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African Pentecostalism, spiritual ecology and the challenge of morality

by Church Times

By Oyewole Sarumi Ph.D

The vibrant vista of African Pentecostalism has become a defining feature of the continent’s religious environment.  This explosive growth, however, is not without its challenges.
This short paper explores the complex interplay between spiritual ecologies and moral imaginaries within African Pentecostalism, particularly in light of the perceived rise of moral decadence in contemporary society.

Spiritual Ecologies: A Framework for Understanding

The concept of spiritual ecologies refers to the dynamic interaction between religious beliefs, practices, and the social, political, and cultural contexts in which they flourish.  Within African Pentecostalism, this framework allows us to examine how Pentecostal theology, liturgy, and community structures shape the moral values and ethical frameworks of adherents.
Moral Imaginaries: Shaping Perceptions of Decadence
Moral imaginaries represent the shared cultural understandings of right and wrong within a particular group.  Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on personal holiness and scriptural authority, cultivates a distinct moral imaginary.  This imaginary informs how followers perceive and respond to the perceived moral decline in contemporary African societies.
Perceived Moral Decadence: A Shifting Landscape
African societies are experiencing rapid social and economic transformations.  Increased urbanization, exposure to Western media, and a growing youth population have all contributed to a sense of moral anxiety.  These factors are often seen as leading to a rise in:
Premarital sex and infidelity
Fraud and corruption
Materialism and consumerism
Disintegration of traditional family structures
The rise of cybercrime and social vices

Biblical Foundations and Moral Frameworks

The Bible serves as the foundational source of moral guidance in Pentecostalism.  Key biblical themes such as righteousness, holiness, and fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) establish a framework for ethical living.
However, I have discovered through studies that Fruit of the Spirit is the expression of the New Man as manifested in Galatians 5: 22-23, Ephesians 1: 4, 4: 2, 5: 9; Romans 14: 17, Philippians 2: 1, 3, Colossians 1: 22, 2 Peters 1: 6, Matthew 5: 8. Note that all the above scriptures give us a “roll-call” of the fruit namely: Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Meekness, Self-control, Lowliness, Compassion, Godliness, Righteousness, Holiness, Purity, Endurance, Mercy. In other words, the fruit of the Spirit exceeds what is in Galatians 5.
Pentecostal ministers often emphasize passages condemning immorality (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and promoting godly living (Romans 12:1-2).
Pentecostal Responses: Navigating Moral Challenges
African Pentecostalism offers a multifaceted response to these perceived moral challenges:
Emphasis on Personal Holiness:  Pentecostal theology emphasizes the importance of living a holy life, characterized by adherence to scripture and avoidance of sin.  Preaching and teachings focus on cultivating moral character and resisting worldly temptations.
Prophetic Denunciation and Deliverance Ministry: Many Pentecostal churches employ prophetic pronouncements and deliverance ministries to address moral transgressions.  These practices are believed to cleanse individuals and communities from negative influences. I wonder about the import of 2Cor.5:17 if everyone who is saved will have to undergo deliverance. From what after Christ has redeemed the soul? On this premise, many big ministries have emerged, and yet after several deliverances, nothing seems to change. Shouldn’t there be a review of inputs if outputs do not change?
Focus on Prosperity and Material Blessings:
Some strands of Pentecostalism emphasize the link between faith and material prosperity.  This can create tension, as the pursuit of wealth can be seen as conflicting with traditional moral values. This represents the stock-in-trade of many so-called church leaders who called themselves.
Those who received the genuine calling from God don’t have to worry about how to survive, because they are sure that God who gave them the vision for the work, can make available enough provisions for the work when required.
The space of Pentecostalism in the African continent today is mostly occupied by these materialistic preachers who keep exploiting their willy-nilly congregations who are also out to be deceived. It’s like the person who wants to die, meeting up with another person who is ready to kill someone! That’s the way I perceive these ‘players’ in the court of the churches.
Social Activism and Community Engagement:
Certain Pentecostal movements engage in social activism, addressing issues like poverty, inequality, and gender-based violence.  This demonstrates a concern for holistic well-being that extends beyond personal morality. Yes, the social gospel may have its place today, but a major emphasis on it distorts and destroys the real gospel of Jesus, which is: He came to the world to die on the cross to save man from his sin and deliver him from his sinful life. Period!
Challenges and Tensions
While Pentecostalism offers a powerful framework for navigating moral complexities, it also faces challenges:
Clerical Abuse and Moral Failings:**  Cases of corruption and moral transgressions within Pentecostal leadership can undermine the credibility of their moral pronouncements. Nowadays, this has become an eyesore and a great embarrassment to the Body of Christ. One wonders about the essence of Christian groups and associations all over various countries and the continent, but are toothless in reprimanding or castigating evils been perpetrated by these Charlatans in cassock!!
Commodification of Faith and Prosperity Gospel: The focus on material prosperity in some Pentecostal circles can be seen as a distortion of the core message and lead to the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. I dwelt on this issue of commodification of prosperity in my seminal paper on Synchronisation of Cacophony: Interrogation of Prosperity Gospel in African Pentecostalism.
Gender Issues and Social Justice: The stance on gender roles and social justice can vary within Pentecostalism.  Some movements outrightly reject whilst others struggle to address contemporary issues like gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights. The Bible is clear on our nonconformance with homosexuality, and those Christian denominations that are twisting the Bible for political correctness and misleading their members should be ready to answer for their actions or inactions on judgment day.

The Role of Church Leaders, Theologians, and Bible Scholars

Church Leaders, theologians, and Bible scholars have a crucial role to play in shaping African Pentecostal responses to moral challenges:
Engaging with Scripture:  Critical re-engagement with biblical texts that address morality and social justice issues can provide a more nuanced understanding applicable to contemporary contexts.
Promoting Ethical Leadership: Theological discourse can emphasize the importance of ethical conduct within Pentecostal leadership, advancing greater accountability and transparency.
Contextualizing Theology: Developing a theology that is relevant to the social, economic, and political realities of Africa is crucial.  This allows for more effective engagement with contemporary moral issues.
Promoting Interfaith Dialogue: Encouraging dialogue with other religious traditions can offer broader perspectives on ethical questions and encourage collaboration in addressing societal challenges. Many strict adherents may oppose this stance, but the issue is that religion has a great role to play in bringing peace to our world. The earlier the leaders of various religions get together on this, the better for our world.


The relationship between spiritual ecologies and moral imaginaries in African Pentecostalism is a dynamic and ever-evolving one. As African societies navigate rapid change, Pentecostal movements will continue to grapple with the complexities of moral decline. By acknowledging the challenges, engaging in critical theological reflection, and promoting ethical leadership, church leaders, theologians, and Bible scholars can contribute to a more robust and socially engaged Pentecostalism that addresses the moral needs of the continent.
This paper was presented to a Body of Church Leaders across East and South African countries online in May 2024


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