Death does not fear churches

Sunday May 31 2020

By Allan Tacca

When US president Donald Trump said firmly that places of worship in the USA should open, many Ugandan religious leaders rejoiced. Perhaps they expected President Museveni to trot like a robot programmed to follow Trump.

In their Sunday 6:30am programme on Impact FM and Dream TV, which are owned by Joseph Sserwadda and his Victory Church, Trump’s voice was played twice. Their interests met.

Trump is consumed by the November election. The strongest ground for his re-election was the American economy, which had seen substantial growth and very low unemployment.

With Covid-19 suffocating the economy, and all possible vaccines several months away, Trump is desperate to get America working normally again – with the help of God. Unfortunately, prayers cannot kill the coronavirus. Moreover, dressers, diners, tourists, holiday makers, cinema-goers, sports junkies and other consumers are unlikely to do things with the gusto of yesterday’s America.

But the economy aside, many White Christians voted for Trump in 2016. He wants that support to remain, the risk of spreading Covid-19 notwithstanding.

Now, President Museveni’s Uganda could claim the dubious record for having the biggest number of redundant functionaries in the East African sub-region. Uganda is governed with the habits of an arbitrary patriarch.
Among Uganda’s countless leadership groups is the Inter-Religious Council (or something like that). Because the Covid-19 lockdown included closing places of worship, the government engaged with this group.

Remember, some religious fanatics did not imagine a normal day, let alone two months, without going to their church or mosque. They did not understand that they could have a quieter, more rewarding relationship with God, away from the immediate grip of self-interested religious manipulators.

If the senior clergy were enlisted, they could help the government to calm any restless fanatics.
Additionally, approaching the 2021 general election, Museveni cannot forget that the men of God have many gullible followers in their congregations.

For their part, the religious leaders, whose authority is in some cases fiercely contested by rival camps, hobnobbing with those who have political power strengthens their leadership claims among worshippers.
For instance, partaking in a Covid-19 prayer exhibition at State House has no special spiritual or moral value, but it ‘sells’ a participant.

No serious citizen expects these Inter-Religious gentlemen to lead or even add their voices to the moral criticism generated by the actions of the powerful people scrambling for the money and the political limelight around Covid-19.
Instead, as other Ugandans suffer untold humiliation to keep Uganda safe, we actually expect these high religious gentlemen to get more incorporated in the vampire state, eying the money and choice food in the stores of the Covid-19 Taskforce!

But, ultimately, their livelihood comes from their followers, so they have started exerting pressure to have places of worship opened. Naturally, those who are more-merchant-than-priest are more desperate.

However, when Sserwadda outlined his idea of safety measures at a would-be open Pentecostal church, the plan was so elaborate it was laughable. Even among First World people with meticulous attention to detail, the plan would be gloriously unworkable in churches that largely depend on whipping up collective emotional intensity and establishing a state of suspended rationality.

The most famous Covid-19 patient in South Korea spread the virus at a church.
In France, a 2000-strong crusade got dozens of people infected, sending a wave of death across the country.
Last week, a Baptist church in Frankfurt that had opened was forced to close and return to broadcast services. Dozens had got infected, although comprehensive safety measures had been observed.
In Magufuli’s barmy Tanzania, at least five pastors have died.

As Trump desperately wants America to start working, our commercial churches desperately want to start working.
God is the supreme master of cosmic indifference. Mortals can follow Trump’s footsteps or choose common sense. God will not move his eyebrows.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.