Annex 2: Revivalist Churches and Governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Book : Parcours international de débat et propositions sur la gouvernance, International Meeting Process for debate and proposals on governance

KeyWords :

Table of content

By Camille Kuyu

Laboratory of Juridical Anthropology of Paris

The Christian churches’ vocation and capacity to guide men and women in the private sphere is well known. Christianity is not always content to remain within the narrow limits of the spiritual sphere. Numerous publications demonstrate its impact on the governance of societies, that is to say, on social, political, and economic life. But these studies are generally only concerned with the mainstream Christian churches. Our article aims to show that, today, the evangelical communities are emerging as locations of a new form of sociality, and that their pastors are not only spiritual leaders and social patrons, but also leaders of opinion and interest groups capable of influencing public politics. In order not to get lost in generalities, we have chosen to analyse the evangelical churches of the Congo, commonly described as “revivalist churches of the Congo”. We aim to show how, in the context of a crisis of regulation, these churches’ message of salvation engenders the individual and social transformation which the State, the Law, and their institutions fail to achieve.

The reality of revivalist churches in the Congo

Prayer has become a visible preoccupation in the Congo, where the social environment gives the impression that everyone is praying, that they pray everywhere, in the towns as in the countryside. Everywhere, Christians are liberating themselves from the grip of the institutional churches on an increasingly massive scale. “Driven by the fervour to rediscover a more primitive kind of Christianity, they are breaking out of the prison of orthodoxy and breaking down the confessional barriers in order to live the experience of a spiritual effervescence which is an escape from institutional channels.” 1 Everywhere, independent churches and prayer groups are mushrooming. The streets, private houses, woodland, disused cinemas, former bars, specially adapted halls, stadium… are amongst the places where the so-called revivalist Christians assemble.

In the country’s large towns, you get the impression that every street has its church(es) and/or prayer group(s). It is not uncommon for the grand avenues, squares and crossroads to be used for the most important gatherings such as evangelising campaigns or mounting a crusade of Christian films. To that selective occupation of public places should be added the omnipresence of God and Jesus Christ in the street, through tracts, posters, flyers, slogans and stickers on cars, preaching on the buses, the songs of praise of groups returning from prayer, informal discussions of the Bible on street corners, etc.

Multifarious and complex, the revivalist churches “function nowadays as specific groupings within diverse African societies which find themselves in transition between former types of economic and social organisation and new ones introduced with colonisation. Immediately, they seem to be a means of providing solutions, both symbolic and concrete, to this transitional situation where individuals and groups are not able to refer to their former frameworks, and where they experience at the same time difficulty in survival and social reproduction in the new societies formed by colonisation.” 2

In this context, we note that the revivalist churches have an important role in conflict management. In effect, many brothers and sisters in Christ prefer to put their trust in members of their prayer communities where conflicts arise, especially within families or with other members of their community, rather than having recourse to state justice, which does not inspire their confidence. Mediation in conflicts is today one of the fundamental activities of the church pastors and/or their lieutenants in a context in which state justice, considered not only to be alien and distant but also corrupt and maladapted to the real constraints of Congolese society, does not appeal to the accused parties, who prefer customary and/or non juridical resolution. Here we find ourselves at the heart of governance, of which justice is one of the central pillars.

The revivalist churches appear today as genuine parental communities which in reality do take charge when their children are confronted by difficult situations. Beyond purely economic solidarity, they are genuinely taking charge in the moral, affective, and spiritual spheres.

The papa-pastors as spiritual and social leaders

Today, the pastors of the revivalist churches are key personages in Congolese social life. As social father figures and spiritual leaders, they are endowed with a genuine power of seduction, fascination, and, indeed, persuasion. However, most of them have never received theological training. Some of them have never even been to school. But how does one become an evangelical pastor in the Congo?

Jean Kambayi Bwatshia and Julien Mutombo Ngonga describe with aplomb how the revivalist churches of Kinshasa came into being. They put it this way: “Generally, as has been noted, it is not difficult to found and initiate a church in Kinshasa. In effect, it is sufficient to get up one morning and begin to shout, Bible in hand, and the miracle is produced. In this town where it is understood that whoever invokes the name of God is feared and gains authority on the masses, anything can happen. Thus we have seen people starting to beat a tom-tom in a plot of land, using the password, ‘God has spoken to me, I have had a revelation’. The Kinois masses need that key to open the door to the invisible mystery. Once you have got a few people to listen to that famous revelation, you can proclaim yourself a pastor or choose a biblical or religious title not already used by other self styled men of God. You have got off the ground and the rest depends on your dexterity, oratorical skills and the almost magical manipulation of the enigma presented by the self proclaimed man of God when he makes the best use of the anarchy which characterises our country. And the scene is set.” 3

Many researchers discuss the legitimacy of these self-proclaimed pastors. Max Weber identified three forms of legitimacy: traditional, charismatic, and rational. Since then, this typology has remained as a significant division of the phenomenon of legitimacy. In which category should we classify the legitimacy of the Congolese evangelical pastor?

