cloak of respectability, even piety.
Systemic level - Africa
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In public, all oppose corruption.
The churches do not, however, pressurize
politicians to efficient action – their
income is indirectly dependent on
corruption.
At times, church officials benefit from
lucrative tasks within the government.
Systemic level - diaspora

In European diaspora, the moral dilemma
between purity and success is more rare:
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Many immigrants’ success depends on job market
where honesty is a virtue.
Paperless immigrants are losers of the system, and
breaking the rules does not make them rulers.
Enterpreneurs may meet ethical challenges (e.g. tax
evasion) but the correlation between success and
illegal action is small.
Here, people usually can afford to live according
to the principles of fair play (in the limited,
national, sense).
Individual level
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Päivi Hasu has pointed out that:
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PG useful when one can influence one’s faith,
spiritual warfare helps to spiritualize such problems
that cannot be changed.
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Prosperity Gospel popular among the upwards mobile
(helps to postpone gratification, work hard, give hope
etc.?) but not among the destitute (it only condemns
them as sinful losers).
Spiritual warfare popular especially among the poor
(helps with coping, giving meaning to failures?)
In PG, the weak are sinners, in spiritual warfare they are
victims.
In PG, God is on the side of the successful, in spiritual
warfare on the side of the unlucky.
Often both elements available in churches –
different selections and mixtures – suit to more
people → popularity.
Individual level - Africa
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PG can contribute to corruption & hypocrisy:
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PG contributes also to perseverance in work and
business, and to success (see also above!).
Spiritual warfare can contribute to apathy or
impractical solutions:
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Example of the successful
Pressure to prove to be saved
Lack of means of problem-solving (realism?)
Spiritualizing explanations hide social causality –
prayer instead of political action (realism?)
Spiritual warfare as a coping mechanism:
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Externalization of the evil
Rationalization of the processes unintelligible
Helps to believe in a just cosmos – evil irregular, not
systemic.
Individual level - Europe
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PG as a key to success:
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Provides self-esteem.
Techniques of success: self-suggestion (name it and
claim it), planning (prayers), self-inspection
Spiritual warfare as a means to meet obstacles:
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Helps with explaining the unexplainable (e.g.
outcomes of bureaucracy) without losing trust to
people & administration.
Helps to explain new communal tensions.
Helps to avoid labeling oneself a loser.
Conclusion
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PG is a popular method of self-suggestion
and self-disciplining, a spiritualized version
of psychological self-help. It seems to
enhance actions that lead to success in a
specific context in spite of the potential
moral dilemmas involved.
Spiritual warfare helps to rationalize
failures, externalize evil and to preserve
faith in a basically just cosmos. It is
needed all the more there are factors in
life in which one has no control of.
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