Fear of God

A year or so ago a little evangelical church set up shop in the house on the corner. The amplified music and preaching has gradually got louder, and one Sunday a couple of weeks ago I complained. The preacher was all smiles in front of his congregation and undertook to reduce the volume. Yesterday he came out and accosted me as I was passing and the atmosphere was not so cordial. When I said it was illegal to operate a church in a residential building, he threatened to report me to the police because he didn’t like my tone, and sent two men to follow me and find out where I lived. It is unfortunately common in ths country for people to involve the police in minor altercations, and the important thing is who can produce supportive witnesses, not what actually happened. In every walk of life, the law is the tool of the most cynical, to be knowingly flouted as far as you can get away with, and hypocritically appealed to whenever it offers advantage. The proprietor of a construction company recently said in the context of a controversial project that he had “zero fear” of the law, which meant no more than the bother of hiring a good lawyer. The same company recently won its case over a project illegal under changed regulations on the grounds that they had not been informed of the need to reapply for the building licence — because the document informing them was technically incorrect. Such sharp practices must be common the world over, but there is generally a public institutional counterweight. Here there is a vacuum, and the evangelical movement are as keen as any other business to fill it. That might mean that in a few years, apart from the fact there is no-one to enforce such laws, it will no longer be illegal for churches to amplify the gospel as much as they like. The reactionary consequences of the erosion of the separation of church and state can be seen in several African countries today, particularly in the form of homophobic legislation, including the death penalty. The theocratic ideal is encapsulated in a discussion I had several years ago with a man playing loud music from a portable CD shop, which he was wheeling round the Casa Forte vegetable market. Several people complained, but the police (present in the square) took no action. He explained to me that though he understood both the legal objection and the inconvenience the law was meant to prevent, his “commitment to faith was greater”.
There are thousands of such churches, many of them no doubt law-abiding and pacific. The ones that aren’t have a political logic — and impact — opposed to secular society and democracy. Perhaps they should read Luther on the two keys (or two kingdoms).

1 comment
  1. Edinéa Alcântara said:


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