We can set aside rational legitimacy straight away. For Max Weber this form of legitimacy is based on a collection of positive rules. It is about legalised legitimacy; more precisely, that which is derived from a norm of positive law. Many writers have criticised Marx for confusing legality with legitimacy.

We believe that the legitimacy of pastors who do not develop through traditional channels is traditional and/or charismatic. For Max Weber, traditional legitimacy is the result of cultural heritage. As a consequence, it presupposes a religious dimension. In this sense, pastors are legitimate through Transcendence. One is pastor by the grace of God. As we have already stressed, most papa- pastors have not undertaken theological studies. Some of them have not even ‘warmed a school bench’. They claim to base their authority on visions and/or spiritual gifts received from God.

Looking deeper into this form of legitimacy, it is necessary to take into account the fact that it is often based on inheriting the crown and sometimes on a precise type of heredity. The logic of this form of legitimacy becomes concrete in a patriarchal order in which the Eternal Father legitimises the Father of the given community, and it is this Father who gives legitimacy to the Father of the family. Here, the followers are the ‘children’. Thus the pastors are authentic social fathers.

The legitimacy of the pastor can also be charismatic. In this case, the effective power of the pastor rests on the force of his personality, his personal qualities, and/or his competence. In effect, it is impossible to verify the transcendental legitimation of a pastor; the magic of the word is a symbolic attribute of authority which does not deceive. If one defines power, in a general sense, as the “capacity to lead one or many to behave individually or collectively in a desired manner” 4, there is no doubt that the papa- pastors have power. For they effectively have the power of conviction and the capacity to mobilise human and material resources. This power is inseparable from their oratorical techniques and their principal message from which it follows that the Christian should assure his salvation here-below and up-above by grace of astrict respect for traditional Christian morality.

The evangelical churches as a base for the emergence of new forms of sociability

The Congo is going through a period of social and moral crisis. This may be summed up as a reversal of values and a crisis in frames of reference. The different governments, which have succeeded one another since the end of the eighties, have made it their priority to bring a new morality to society, economics, and politics, particularly in a return to political discipline. But they have not succeeded in achieving their aims.

However, the revivalist churches have at times reached a spectacular success. The pastors’ preaching generally leads to conversion. Even better, its effectiveness is usually assured, due to an oratorical technique which merits further study. The follow up work carried out by the counsellors usually results in the convert being ‘born again’ through total immersion baptism.

An opinion shared by many observers is that the revivalist churches, through the message of salvation and the practical problem solving they bring to the masses and even to the elite, are emerging as new models of behaviour and conduct, where the repressive policies of the state have failed. Indeed, after their conversion or ‘rebirth’, many people decide to renounce their former practices such as corruption, misappropriation of public funds, human rights violations, polygamy, and prostitution, to do the will of God. We shall explain.

There are many who bear witness to the transformation of public administration after individual conversions. This is particularly true in the case of men who are polygamous and who, in order to meet the pressing demands for money and other material goods made by their different wives and/or mistresses, are obliged to embezzle public funds and/or have recourse to some form of corruption. Once converted, most men go on to abandon their previous ‘worldly’ way of life and live according to biblical precepts. From then on they live only with their legitimate wives and children and, no longer having to provide for secondary wives and/or their relations, they no longer need to misappropriate public funds or allow themselves to be corrupted. We will return to these issues in the following paragraph.

The transformation of models of behaviour and conduct at an individual level is linked to social transformation. Observers of religion will be familiar with the two videos entitled “Transformations” and “Transformations II”, which have been circulating around the world in the last few months. These two documentaries, made by the Canadian organisation The Sentinel Group and put together by George Otis, present case studies from world regions where spiritual revivalism has brought about radical changes: less crime, increase in schooling, the halting of the rural exodus, etc. These documentaries have been widely criticised, even by the evangelicals themselves. They have been accused of gross exaggeration and even pure and simple invention. But in spite of these criticisms, we think that, if at the macro level it is difficult to attribute social transformation to religious revivalism, it is undeniable that, at the micro level small changes which are brought about in the lives of individuals can have an impact on global society.

