Gospelneurship: How Legitimate is It?

Published on 4th May 2012

Rejoice Ngwenya
I am not a lawyer, nonetheless my encounter with commercial law as an enlightened consumer and satirical observer raises one question: has religious marketing (Gospelneurship) finally breached the threshold of criminal intention in Zimbabwe?

The doctrine of stewardship has since time immemorial been an accepted principle of church sustainability. Evangelism needs real money.

Catholicism, Baptists, Buddhism, Islam, Bahai Faith, Mormons, Adventism et al are evangelical conglomerates sustained with donations, business enterprises, research institutes, hospitals and, of course, church offerings. Some, like the Catholics, even lay claim to a territory blessed with consular representation in world capitals!

Unlike private companies, churches are granted legal persona as voluntary organisations. Because of this legitimacy, they (can) offer goods and services to consumers.

Zimbabwe is a free market economy where citizens willingly exchange merchandise, but services and goods with safety implications pharmaceuticals, medical aid, mining, education and construction materials are usually subjected to statutory scrutiny.

What then comes to mind is the English law principle caveat emptor buyer beware in the absence of a warranty, the beneficiary of goods or services taking responsibility to safeguard own safety.

Churches offer voluntary services, thus it is me and you who decide on the acceptability of quality of such services. Religious institutions also exploit emotional, psycho-social and spiritual deficits whose perceived satisfaction index is hard to quantify.

But just like any other services with utility value as with sports, nightclubs, movies and standup comedy churches are more about the intrinsic.

The ultimate experience being sold in church is futuristic Heaven and eternal life! Must we therefore agonise over the contemporary charismatic gospel of prosperity in Zimbabwe? Granted, the Standards Association, Ombudsman, Law Society, Medical Association, Consumer Council and even courts can be used as repositories of advice on deficient satisfaction indexes in conventional goods and services.

Ironically, I can report to the police how Tsikamutanda (Witch Hunter) has falsely accused my aunt of dealing in evil charms or evil spirits.

Questions therefore linger: say the man of God sells me an anointed brick, towel or bottle of water with a promise to multiply wealth, what recourse do I have for an unfulfilled legitimate expectation?

Should I perhaps take responsibility for falling prey to the abracadabra hocus-pocus alakazam trick? Am I (not) a willing victim of the kana ndikadai, kana ndikazodaizvoshamisa (if I do this, and do that, get baffled) childrens game?

Does Gospelneurship violate the very basic principle of legitimate expectation if it offers amorphous utility that cannot be challenged in any court of law?

In light of caveat emptor, if I voluntarily offer my car, house, salary to a system whose accountability or results I cannot question, am I not assumed to have made a personal, democratic choice? The paradox of legitimacy: I buy an anointed brick for $50 and am convinced that it is a seed for a future house.

Two years down the line, I still have no house. Bearing in mind that Gospelneurship is not under the same statutory supervision as other goods and services, doesnt the man of God have a perfect alibi: ye man that lacketh faith?

Rationally speaking, by offering me a water vial that will multiply wealth, the man of God has placed himself on the pedestal of conventional consumer marketing. Shouldnt this therefore subject him to the same satisfaction index standards demanded of a beverage or electronic device?

Salvation is not for sale. Am I not permitted to argue how Gospelneurship as authoured by the Poster Boys of Religious Marketing has finally sacrificed divine stewardship on the altar of voodoo profiteering? Caveat emptor!

By Rejoice Ngwenya.

The author is libertarian head of the Coalition for Market & Liberal Solutions (COMALISO)

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