In Africa, "some evangelical pastors buy the title of doctor honoris causa"

La Croix: In an article published in Morning Brotherhood At the beginning of March, you describe a phenomenon of mercantilization of honorary titles in certain evangelical churches. What is it about ?

Bony Guiblehon : One of the peculiarities of African evangelical churches is the existence within them of a frantic race for titles and honors in which many consecrated or self-proclaimed pastors excel.

The last controversial title is that of the honoris causa doctorate which pastors or faithful buy. According to interviews we have had with faithful and pastors who wish to remain anonymous, two large evangelical networks and pastors are involved in the market for the award of this doctorate. The first is chaired by the Founding President of a non-governmental organization (NGO) which is the privileged partner of an American university with an Africa, Asia and Middle East campus in Malawi.

In the process of awarding doctorates, this NGO, as a partner and representative for the sub-region, identifies potential candidates and proposes them to the American university. The winners – and that's the whole point – pay the NGO a sum which varies between 4,600,000 and 5,000,000 FCFA (€ 7,600 Editor's note) to cover administrative costs and all other expenses related to the graduation ceremony taking place in Malawi.

The second network concerns another American university whose French-speaking campus is located in Canada. The representative of this university for Côte d'Ivoire is a pastor with whom we interviewed on December 20, 2019. He said that " the objective of its structure is to reward the most deserving servants of God and unlike the president of the NGO which requests up to 5,000,000 FCFA from the candidates, at his place, the candidates pay derisory sums negotiated with the university so as not to “block the progress of pastors” "

Why do pastors seek this title of doctor honoris causa?

Bony Guiblehon: Behind the race for honors, there are several issues.

First the struggle for social positioning. In fact, overbidding is an ingenious way for some pastors to gain social recognition. It allows them a hierarchy and an "elitization" of the pastoral body which positions them at the top of the priestly or social hierarchy. As for the faithful, located in the lower strata of the Church, they are not to be outdone: those who have money also buy doctorates through the same circuits or networks.

Then there is the leadership of national “inter-denominational” organizations. Generally, the most senior pastors or doctors believe that titles give them the right to direct all the great federal national ecclesiastical organizations and thus to control all the levers of power. In this logic, some people find it difficult to question their leadership in the governance of Church affairs, especially in financial matters and the renewal of electoral mandates.

Finally, the last issue is the control of annuity policies. Today, many pastors aspire to the privileges conferred on them by their title: luxury car, sumptuous residence, first-class travel, comfortable salary, while cultivating fear by threats of magical order.

The same capitalist logic is observed in the construction of gigantic temples financed with billions of CFA francs by faithful for the most part poor and from which these pastors hope to profit financially or economically, by their number. The same applies to the abolition of the retirement age of pastors in the statutes and internal regulations of certain churches.

Have pastors lost all credibility?

Bony Guiblehon : In the Bible, a prophet never proclaims himself, but becomes so by the appreciation of others, that is to say when others approve of his word as being truly revealed. Pastorate is therefore a ministry that does not invent itself or proclaim itself, contrary to what we see in churches. Because today, for interests other than those of the Church, certain individuals give themselves the freedom, out of pride, to exercise a function for which they do not have the training or the competence, or worse, that they don't deserve. This situation confirms not only the trivialization of this sacred function but also the increased insignificance of the very notion of pastor and his loss of credibility.