A new class of entrepreneurs, and new positions of political power

The revivalist churches present two different but complementary tendencies. The first “is suitable for introvert temperaments, and emphasizes spiritual experience, attendance at services, and purification through fasting and prayer. Those who follow it prioritise preparing themselves for heaven and they support each other mutually in order to pass the tests without weakening. The second, suitable for extrovert temperaments, puts the emphasis on evangelising and on changing society in order to prepare it in readiness to receive the kingship of Christ. Success in this task, impossible to accomplish without divine aid is, above all, a tribute to God himself. The churches or ministers of the first tendency have nothing to do with public affairs, but this is not the case with the others, whose members willingly see themselves as conquerors and reformers of the world for Christ. The latter set great store by the multiplicity of blessings which rain down on the heads of those with an excellent relationship with God. Such blessings are not to be neglected. They have the merit of making Christianity attractive. However, in order to reinforce this attraction, they must everywhere provide a good example.” 5

In the Congo, most pastors belong to the second tendency and assert loudly that they are partisans of a theology of prosperity. According to this theology, a child of Christ cannot, logically, be poor. Gold and silver belong to the celestial father. In addition, some pastors do not hesitate to show off the material goods which they consider to be Godgiven: private television channels, luxury cars, numerous real estates, etc.

Many Congolese researchers are quick to assert that these goods are provided through the exploitation of the naivety of the followers, and because of strategic preaching. Jean Kambayi Bwatshia and Julien Mutombo Ngonga write about this preaching: “And what can be said of preaching on the subject of collections and the excessive and selective gathering of alms. On this subject the ‘founder pastors’ shout loud and strong: ‘ Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Luke 12, 33). Or, again, ‘Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.’ (1Cor 16, 1-4). Under close examination, experience shows that most pastors are in search of their daily bread, which they find easily in the exploitation of the naivety of the Kinois masses who seek to escape from the misery in which they live.”6

If it is true that the revivalist churches in the Congo are sources of scandal wherever they arise, it is also true that they are genuine ‘management schools’ for an emerging class of entrepreneurs. Barbara Serrano, writing on the Universal Church of Brazil, “ the evangelical churches present for their followers a real pedagogy of success and the encouragement to pursue personal projects such as starting enterprises… Their television programmes relentlessly turn out adherents’ success stories: owners of a chain of shops, private car parks, or beauty salons….this is not mere advertising; beyond church services, the faithful learn to look for and interpret signs of the presence of God in their lives: never to be content with how things are, to economise in order to invest later, get more involved in activities, aspire to become an individual entrepreneur….And in reality it seems that the faithful often do seem determined to get involved in enterprise, even if it is more likely to be selling umbrellas outside the metro than opening a beauty salon.” 7

It will also be observed that the revivalist churches do not content themselves with creating a new class of entrepreneurs. They also provide them with an intellectual and spiritual framework. In effect, genuine clubs for businessmen function within the revivalist churches. Usually meeting in big hotels, these ‘full gospel’ clubs are places where Christian men of affairs follow the teachings of the Lord in business matters: credit, guarantees, security… here they also learn that the Christian must make a positive contribution to the development of his country, having regard to the general interest, not seeking to enrich himself illegally, and that he should eschew bad practices such as contraband, corruption, and the worldly way of conducting business. Moreover, Christians everywhere must aim to be most effective and to occupy as many key posts as possible. Thus, Christianity may achieve dominance for the benefit of all, in the government of the country as well as in business management. As exemplary individuals and as occupants of posts of responsibility, Christians should complete the process with the creation of Christian industrial and commercial organizations which can be put to use in the expansion of Christianity. 8

The revivalist churches’ political offensive

Since the end of the rule of Maréchal Mobutu, one may observe an offensive by the revivalist churches on political life in the Congo. From the start, national and foreign preachers were regularly recruited by the regime not only to preach forgiveness and reconciliation, but also turn the people towards more spiritual preoccupations. The culmination of this strategy was during the time of the Sovereign National Conference, where everyone was expecting a mass brainstorm. 9

Since the political revolution of 1997, many pastors have occupied important posts in different organs of the State. Under their influence, the omnipresence of prayer has become a reality in the Congolese political life. The paradox of the secular Congolese State where all meetings of official institutions begin with a prayer asking God to guide their work has been pointed out by some. This practice, which is nowadays beginning to become institutionalised, is a cause for concern for many analysts of the Congolese political life.

Strengthened by the official recognition granted to them since 2003 and by their success in the political terrain, the revivalist churches clearly intend to show that they are no longer inoffensive, even clandestine sects whose existence is dependent on the good will of the authorities of the Church of Christ of the Congo, but a political force of the first order. To assure their political presence, they have set up a Justice and Peace Commission, like that of the protestant and catholic churches, which provides a platform to represent them in dealing with the political authorities of the country. During the presidential elections of 2006, the Commission trained and deployed about 2000 observers throughout the country.

