Ever had a song stuck in your head? “Its the money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes…I just wanna be successful.” This past Sunday I would not help but repeat the Drake rap song in my head. What caused this hip-hop hook rotation? Nothing other than a South African mega church that I attended this past weekend. It was quite fascinating as I was armied into my chair by the mass movement of ushers. The church was about three times the size of a regular high school auditorium and the phrase “Jesus Christ is Lord” was etched into the ceiling. Throughout the service I realized the whole experience of church was like taking a class called capitalism 101. When you enter into this church you got engulfed in something I’m going to call Holy Capitalism. Inside the concept of Holy Capitalism you will find drake rap songs come to life and permeate into the goals and desires of these church members.
I have seen God used as a mechanism for hope or an avenue into a better life. These are common themes that I’ve experienced as I grew up in my grandmother’s Baptist church. (To be more specific, Providence Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago). However, I have never observed such a blatant connection between God and access to materialism/wealth. That is to say in this church an equation was made: God + Faith = money, cars, and clothes. But not just any standard of wealth, Holy Capitalism is fancy. They don’t do Toyota and Ford, they do BMW and Benz.
One man got up and gave his “testimony” about how he had cars all his life, but how they were all old and dated. And he prayed for a better car and because he was faithful he got a new Mercedes Benz.
This idea of “Holy Capitalism” aka “just have faith and God will give you “things” is not only a mis-representation of God, but also a band-aid over the actual social issues and systemic barriers that people experience. I think a more accurate description of what Jesus preached would be found in themes like taking up the cross and following him or in parables like “its easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
The offering was also an interesting process in this particular church. It was almost like an auction block, displaying who can give the most money. The pastor said “If you can give 100 Rand come to this side of the room, if you can give 50 Rand go to that side, and all the others go to that corner.” It was also quite interesting to see how the musical atmosphere changed so drastically once the offering began. Before the offering started all the songs were slow (in English) with no drums, and some of the songs we strictly no music. When the offering began, this changed. A drumbeat came out of nowhere and the songs were all spoken the African language (Xhosa). The power of music and the atmosphere to encourage people to give was clearly strategic and purposeful.
I was obviously skeptical of this church, but it is important for me to note that this church did seem to make the lives of the people in the congregation better. I have a soft heart for any institution that offers hope to those who struggle. Even if that hope is intertwined with this Holy Capitalism syndrome. There is tangible evidence in the strength that comes from believing in God and there is impact in the praxis of attending church service, hearing testimony and joining in the spirit of Ubuntu- or togetherness/community. While I don’t agree with many of the details that exist in this service, I do believe in the power that they offer people.