“Ordinary Christian believers of every period have in general taken prayer to be fundamentally a request made of God for something specific believed to be good by the one praying.” Professor Eleonore Stump here tells us what every person reading this will find undeniable. Prayer is one of the most central beliefs and practices of Christianity.
Christians make up over 95 per cent of Zambia’s population. If everything was decided by the majority, Christians would have pretty much anything they wanted. Indeed, this is true for a number of controversial issues such as the inclusion of Christian nation in the country’s Constitution and the retention of the archaic sodomy law. The large Christian numbers have led to the PF creating the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. Don’t let the name fool you. This is a ministry of Christians, by Christians, and for Christians.
The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs has been the most publicly visible since its creation in 2016. Prayer is part of the ministry’s core business. The ministry is spearheading the building of the multimillion-dollar National House of Prayer. It has also established and leads a new public holiday, the National Day of Prayer. Additionally, the minister, Godfridah Sumaili, has also called the nation to pray over some crisis in the country or has hired some pastors on some special prayer mission. In this article, I ask whether it makes sense for the Patriotic Front government to spend so much time and money on prayers over the nation’s problems. I will first assume that prayer works, in the next section. In the sections after, I will ask if our expenditure on prayer is wasted.
Prerequisite for prayer
Prayer is not an easy thing as even Jesus’ disciples had to ask: “Lord, teach us how to pray….” There are conditions the person must meet for the person saying the prayer to be answered. One such conditions is justice. There’s no chance for an unjust or evil person’s prayer to be answered. Such a one must first say a prayer of repentance or forgiveness. Below I quote God Himself speaking directly to President Edgar Lungu and his Sumaili.
Isaiah 1: verses 14, 15, 16, 17, 23. “I hate … your festivals. They have become a burden to me. And when you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes from you. Although you offer many prayers, I am not listening; your hands are filled with blood. Wash your yourselves, make yourselves clean. Remove your evil deeds from my sight; stop doing bad. Learn to do good, seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless child. And plead the cause of the widow. Your princes are stubborn and partners with thieves. Everyone of them loves a bribe and chases after gifts. They do not grant justice to the fatherless.”
Blood, bribes, neglect of widows and orphans don’t mix with prayers. The blood of Vespers Shimuzhila and many others are on Lungu’s hands. Corruption on the rise with $42m fire engines, overpriced roads falling apart with first rains. Violation of workers’ rights. Hakainde falsely accused and brutalised. Fred M’membe’s house ransacked and forcibly occupied. Tribalists enjoying Lungu’s protection and receiving no rebuke from Sumaili. Street kids, a sexual predator’s paradise. They all have babies on their backs now. The list is endless. Surely, how can God welcome in His presence such wickedness as we have seen by and under the PF?
Sumaili or her surrogates may call for national prayers fortnightly, but God has said categorically, he has no time for such mischief. Lungu and Sumaili must first seek repentance for their wicked deeds. I doubt this will happen as Lungu and Sumaili’s prayers are a mere political game, playing to the gallery for gullible Zambians. No discerning person would want to be part of showy prayers organised by the wicked as God doesn’t listen to such prayers nor does He take kindly to being mocked. Lungu and Sumaili must first cleanse the nation of their wickedness and God will then listen to them. That is, assuming prayer works.
Do prayers even work?
Prayer is dangerous. Prayer kills. And prayer is expensive. Prayer is an ostrich being caught up with a predator and burying its head in the sand. It’s not very stupid when you have nowhere to run. No one wants to witness being devoured. So, for those on their deathbeds, prayer is understandable and excusable. They are dying anyway.
Kanyama must have over a hundred churches. If some Saturdays or Sundays, they met not to pray but to clean up their neighbourhoods, there would be no cholera and generally the population would be healthier. But they would rather wade through the rubbish, change into nice shoes at the church entrance to pray away the cholera ravaging their loved ones. It’s not cholera demons or the opposition, please. It is just a simple bacterium called vibrio cholerae. It is preventable through vaccination and basic community-based public health practices.
