Churches play an important role in democracy and development. Globally, religious leaders from all faith groups and denominations have contributed voices that have driven societal transformation. Faith leaders are regarded as the moral campus of society, the ‘salt of the earth’ and the light of the world. Ideally it is expected that pastors, reverends, priests, sheikhs and all should be exemplary and live above reproach.
However, the church is increasingly embroidered in corruption scandals. Faith leaders are becoming masterminds of fraud. Religious institutions are fast turning into conduits for theft. Some churches have become safe havens for gangs and mafias, and are metamorphosing into cartels for abuse of church money.
Faith leaders scramble for appointments into public positions. Many religious leaders accept appointments into boards of statutory corporations, parastatals and scramble to sit next to the president at state house. Much of the abuse of public funds that takes place in parastatals, state house and other public offices happen in broad day light under the watch of faith leaders.
They chose to remain silent in the face of corruption because they benefit from the spoils of fraud. Faith leaders in public positions are on the forefront signing bad procurement contracts even in cases where they know that bribery is involved.
Some religious leaders are active in party politics and hold senior leadership positions. Such point of vantage affords them higher opportunity to collude with business elites to defraud taxpayers and citizens of scarce public resources.
There is an increase in cases involving politically-active pastors and reverends that are answering charges of corruption in courts. Sadly, these are reverends who often preach the gospel of transformative leadership yet they are hypocrites, dogs in sheep’s skin, and are outright political opportunists.
Then there are prophets who classify themselves as senior, junior, minor and such other catchy but obscure titles. They have opened and planted ministries, churches and prayer houses in urban locations, rural villages, while some operate in buses. They are doing a good job in as far as spreading the gospel is concerned in these ‘last days’.
However, some of these prophetic ministries operate as dubious entities which may be conduits for defrauding church members of their funds in the name of offerings and ‘seed’ money. One wonders if the prophets are not the final beneficiaries of the offerings as they probably use the money for personal projects, and investing in their family businesses which have nothing to do with the ministry.
Religious corruption negatively affects national economic development. When pastors, church elders, deacons and church treasurers swindle money, it affects future investments and hinders progress in investment plans made by the churches.
Some religious bodies run development projects that compliment government work in poverty eradication such as running schools and hospitals. Other faith groups have departments that work on governance, human rights, elections and social justice campaigns. These initiatives are financed by church member offerings, contributions, and donor money.
Malawi has experienced cases where church funds have been abused and corruption has taken center stage under the instigation of the very pastors, reverends, priests and sheikhs who are supposed to be faithful stewards and custodians of the same resources.
Religious leaders need to think about ways of embracing accountability reforms in their denominations. Integrity will stop religious leaders drifting from faith to fraud. They need to reclaim their fast waning reputation as champions of economic and social justice.
Commercialisation of the gospel, turning churches, mosques and prayer houses into platforms for profit will only increase the inclination towards corruption and evil. Religious leaders need to swiftly return to their great commission of saving the lost, and offering Holy Communion instead of practicing holy corruption.