On religious pluralism in UgandaPosted: December 27, 2011
I just read this story from the New Vision website about Ugandan Pastor Umar Mulinde being attacked in an incident that is believed to be another ugly attack on religious pluralism in Uganda.
“As I turned away from the attacker, another man poured the liquid on my back and ran away shouting ‘Allah Akbar (God is great).”
Pastor Mulinde said he caught a glimpse of the attackers but could not disclose the details as this would jeopardize investigations. He blamed the attack to some people who are opposed to his conversion from the Islamic faith to Christianity.
“I have got threats for a very long time, but didn’t take them serious until now,” he said.
Mulinde was raised in a staunch Muslim family and his father served as the local Imam. He was a sheikh before getting converted to Christianity.
Mulinde said the attack occurred shortly after his church had concluded a seven-day crusade at in which over 300 people gave their lives to the Lord.
I have spent a number of years observing the compassion and cruelty of religion. Finding middle ground has been difficult. As someone who was raised with an unquestionable reading of scripture I have learned to free myself from reading the “Word of God” as the unadulterated “Word of God.”
The Self : I grew up in Mengo, a small town in Kampala known for its large community of Somali Muslim immigrants. There are as many mosques as Balokole (Pentecostal) churches in this town. My family’s Church, Trinity Christian Fellowship, was one of them except that it was a home fellowship where everything happened inside our house. I attended a number of Balokole crusades in my childhood. After all, it was the norm and mom was an evangelist. For years I watched Imams and pastors tussle it out in a barrage of arguments and counter arguments on whose Book or whose prophet is God-sent. I was blessed to grow up in an environment of Christian extremism and to remain sane as to have an independent and liberal mind.
The problem of the Absolute: My theology has always been simple. God (whoever your god is) cannot be defended and does not need to be defended. The whole idea of being God (god) is that you can speak for yourself. Otherwise what is the point in worshiping a super natural being who is helpless? I have always believed that as so-called Christians, (the phrase so-called herein used to portray how much I despise our self-righteous attitude as Christians) it is not our job to defend God. The attack on Pastor Mulinde is unfortunate but it points to a more complicated problem among Pentecostal Churches than among Muslim fundamentalists. It is also a profound attack on the preaching of the gospel.
The US: Uganda is a country of diverse religions and faiths. Despite the fact that Pentecostal Christians in Uganda received official recognition by the government only two years ago after being in existence for about four decades, everyone should be free to exercise their religious or faith freedom. When I was growing up, the Uganda Television broadcasting company (the only TV station in Uganda at that time) had strict instructions from government not to broadcast Balokole programs. The Idi Amin administration had launched a violent attack on Pentecostalism that to be a Mulokole in Uganda was a very shameful thing. It was even worse that the Balokole faith preached the prosperity gospel which meant that most of its followers were impoverished, uneducated, and miserable people. The number of Balokole who were well-off was too insignificant to attract respect. The Museveni administration is behind the freedom that the Pentecostal Church enjoys today. Beside his unconfirmed Pentecostalism and his wife’s confirmed Pentecostalism, President Museveni overturned the oppressive NGO laws that bound Pentecostal Churches to being registered as Non-Governmental Organizations. Recently, the President declared Pentecostals as an officially recognized Faith and granted them the same religious freedom as enjoyed by Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, and Anglicans.
The Now: Looking at how far Pentecostals in Uganda have come, it is surprising that their pastors should hold open door crusades and preach the gospel to potential converts while being blasphemous to Muslims and Prophet Mohammed. For a country that has been through too many bloodshed wars, religious war is the last thing Ugandans need. My plea to government is that these crusades that become a violent attack on divergent religious views be abolished especially if pastors and Imams are using them as a platform to vent their hate. I am a Christian. I have no business with Prophet Mohammed but that does not give me any right to condemn my Muslim friends for not following Jesus.
Pentecostal pastors such as Mulinde need to begin respecting religious traditions that are not their own. The attack on pastors and the blackmail that we so often read about is not a result of some hate campaign against Pentecostalism. Rather it the consequence of pastors using hate speech to front the Pentecostal faith as the absolute faith tradition that every Ugandan should follow. If we are going to promote religious pluralism in our country, we also need to advocate for an end to religious blasphemy that is promoted by Christians themselves.