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Pentecostalism, Female Spirit-Filled Politicians, and Populism in Zambia.

There are two noticeable Pentecostal women politicians in Zambia today. The first is the Rev. Godfridah Sumaili, who is the first Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. She did not run for a member of Parliament seat, but only received a nomination from President Edgar Lungu on 15 September 2016. She is a pastor at the neo-Pentecostal Bread of Life Church International (BLCI), under the very popular preacher Bishop Joe Imakando. BLCI has the largest single congregation in Zambia, with over 12,000 members. The second noticeable woman is Dr Liya Mutale, a medical doctor by profession who was instrumental during the 2016 presidential campaign. She formed a campaign wing called "Christians for Lungu" that, after Lungu's election win, became defunct. Through their networks, Pentecostalism mobilized the people of faith into a populist movement with a political agenda to exercise power through governance over the nation. This movement seeks to promote a Pentecostal nationalist agenda based on conservative discourse --resistance against abortion and homosexuality and reinforcing of traditional family values. These elements form the foundation of their religiopolitical populist agenda. There is one way that this form of populism not only emphasizes organizational, economic, or predominantly political aspects, but many aspects that define conservative religious social imaginaries.

Their strategy of appropriating political power involved seizing opportunities in the changing landscape of Christianity in Zambia, where most Christians have shifted membership/faith allegiance from the historic mainline Eurocentric missionary-founded churches to Spirit-paradigm and newer churches with charismatic leaders. (1) The percentage of Pentecostal--Charismatic increased in 2010 to 23.6 percent of Zambia's 13.9 million people. In that same year, the total number of Christians was 12.0 million, or 87.0 percent of the population. According to Operation World, in 2010 charismatics/Pentecostals in Zambia numbered 3.414 million (25.8 percent of the total population), and evangelicals slightly lower at 3.406 million (25.7 percent). (2) It is important to highlight that Pentecostalism, like all populist movements, has a strong orientation toward celebration of membership growth. Numbers matter in the Pentecostal movement. Most Pentecostal leaders have leveraged their large followings to acquire social status and political respectability.

The Pentecostal ability to mobilize large numbers of people, combined with the prosperity gospel in conversation with a populist neo-conservative political ideology underpinned by the neo-liberal economic ideology of the free market helped Lungu became the "Chosen One." In appreciation, Lungu rewarded Mutale with the position of permanent secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Art and introduced the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs with a female Pentecostal Sumaili as its minister. This move to link the state and church in symbiotic relationship represented a strategic move to concentrate and control political power within a Pentecostal/neo-conservative/neo-liberal economic alliance.

This paper draws on data that was collected in Zambia by Chammah Kaunda between 2016 and 2017. Kaunda engaged 250 Pentecostal men and women through openended interviews as well as questionnaires in order to understand the views that Pentecostal Christians hold with regard to the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation. (3) This article employs an African feminist missiological critique to interrogate the Pentecostal women in politics and their deployment of populist discourse of submission in legitimating Edgar Lungu's political power. The article seeks to respond to the following question: How are African Pentecostal women politicians deploying religious discourse to reinforce populism and patriarchy in Zambian political spheres?

Pentecostalism and Gender Paradox

Pentecostalism has been instrumental in advocating for women's empowerment in the public sphere. Scholars have applauded Pentecostalism, arguing that the movement empowers women to reject the socio-cultural status quo of marginalization in patriarchal societies and legitimizes ambitious women's achievement of economic, social, and political independence. (4) Recent scholarship demonstrates that Pentecostalism offers a gender paradox, as it promotes gender equality while simultaneously reinforcing male headship as divine order. (5) There is enough evidence that most Pentecostals are less likely to engage in transforming structures of unequal gender relations. (6) Jennifer Cole observes that Pentecostalism defined the public role of women less by transforming patriarchal structures "than by offering women alternative source of authority, as well as an alternative set of practices, from which to forge social personhood and subjective sense of self' (7) within already-defined structures. In other words, women are expected seek their legitimation by inserting themselves within already-defined social structures of gender and power. There is a strong tension between wifely/womanly submission and male headship in the home and covertly within public spheres. Gender justice is based on submitting to male headship, especially at home, in maintaining the "divine order" imperative. Others have argued, "It should not be assumed, however, that the spiritual and material equality of believers undermines inherent biological and psychological differences between women and men, or that it fundamentally disrupts the rules governing social relations between them. In marriage a woman is still to 'submit' to her husband (Ephesians 5:22-4)." (8) In other words, the Pentecostal gender ethic promotes gender equality in public social domains but reinforces wifely/womanly submission in the marital context; in turn, women transposed the practice of submission into the public spaces. This means that African Pentecostalism's preoccupation with submission in the home socializes women to define every man in terms of headship. Jane Soothill concludes that Pentecostal gender discourses do not "challenge the structures that reinforce and perpetuate gender inequalities" both at home and in public spaces. It positions women as gaining access to public spaces based on male merit. In other words, African Pentecostal gender discourse reduces women's public engagement to patterns of their homes in which the man is head, and in a way transposes this male headship into public discourse.