The revivalist churches were not content with deploying observers. They also fielded candidates for the different constituencies. Some were elected as deputies. Others made electoral agreements with candidates. Still others pocketed several million US dollars to give their followers voting recommendations. It is pointless to emphasise that the pastor-fathers enjoy the blind trust of their followers, which means that they would vote as they were told.

The new position of power occupied by the revivalist churches means that they can win over many people who nourish political ambitions. The old generation of politicians has not gone away. Certainly one may find amongst them preachers, pastors, and/or benefactors who are sincere and on whom the Congo can depend for her reconstruction. In effect, employing sincere believers in the management of the city may contribute to more ethical politics, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of men, His creatures.

But ‘born again’ politicians are not always necessarily sincere converts. Many of them hope, through these churches, to haul themselves up into a new position of power to escape from the oblivion to which the new regime have relegated them. Still others, more numerous, are simply looking for (new) credibility, after having pillaged their country and violated the most basic rights of their co-citizens, and they find in this neo-Protestantism a means of reconciling themselves with the masses and regaining their confidence.


The most recent developments in social science research place great importance on the regulation of societies from below. A great deal of work has shown not only the breakdown of the institutional machinery which was supposed to ensure the harmonious functioning of society by putting in place forms of intervention extended to the whole society, but also the abundance of legal systems in all societies. 10 The Congo is a fine illustration of social regulation from below.

The first conclusion to which our analysis leads us is that power is now multi-polar in the Congo and that “power is no longer synonymous with the power of the State, for the good reason that the population…is quite simply disengaged for the most part from the State apparatus”, 11 and that their real life is outside the purview of the State or even counter to it, because their modes of subsistence, their networks of solidarity, their means of social reproduction, and their ongoing values evade those who claim to be their masters. 12

The second, and principal, conclusion is that, far from being a simple response to crisis, religious initiatives are also an attempt at social, cultural and political reorganisation which, should be understood as fundamental phenomena. Actually, in the context of generalized crisis, the revivalist churches appear to be where new needs are being taken into account and where new forms of sociality are emerging.

In sum, the revivalist churches, due to their communitarian dimension, their capacity to mobilise resources, their mediation in conflicts, and their channelling of fundamental aspirations of their population, are favoured actors in the process of social reconstruction in the Congo which researchers and public policy designers ought to take seriously. 13


1 MBEMBE, Achille. Les jeunes et l’ordre politique. Paris: L’Harmattan. 1988. pp 17-172.

2 MWENE BATENDE. “Les perspectives spiritueliste dans les communautés messianiques

3 KAMBAYI BWATSHIA, Jean and MUTOMBO NGONGA, Julien. L’enfer de l’évangile. Kinshasa: Centre de recherches sur les mentalités Eugemonia. 2006. pp 68-69.

4 ROCHER, Guy. “Pouvoir” in Dictionnaire encyclopédique de théorie et de sociologie du droit. op. cit.

5 CORTON André and MARY André. Imaginaires politiques et pentecôtisme: Afrique/Amerique-Latine. Paris: Karthala. 2001.

6 Op. cit. pp 92-93.

7 SERRANO, Barbara. “Églises évangéliques, L’Offensive politique”. In Chroniques de la gouvernance. Paris: Charles Leopold Mayer. 2008. p. 179.

8 CORTEN, André and MARY, André. op. cit. p.56.

9 BRACKMAN Colette. Le dinosaure, Le Zaïre de Mobutu. Paris: Fayard. 1992. pp. 180-181.

10 See the multiple modes of politics from below illustrated by the work of the team of the

11 KABOU Axelle, “démocratie et après?” in Ecriture et démocratie, Les francophones s’interrogent. Brussels: Labor. 1993.

12 LANTERI Jean-François. “La vie comme elle va”. Autrement, no. hors série. Paris. 1984. p. 123.

13 The institutionalised churches of the Congo cannot meet the challenge of social reconstruction in the Congo. The Catholic Church, alone, is perceived by the public as a standi n for the institution of the State. Furthermore, it is intimately linked with modernity and is a vehicle, as are all of the modern institutions introduced into Africa by colonialism, for modern, foreign values which do not accord with traditional African values: condemnation of traditional African religions, condemnation of polygamy, etc. Finally, it has an ambiguous relationship with the State. This collaboration between the Church and the State in the Congo is inseparable from the colonial context and the arrival of missionaries.