THE booming voice of Apostle Rodney Chipoyera, the pastor of the Kingdom Prosperity Ministries, fills a decrepit cinema-turned-church in Harare. Yes, times are tough, he tells his congregants, who sit in broken chairs wearing their Sunday best.
The country may be bust, but if you stop tithing—giving a full tenth of your income to his church—you will be cursed.
“You tithe, He blesses,” proclaims Mr Chipoyera. “You keep the tithe, the curse is initiated.” The congregation responds in ardent agreement: “I refuse to rob God in tithes and offerings!”
Strutting across the stage, Chipoyera is at pains to defend his shiny car and fashionable clothes.
Nobody wants their pastor to look poor, he declares with a laugh. “I represent God,” he says. “I dress well to show who I represent…I don’t want to be one of those pastors on a bicycle.” On Sunday mornings Harare booms with the sound of preaching.
White-robed apostolic sects worship in fields and by the roadside; wealthier folk attend gleaming mega churches.
Pastors starting from scratch find space in schools and even nightclubs. Traditional denominations have lost members to Pentecostal and apostolic groups, many of them promising prosperity to those who truly believe—and open their wallets to prove it.
American dollars are preferred, but mobile money is acceptable too.
Some of the more enterprising priests sell miracles. Blessed ballpoint pens help you pass exams. Miracle bricks will help you acquire your own home.
Local newspapers carry regular reports of miracles. “Churches—the only business in Zimbabwe that’s growing,” scoffs a journalist.
But even the prosperity churches have suffered setbacks recently. As the economy melts down, donations have dwindled.
One church has been accused of seizing property and equipment from members who have failed to pay their tithe
The government, ever ravenous for cash, has started to tax some church proceeds. Bishop Rodger Jeffrey, who founded a church in a poor Harare suburb eight years ago, says he used to get about $2,000 a month from his congregation.
Nowadays donations have halved. “We must encourage them to be entrepreneurs,” he says. To help things along, an upcoming church conference will include lessons on starting a business. “No one wants to be poor,” says Bishop Jeffrey. “Poverty is the devil.”