When one is a religious preacher in modern times, and especially if they have a rather high opinion of themselves, I think it is quite reasonable if we expect the preacher to be able to read.
Indeed, if he cannot read and make sense of any written material except his official holy book, then again we have reason to suspect that his relationship with the book is that of a parrot. In short, he reads fluently and may even recite impressive interpretations of the sacred text, but does so like a parrot.
Some village imams are like that with the Quran. And, I fear, the Pentecostal preacher, Mr Elly Tumwine, is risking being placed in that category with the Bible.
For, if you cannot follow the argument in a fairly straightforward newspaper article, how are we sure you really understand the content in a huge collection of traditional myths, prophetic visions, poetic insights and heavily doctored historical narratives such as The Bible?
Last Sunday, Mr Joseph Serwadda did not appear at the morning religious talk show he leads on Impact FM. Mr Elly Tumwine, who is usually the Number Two, took charge. Another preacher, who sometimes joins the duo to form a trio, was Number Two that Sunday.
For reasons I can understand, the usual lead man, Mr Serwadda, occasionally pays attention to what I write in this column. In his absence, Mr Tumwine decided to comment on the little essay I had written for that Sunday, “Why do Pentecostal Preachers Desperately Love – and Hate – Witch doctors?”
The job was astonishing. Sunday Monitor readers who happened to listen to Impact FM must have thought Mr Tumwine was referring to a different article, and in a different newspaper.
Sorry, Mr Tumwine, my article had nothing to do with the plain crook using the pulpit to (directly) target the bank accounts of his or her gullible followers by pretending to mysteriously know their financial secrets.
Instead, my article had plenty to do with regular Ugandan pastors (they are increasingly calling themselves “prophets” and “apostles”) who claim to get revelations and instructions directly from God. The accounts (or stories, not bank accounts!) of these divine communications are glorified lies.
At best, the preacher is seeing delusions and hearing voices that are not there – like a schizophrenic – and would therefore do well to visit a psychiatrist. But more likely, the preacher is deliberately telling lies to his congregation to get cheap legitimacy.
Mr Tumwine and his kind may pretend that they have not heard or read it anywhere, but I wrote last Sunday that the witch doctor is in fact doing exactly the same thing when he claims to be in direct communication with the spirits. If he is not mentally ill and therefore innocently hearing false voices, then, like the pastor, he is deliberately lying to the clients who visit his shrine.
To explain the challenges that face his clients, the witch doctor’s diagnosis generally involves the supposed participation of various evil and wronged ancestor spirits, as well as witchcraft.
If you listen to their sermons and advertisements, from the most eminent ones to the lowest frauds of the Samanya grade, the Ugandan Pentecostal cleric’s diagnosis of the challenges of their followers is also often couched in a narrative involving demons and witchcraft.
Mr Tumwine frequently speaks of what he calls “spiritual intelligence” (whatever that means), but he does not want to apply his intellect to understand the mindset that unites him with the witch doctor.
He cannot rise above the stigma that surrounds being associated with witch doctors.
The pastor and the witch doctor really only separate when they come to the solutions they sell to their clients.
The witch doctor finds remedies through appeasing the traditional spirits, dubious as they may be. And the pastor finds remedies by defeating, casting off or destroying the evil spirits using the power of God or Jesus, dubious as their existence may also be.
If Mr Tumwine cannot follow this elementary argument (although of course he has every right to disagree with it), how can we trust him to understand The Bible?
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator. email@example.com.