Pentecostalism and Populist Politics in Zambia

Pentecostal Christians play a noticeable role in Zambian politics. (10) Pentecostalism has become a political force; most politicians seek to appeal to members in order to win elections. The Pentecostals have positioned themselves as the chief architects and guardians of the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation (hereafter, the Declaration). Zambia was declared a Christian nation in 1991 by the second president of the Republic of Zambia, Frederick J. T. Chiluba. The Declaration functions as a national foundation for Pentecostalism and populist politics in contemporary Zambian society. (11) The Declaration was utilized as a vehicle by most Pentecostals, who argued that a Christian president must rule Zambia. Most politicians, therefore, use the Declaration to appeal to Pentecostal longings for a Christian president to win the elections. Because of current efforts of the Pentecostal Church to advance women's empowerment in the public sphere, Lungu further strategically answered the people's desires by appointing a female clergy member as Minister of Religious Affairs. While he was interim president after President Michael Sata's death in office in 2016, Lungu positioned himself as a born-again Christian. He began making public appearances in various church services, as a result winning the favour of the majority of Pentecostal Christians. During his campaign, pictures of Lungu in church or with clergy were constantly posted on social media, all depicting him reading the Bible or in prayer. (12) The pictures and his public appearances in prayer meetings and services seems to have popularized him as the right candidate for Zambia's presidency.

Zambian Pentecostalism has a strong populist inclination toward political views, and has often managed to get politicians into political office, as Jose Pedro Zuquete (13) has noted. Populism does not necessarily relate to gender; however, it occurs in society, where gender issues are prevalent. Populism is often malecentred, and it has been men who most often drive the movements. Cas Mudde and Cristobal Kaltwasser observe that "conceptually, populism has no specific relationship to gender; in fact, gender differences, like all other differences within 'the people', are considered secondary, if not irrelevant, to populist politics. Yet populist actors do not operate in a cultural or ideological vacuum." (14) The societies within which populism operates are gendered spaces: hence there is a need for feminist scrutiny of how populism operates and whose needs are being met. However, when populism has to do with religion and politics, women often tend to be at the fore because women make up the majority of religious groups. Scholars have demonstrated that African Pentecostalism is populated by women who are involved in the redeeming work of God in the world within their societies. (15)

African Feminist Missiological Perspective

An African feminist missiological stance suggests the instruction and significance of the church to women. As we shall see, the Zambian Pentecostal gender discourse in public spheres pushes women to resort to promoting men in political offices. Indeed, as already argued, studies have shown that populism is a male territory in which women are an appendix. In the Zambian context, culture and religious texts play major roles in reinforcing a populist stance that relegates women to the margins. Politicians are aware of the fact that women make up the majority in churches and hence that they are important for votes. For African women theologians, culture is a vital component of missiologization, because, too often, religion utilizes cultural resources to reinforce oppression against women. (16) It is important to highlight that populism in most African countries appeals to a conservative worldview and is mobilized in strongly patriarchal-oriented societies. (17) In the context of Zambia, populists operate within highly patriarchal spaces and seem to be encouraging women's emancipation, while subtly the men are at the centre of it all. African feminists (18) and missiologists seek for a missiology (7) of women's emancipation in all spheres of life. Elsewhere, Chammah Kaunda argues that
the missional position of life-giving African Pentecostalism in the
missiological context of Africa, saturated with death-dealing forces,
should be grounded in an affirmation that authentic transformation is
the activity of the Holy Spirit because human ingenuity and
innovativeness can never genuinely bring about the fullness of life for
all. (20)