Zambia has probably one of the highest per capita deaths and injuries from road accidents. The causes of these accidents are obvious even to a child. Drunken driving, speeding, poor road infrastructure and signage, poor driver training and examination, poor state of vehicles on the road, and poor enforcement. But if there are three accidents in a week between Ndola and Livingstone with 100 lives lost, MNGRA will call for national prayers against bloodthirsty demons and Satanists. How can we be this obtuse as a country?
The MNGRA epitomises the root cause of our problems. We do not gather the best brains in a sector to find solutions and follow through with implementation of their recommendations. There is an evident disdain for the educated person, for knowledge. Zambia has so many brainy and hardworking people that are now practicing their trade in developed and sensible developing countries while we bow down in prayer as preventable death snatches our loved one by the hundreds every day. It must be a big embarrassment for genuine technocrats at MNGRA to add to their CVs that they worked under a dodgy ministry when they went to university to help promote wellbeing.
Everyday Zambia is running to China for kaloba. Do the Chinese pray more, do they have more per capita Christians or churches? Do they have a minister in charge of calling for national prayers? No. But they work night and day everywhere and anywhere. President Lungu calls them cockroaches (in a good way); they will still be here doing what it takes to improve the wellbeing of their citizens and future generations. That’s the difference with us. They are working overnight, while we are praying overnight for manna. They build factories and malls for their own products while we build colossal and flamboyant churches for David Livingstone’s God and build statues in honour of the same Livingstone.
Some of the most developed countries (GDP, per capita income, PPP, HDI) are countries which are hostile to religion or Christianity, or are atheistic, or clearly quarantined religion from state resources and functions. These countries include China, Iceland, Australia, Norway, Japan, Russia, and the USA and France. On the other hand, countries with higher per capita prayers such as Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, Nigeria rank abysmally on the human development index.
At a personal level, individuals’ success can be explained mostly by genetic hereditary traits, hard work, and environment. However, in Zambia nearly every successful person praises God, T. B. Joshua, Joshua Banda or Joe Imakando or some other upcoming papa, seer, or prophet. Why do successful people testify about God’s blessings or some pastor’s prophesy? They do this for them not to be called Satanists. They do this to conform to community norms and expectations. They do this to conceal or publicly launder illicitly acquired wealth or status. The true answer to the success of successful people has little or nothing to do with what they do when they are at Church. But the majority are fooled. You try prayer but you will just leave the church or overnight only with a hoarse voice, still broke or still with your diarrhea.
Lungu and Sumaili must stop alarming the nation with talk of exorcising demons or satanism which are only figments of their imagination. The recent gassings and mob injustice are exacerbated by Lungu and Sumaili’s reckless and ignorant pronouncements. They have put everybody on the edge, seeing demons in their own sisters and brothers. The ignorant masses are in attack mode because Lungu and Sumaili have preached superstition day and night. This maybe a political game for them. By saying Jesus is in the PF boat, are you trying to say the opposition are Satanists? That’s a dangerous game and the gassing is just a reminder to us of what reckless clergy have done in fueling atrocities such as the German holocaust and the Rwanda genocide. When you preach Satanism, you put innocent successful people’s lives and property in danger.
As a philosopher, I am appealing to Lungu to embrace science and rationality. To believe in pragmatic things that make China or Singapore tick. Not Sumaili or Seer 1. If we replaced Lungu’s cabinet with Chinese, Zambia can be a middle-income country in 5 years. Prayer-free! It is not too late to send Sumaili back to her little-known church and save that money and human resource to help widows, orphans and retirees. God says your prayers offend him. Here is the catch. The prerequisite to God answering your prayers is restoring justice in the country and providing for your people. But once you have done these things, bingo, you will be left with nothing to pray for. Prayer is logically uncalled for and hence MNGRA is redundant, at least to the extent that MNGRA is there to promote justice and sustainable development through prayer. We already have wealth mwebantu! All we need is prudent and ethical leadership.