God is a profitable and deadly business in Angola

Sometime after the end of the São Silvestre foot race through the streets of Luanda and the start of any of the many New Year’s Eve parties (this one, worthy of both Marilyn Monroe and De Beers, caught our attention), a tragedy occurred. Sixteen people died (among them three children) and one-hundred and twenty were injured at an event called “The Day of the End” at the Cidadela stadium in Luanda organized by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (now global, it originated in Brazil and claims to have 8 million followers). According to the police, an estimated 250,000 people crowded into a stadium with a capacity of 70,000 where only two of the four gates were open. Early accounts reported people being trampled but hospital staff attributed mortality to suffocation, exhaustion and hunger (Novo Jornal No. 249, January 4, 2013).

The result of relentless publicity shilling (“The Day of the End: come bring an end to all the problems in your life – sickness, misery, unemployment, bankruptcy, separation, family arguments, witchcraft, desire”) capped by an exhortation to “Bring your whole family,” pastor Felner Batalha led his sheep to slaughter rather than salvation. UNITA representative Paulo Lukamba Gato has called for a revision of state policy on church groups. Human Rights activist and lawyer David Mendes thinks the church and pastor should be held responsible for the deaths. “They commercialized God,” he said. Nonetheless, most analyses in the local press agree that both church and pastor will come out of this none the poorer.

Despite a police report that places blame squarely on the church administration, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos set up a Commission of Inquiry composed of six ministers and the governor of Luanda, reportedly a member of this church. The Angolan website Makangola thinks it’s hard to imagine that they will turn up anything the police did not. The church contacted the proper authorities prior to the event. Police, fire department, Red Cross and others were contracted and mobilized for security services outside the venue, but they assured the Ministry of the Interior that they would take care of security inside the stadium. Who then to blame when the bounty of their advertising, free transportation, and promises of the end of penury produced a surfeit of humanity?

IURD church in Alvalade

IURD church in Alvalade

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God spreads the prosperity gospel. Here’s one reading of how it works on U.S. shores. Wealth is a blessing for those who pray well. Those who tithe the church will prosper, says Edir Macedo, founder of the Universal Church. The bricks and mortar this church owns in key Luanda locations testifies to the fact that his church is prospering and operates with the Angolan state’s blessing. So isn’t this church/state relationship probably reciprocal? David Mendes calls it promiscuous. We’ll remind you of this image we’ve already posted. Different church, same idea.

In post-socialist, growth oriented Angola, where the rich are getting richer and the poor have only their faith, this is one very cruel and ironic example of David Harvey’s accumulation by dispossession.


3 thoughts on “God is a profitable and deadly business in Angola

  1. Not only in Angola, but also on the other shore of the Atlantic… Edir Macedo is a crook with a media empire that grows by the day. They bought Record network back in the day, which arguably competes with the gargantuan Globo network for audience in Brazil. The evangelical movement grows stronger every minute, cementing itself as part of the politics in Brazil, but that’s another story. I was part of another denomination back when I was a child, Assembleia de Deus. A very popular destination for missionaries was Angola, probably due to the language and the strong appeal in gathering resources for the trips; all they had to do was to exploit the old idea of “preaching for every creature” and focus on the supposedly terrible condition of the land.

    Universal was — probably still is, I’m not a christian anymore — frowned upon by most evangelical denominations in Brazil due to some of their practices. Obviously, tithing wasn’t one of them, but the strange rituals they perform have been compared to what is practiced in the afro-brazilian religions they preach so strongly against, to the point that Universal has been sued and condemned for racial discrimination. Universal also played with roman catholicism: just google “chute na santa” — “kicking the saint” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. A pastor from Universal, back in 1995, was demonstrating about how Our Lady of Aparecida, catholic saint and national patron, was “worthless”, ugly and could not even defend herself against kicks, as it’s made of clay. The offending pastor was transfered to South Africa after the scandal and was not heard from in Brazil after that, such was the outrage.

    I’m no expert but I’d also like to mention that snippet about the “olho grande”, and how it goes together with “wizardry”. Your translation of “desire” is correct, but it’s more like a coveting than a mere desire. Olho grande, which means “big eye”, means to covet something so much that you can’t help but stare at it with your eyes wide open. That big-eyed stare is thought to be enough to bring ruin to the victim of such envy. Couples split, wealth dissipates, families shatter, health goes away, all because of someone’s deep envy, perhaps coupled with the terrifying “black magic” Universal constantly preaches against, more than it preaches about their own gospel. As the joke goes, you’re closer to God in a love hotel than you are in church: in a hotel you say, oh Lord, oh Jesus, I’m in Heaven!, but in church all you hear about is about how Satan is trying to claim your life and about demonic possession and wizardry.

    Anyway, that’s too much rambling from me. I hope the Angolans can steer clear from Universal and other denominations of the kind, some of them created after splits in the church hierarchy. They stop at nothing for their search of wealth and political power, and see potential believers as nothing but a tool to further their own goals. Incidents of the kind will always happen, such as they happen in Brazil as well. There are far too many stories about overzealous pastors beating people accused of being possessed by demons, of visually impressive but shoddily built temples collapsing, and accusations of misappropriation of church resources, tithes and offerings included, of course, by members in all ranks of denominations, Universal being the chief amongst them.

  2. Dr. Neira – thank you for your excellent comment and the important correction of my poor translation of “olho grande.” What I meant was covetousness but what you gave us was even better!

  3. Inveja or envy is seen to be at the root of a lot of things referred to as “witchcraft” – this is why in some “poor” countries some people hide their possessions rather than have the expected ostentatious displays of them as is seen in Angola.

    In fact, getting “things” at other people’s expense is what in some “witchcraft” literature links witchcraft to modernity, by which they mean capitalism and/or capitalist accumulations. But in some of the evangelical churches (not necessarily Reino de Deus), the accusations are sometimes directed at children have other roots. De Boeck links the accusations in DRC directed at children to their position as money makers in informal economies, I don’t completely agree with that position as being the source of the child accusations since older literature has the children as victims (not necessarily of the accusations but of the witchcraft itself) and there are other “witchcraft” issues that are linked to things besides envy from what I saw in Angola.

    While some of these churches are seen as “universalist,” they also need to be contextualized in their local settings – same global/particular arguments as always…

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