Pentecostalism in Zambia has been operating in line with women's needs for emancipation in the public sphere: to promote women's involvement in the affairs of the nation while in their homes they remain subservient. This subservience is beginning to filter into the political sphere as well. Female politicians have almost equated the nation of Zambia to a home where the president is like a father of the nation. This comparison or equating the nation to a home, or house-nization of the nation, is problematic on many levels. African feminist missiologists argue that home discourse in Africa is a dangerous ideology for African women and girls. (21) They stress that the home discourse is underpinned by the conservative traditional African cultural heritage, in which culture and religion were intertwined and women placed at the centre of the ritual in order to domesticate their sexuality and reduce it to procreation. (22)

Zambian Female Pentecostal Politicians and Populism

As Zuquete enlightens, "Populism should be understood, above all as a kind of politics (both in theory and in practice) that divides society between the "people" invariably described as sane, honest, and pure as opposed to the 'elites', invariably described as corrupt and evil." (23) What missional role do Pentecostal elite women play in establishing the ongoing redeeming work of God in the world? For African--particularly Zambian - women, who understand exclusion from both the public and private sphere, it is almost inevitable to stand in solidarity with women at the grassroots when holding office in the public sphere. However, the case of Sumaili and Mutale blurs the operations of the private and public sphere. The house-nization of the nation by granting Lungu the title "father of the nation" is appalling and seems to undo what feminists and gender activists have been working hard to achieve.

Mutale espouses an extreme form of wifely submission--the husband "stands in for the Lord" as an earthly Christ to his wife--which argues for a similar paradigm of submission to the president. Mutale's notions of political morality are constructed from a conservative theology of wifely submission. This is affirming the argument that "populists strive for a society and a state that is firmly grounded in a shared moral system that encompasses private as well as political and economic institutions." (25) Mutale and Sumaili have focused on the private, as they demand submission to the president.

The understanding of the nation as a home for the two women is a cultural transposition of wifely submission to politics. Mutale believes that submission to the president is a moral contribution that Pentecostals can make to politics:
My integrity, my character, I mean to be a politician I want to believe
that I should be a person of good moral standing. I should be a person
who means what they say, okay? I shouldn't say this today and tomorrow
I say that I am seeing that happening, where politicians say this
today, "I will never this," "I can't do this," and two days later [they
do] exactly that. I think that is not right. We come in with values of
loyalty, we come in with submission, we come in with honouring
authority. You know, I mean you can't go out there and insult the
president. No, that's wrong. The Bible tells me that I should submit,
honour authority. I should pray for my leaders. So, all those values
that I bring with me from my spiritual life, I think they add value to
the political arena. (26)

It is particularly interesting that it is a woman who came forward with the notion of submission even in the public sphere. These are seemingly good intentions that Mutale wants to bring to the political arena; the contention is that, historically, political domains have been male dominated, which should not be taken lightly by women. Holding high office in the political arena grants Mutale a position to bring about change that could bring about sociopolitical and economic emancipation of women in Zambia. As a representative of Zambian women, Mutale has a mission to speak transformation to powers that be and bring the change that is necessary in achieving gender and social justice. However, her preoccupation with submission bestows upon the president the patriarchal honour of being the head of the house (nation) in the same way a husband is positioned within a conservative Christian home. This is a teaching that is often received from traditional premarital teachings for women in Zambia.

Sumaili classifies her ministry in a Pentecostal populist language:
As a ministry from Heaven, we are a blessed nation as Zambia and this
ministry is so unique and it has come at the right time. President
Edgar Chagwa Lungu listens from God, he heard God and announced the
establishment of this ministry. So it is really a ministry that has
come to strengthen us as a nation.

She argues that just as a home has values, so should a nation. The home analogy is very significant to how Pentecostal female politicians approach politics in Zambia.

Somehow, Zambian female politicians cannot escape the home comparison in their public discussions and engagements. Sumaili argues,
Let me be very clear here, like I gave you an example of a home. For
really, to run the home, you need to have some guidelines in that home.
You need to discipline your children. Actually, the Lord Jesus has
given us that structure. The man, you're the head of the family... and
love your wife. Wife submit to your husband. Children obey your
parents. Parents do not be harsh to your children. These are the
biblical guidelines. The way in a nation... a Christian nation means
there has to be discipline... if you love your child, discipline your
child. (28)

