Culture can be a significant factor in whether or not consensus building can be effective. Some cultures support community developed and own decisions. Others favour individuals and the exercise of power by a minority over the majority. In this post we have an honest interview with Rev Dr Paul Mpongo from the Presbyterian Church in Congo.
TC: Paul please tell us about your role in the church.
PM: I am Deputy Legal Representative of the Presbyterian Church in Congo living in Kinshasa. I am also pastoring a small church congregation and teaching as Professor of Ethics and Theology in three universities.
TC: What are some of the particular challenges that face the country and church in the Congo?
PM: The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a long and continuing history of civil war. Pervasive poverty means that 80% of its primary and secondary school buildings are in a very needy state. Poverty also prevents schools from providing books, desks, teacher training, equipment like chalkboards and scholarships for girls and orphans. Congo, currently ranks near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. This is a measure of life expectancy, education and income per capita. Life is very difficult for many people and the churches try their best to improve the lives of people through education and health services.
TC: You responded by email to me after a post about having the courage to move away from power to relationships. How do you see power operating in the churches in Africa?
PM: Conflict in the African church is coming from the need for power, the love of money and tribalism. Power is the way that people get money, the way that they control things to get what they want.
In Africa tribal loyalties and hierarchy is very strong so people who have high standing expect power as their right. It goes against the dominant culture in tribal societies to give up power.
TC: What other factors in Africa encourage people to cling to power?
MP: Everyone wants to be bishop and a small god.
In Africa it is complicated to do consensus because democracy is not strong . Democracy does not have deep roots in Africa. Also much of the teaching that has been received, including in the churches, has emphasised the idea of strong leadership.
TC: In a culture where there are many injustices, and power is the way of the world and the church, it must be very hard to talk about building consensus.
MP: Many people in Africa – whether educated or illiterate – take over majority strategy as the way to deal with injustices and tribalism. This is what they know from their life experience. This is normal in our society. If people have power they get what they want. If they do not have power they often suffer.
Consensus has a great problem to fit with this mind. It is not a familiar idea in our culture.
TC: Is change possible in the African context?
PM: It is hard in Africa to come up to this mind.
We need more understanding from the perspective of God’s love than human rights and cultures. In the church we know that God’s ways are not like human ways. We need to look in the Scriptures and the witness of the early church to find encouragement and models for how to live without the power relationships of our human culture.
Church policy of consensus needs love and binding to others as members in the body of Christ. If we see each other as one body, serving the one cause of Jesus Christ we might change. Love and concern for all is the key.
TC: Is it possible in Africa that people will give up power in favour of relationships?
PM: The power of Jesus’ Spirit is strong and powerful to overcome our human limits.
We need courage to love each other and to accept each other. God calls us to love each other. We need to give this the highest priority. Exercising power over people must not be the first thing in our relationships in the church.
TC: It sounds like it is very hard in the African church to deal with power.
PM: Yes it is. But we must have the courage to be of a strong faith – which cannot go back and never fail because of hardship.
The courage required can also mean that the leader must have the will to leave the leadership post – even if people do not like you to quit.
TC: Paul, do you have hope that relationships can take priority over the exercise of power in the churches in Africa?
MP: I believe with the heart of love and humility, everything will be fine
in our churches.
A very special thanks to Dr Mpongo who has generously contacted me many times about our posts on this website. I encourage everyone to offer comments in the comments section at the end of every post.