I just again watched the video clip of Sarah Palin being prayed for by the Kenyan preacher, Pastor Muthee, and for the sake of this article, paid special attention to what he said and his prayer points for her. I heard the following: prayer for favor; prayer for finances; righteousness; the breaking of yokes, prayer against hindrances of the enemy; and finally, the binding or rebuking of all forms of ‘witchcraft’ – words that have since sent America in a tail spin, wondering how Jesus and witchcraft can be mentioned or prayed for within the same sentence. I would like to try to explicate this from a couple of different perspectives.
First from an African perspective – Pentecostalism in Africa is quite mainstream. In the African tradition, even dating back to pre-colonial times, the average African s have always worn their spirituality on their person and have always been very closely linked to their spirituality, whether traditional, Christian or Islamic spirituality. It’s never been hidden or considered something to be ashamed of. It is also not unusual in Africa to find a politician being closely affiliated to a religious leader, or to find him or her attending the service of a particular church on a regular basis, or being prayed for in a manner almost identical to that of this YouTube clip. Even if the politician is of a different religious affiliation such as Islam, it is not uncommon to find him calling on a Christian Pentecostal leader for prayer or guidance on a particular issue. Spirituality, on a very ordinary level, is a close part of the everyday African life.
Now, people in America see this clip of Sarah Palin and freak out and the incident literally becomes sensationalized in the media. But, you see in Africa, this is “normal”. But Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism in the U.S. is not mainstream and many people here still consider them as something practiced by fringe elements. The interesting irony here also, is that as closely linked as America is to religion, for most intents and purposes, most Americans are still agnostic.
As seen from the clip, the notion of casting and binding evil spirits or rebuking every form of “witchcraft” is very much in line with the principals of karma and the clearing or removal of negative spirits, negative forces or energy working against a person’s ability to do or achieve good. It is not a literal reference to witches with wobbly pointed hats flying around on broomsticks waving a wand that turns a rabbit into a pigeon. Nor is it a direct reference implying that Sarah Palin or anybody else in such a congregation believes in witches and wizards per se.
Jesus himself can be found in the Bible casting out demons (see Mark 5:1-20).The clearing out of negative energy or spirits in a person to make room for good or better to take place is very much in line with the principles shared by ninety percent of many other religions. For example, Buddhist chanting as a form of prayer is an act of clearing away negativity around such a person in order to be able to receive good things or positive energy, is akin to a Christian prayer that says “to bind every negative hindrance working against you in Jesus Name”. In the same vein, the principle of Jesus going up to a mountain to fast and pray (going without food or water) for 40 days to commune with God is very similar to Buddhist monks that shaved their heads, climbing to the top of a mountain to purify themselves by purging all negativity in order to enhance their ability to tune into the spiritual in an intense and as pure a manner as possible. The act of purging oneself of negativity has the same idea behind it, whether it is to affiliate it with God, if that is what is believed in, or to affiliate it to some other spiritual being or notion.
In Nigeria for example, the religious convictions of revered Christian (Pentecostal/Evangelical) leaders such as Pastor E.A. Adeboye of Redeemed Christian Church of God or Dr. D.K. Olukoya of MFM Ministries are not perceived as threatening by the general public because they generally stay within the confines of “religion” and do not try to spread their influences and beliefs into the political sphere. They have tended to keep their political views abstract and general -asking the government to help the people that they are governing or that the wealth of the land should be used for all people and not just a select few – thereby offending as few people as possible. But in the U.S., some people, Sarah Palin included, have political views that could be found detrimental to people in general. When one now associates all these different forms of intolerance with the practice of evangelicalism or Pentecostalism, then it now becomes understandable that Americans in general have a negative view of it or are troubled by it when they really shouldn’t be. The spheres of extreme right wing politics and evangelicalism have co-mingled in such a way that one has now tainted the other when it shouldn’t be that way.
I am a Nigerian-American, have grown up, lived and worked in both countries, and also a Christian of Pentecostal leanings. As a result I have the unique ability to be able to look at both sides of a coin and understand the sometimes-opposing standpoints. But that does not mean that I believe in the political convictions of some American evangelicals that blatantly advocate for the assassination of America’s perceived enemies, or the taking away of a woman’s right to choose nor do I believe in aerial hunting, to mention a few.
As is popularly said in Nigerian Pentecostal churches, salvation is personal, not the law of the land.
Toyin Odulate is an entrepreneur and telecoms business consultant who splits her time between Nigeria and the United States. She is also an avid blogger and budding writer on varied topics ranging from fashion, beauty, Africa, women’s issues, politics and food.