Sumaili appeals this way to the ordinary people of Zambia in making president Lungu the desired leader of the nation of Zambia. It is a man who first found Sumaili's house-nization of Zambia to be out of order. Elias Munshya argues, "Zambia is not a home with a father and mother ruling over children in a household. The biblical model of a home cannot be extrapolated to the Zambian state. Zambia is a republic with a constitution that assigns roles to each branch of government." (29) Advancing this kind of morality in politics appears to suggest a lack of experience, vision, and understanding of how democratic politics work. Further, the advancement of notions of a home and father in political spaces fails to appreciate African feminists' grappling with finding ways that African women can speak for those who cannot voice their marginalization and struggles. In this way, Sumaili seduces the masses by seemingly supporting the concerns of ordinary Zambians. Jean Comaroff (30) notes,
while they [Pentecostals] assert a foundationalism of a kind, these
churches also tend also to be outspokenly opposed to "African
tradition" per se, even though they continue, in their very opposition,
to underline its power. In fact, what these movements stress is less an
unbroken continuity with indigenous forms of belief than a
self-conscious, born-again return to fundamentals.

Sumaili uses cultural notions to justify her moral take on politics; she combines cultural aspects and religious Pentecostal aspects. The way she has utilized culture and religion constructs her as an empowered subservient woman.

Sumaili's and Mutale's use of homely values as a metaphor for the nation is perceived by some as problematic. Munshya notes that they are "advancing a very dangerous paternalism that is not envisioned by the constitution of Zambia" (31) He further argues that even "[a]sking for self-regulation of the churches is also intolerable as a matter of constitutional law." (32) These two women seem to be sitting in hot seats. They have no theological background to enable them to understand how to engage politics theologically. Their lack of political theology has meant that they have to rely on personal experiences as a theological framework. This challenge means that African Pentecostal women politicians have made no clear contribution to transforming the political and gender structures upon which African governments are established.

Therefore, while Pentecostal women politicians seek to become moral examples in politics, the political moral ethic they advance reinforces domestic relational dynamics. In these, women and other citizens are expected to submit passively to the president in the same way some conservatives expect their wives and children to submit to fatherly authority in their homes. This alliance of religio-political power that projects Lungu as the father and president of the nation promotes house-nization of the nation, as already argued. (33) In other words, Mutale and Sumaili's religiopolitical discourse have embraced an African patriarchal model of division of labour and distribution of power within the traditional home paradigm. Their religiopolitical discourse seeks to promote domestic forms of respect toward the president of the nation. Lungu's presidency is conceptualized in a traditional African form of governance in which the citizens are treated as children. The citizens are not to question the leadership of the presidency.

Mutale M. Kaunda is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal/South Africa

Chammah J. Kaunda is a senior researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

(1) Chammah J. Kaunda, "The Making of Pentecostal Zambia: A Brief History of Pneumatic Spirituality," Oral History Journal of South Africa 4:1 (2017), 15-45,

(2) Jason Mandryk, ed., Operation World, 7th ed. (Colorado Springs, Co.: Biblica Publishing, 2010), 892-93.

(3) The research is funded by the Nagel institute for the Study of World Christianity, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

(4) Charlotte Spinks, "Panacea or Painkiller? The Impact of Pentecostal Christianity on Women in Africa," Critical Half 1:1(2015), 21-25; Mariah Farn-Arp, "Pentecostal Charismatic Christianity and the Making of Female Managers" Focus 62 (2011), 47-53.

(5) Adriaan van Klinken, "God's World Is Not an Animal Farm - Or Is It? The Catachrestic Translation of Gender Equality in African Pentecostalism," Religion and Gender 3:2 (2013): 240-58, at 250.

(6) Adriaan S. van Klinken, Transforming Masculinities in African Christianity: Gender Controversies in Times of AIDS (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013); Chammah J. Kaunda, "Ndembu Cultural Liminality, Terrains of Gender Contestation: Reconceptualising Zambian Pentecostalism as Liminal Space," HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 73:3 (2017),

(7) Janet Cole, "The Love of Jesus Never Disappoints: Reconstituting Female Personhood in Urban Madagascar," Journal of Religion in Africa 42 (2012), 384-407, at 388.

(8) Jane E. Soothill, "The Problem with Women's Empowerment: Female Religiosity in Ghana's Charismatic Churches," Studies in World Christianity 16:1 (2010), 82-99, at 84.

(9) Jane E. Soothill, Gender, Social Change and Spiritual Power Charismatic Christianity in Ghana (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007), 63.

(10) Chammah J Kaunda, '"From Fools for Christ to Fools for Politicians': A Critique of Zambian Pentecostal Theopolitical Imagination," International Bulletin of Mission Research 41:4 (2017), 296-311.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Kaunda, "The Making of Pentecostal Zambia," 15-45.

(13) Jose Pedro Zuquete, "Mssionary Politics: A Contribution to the Study of Populism," in Religion Compass 7:7 (2013): 263-71.

(14) Cas Mudde and Cristobal R. Kaltwasser, "Vox populi or vox masculini? Populism and Gender in Northern Europe and South America," Patterns of Prejudice 49:1-2 (2015): 16-36,

(15) Chammah J Kaunda, "Neo-Prophetism, Gender and 'Anointed Condoms': Towards a Missio Spiritus of JustSex in the African Context of HIV and AIDS," Alternation 23:2 (2016), 64-88.

(16) See for instance Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Introducing African Women's Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001); Musimbi Kanyoro, Introducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African Perspective (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002); Isabel Apawo Phiri and Sarojini Nadar, "What's in a Name? Forging a Theoretical Framework for African Women's Theologies," Journal oj Constructive Theology 12:2 (2007), 5-23.

(17) Mudde and Kaltwasser, "Vox populi or vox masculini?" 16.

(18) Silvia Tamale "Eroticism, Sensuality and "Women's Secrets" among the Baganda: A Critical Analysis," Feminist Africa 5, 9-36,; Wane Njoki, "African Indigenous Feminist Thought: An Anti-Colonial Project," in The Politics of Cultural Knowledge, ed. Wane, Njoki, Arlo Kempf, and Marlon Simmons, pp. 7-21 (Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers, 2011); and Wane Njoki, " [Re] Claiming My Indigenous Knowledge: Challenges, Resistance, and Opportunities," Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 2:1 (2013), 93-107.

(19) Sarojini Nadar, "Toward a Feminist Missiological Agenda: A Case Study of the Jacob Zuma Rape Trial," Missionalia 37:1 (April 2009), 85-102; Fulata Moyo, "When the Telling Itself Is Taboo: The Phoebe Practice," in On Being Church: African Women's Voices and Visions, ed. Isabel Phiri and Sarojini Nadar, (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2005), 184-200.

(20) Chammah J. Kaunda, "Making Critically Conscious Disciples a Zambian Pentecostal Pneumato-Discipleship Missiology" International Review of Mission 106:2 (2017): 322-35, at 324.

(21) Isabel Phiri and Sarojini Nadar, '"Going through the Fire with Eyes Wide Open': African Women's Perspective on Indigenous Knowledge, Patriarchy and Sexuality," Journal for the Study of Religion 22:2 (2009), 222.

(22) Nadar, "Who's Afraid of the Bible Believing Christian? Reading the Bible as a Feminist in Relation to NeoPentecostal Challenges," in Lutherans Respond to Pentecostalism, ed. Karen L. Bloomquist (Minneapolis, Minn.: Lutheran University Press and Lutheran World Federation, 2008).

(23) Zucquete, "Missionary Politics."

(24) For a detailed discussion of Dr Mutale's theology of submission, see He Can, He Does, & He Will: How God Still Answers Us Today (Sisters, Ore.: Deep River Books, 2011), especially chap. 14.

(23) Christl Kessler and Jurgen Ruland, "Responses to Rapid Social Change: Populist Religion in the Philippines," Pacific Affairs 79:1 (2006), 73.

(26) Dr Liya Mutale, interview with the author, Lusaka, 30 May 2016.

(27) Joseph Mwenda and Stella Goma, "Sumaili Explains Her Plan for Religious Ministry" (9 April 2017),

(28) ZambiaBlogTalkRadio, "Rev. Godfridah Sumaili, Minister of National Guidance & Religious Affairs,"

(29) Elias Munshya, "When the State Becomes a False Prophet: How Rev. Sumaili's Views Threaten Zambia's Constitutionalism," Elias Munshya Blog (22 May 2017),

(30) Jean Comaroff, "Pentecostalism, Populism and the New Politics of Affect," in Pentecostalism and Development Non-Governmental Public Action, ed. Dena Freeman (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012),

(31) Munshya, "When the State Becomes a False Prophet" [bold and italics in original].

(32) Ibid.

(33) Mercy Oduyoye, Introduction to African Women's Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001); Susan Rakoczy, In Her Name: Women Doing Theology (Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications, 2004).
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Author:Kaunda, Mutale M.; Kaunda, Chammah J.
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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