Zaire Table of Contents
Protestant missionaries have been active since 1878 when the first Protestant mission was founded among the Kongo. Early relations with the state were not warm. During the existence of the Congo Free State (1885-1908), some Protestant missionaries witnessed and publicized state and charter company abuses against the population during rubber- and ivory-gathering operations. That evidence helped lead to the international outcry that forced King Léopold II to cede control of the Congo Free State to the Belgian state (see The Leopoldian Legacy , ch. 1). Situated outside the governing colonial trinity of state, Catholic church, and companies, Protestant missions did not enjoy the same degree of official confidence as that accorded their Catholic counterparts. State subsidies for hospitals and schools, for example, were (with two individual exceptions) reserved exclusively for Catholic institutions until after World War II.
The colonial state divided up the colony into spiritual franchises, giving each approved mission group its own territory. At independence in 1960, some forty-six Protestant missionary groups were at work, the majority of them North American, British, or Scandinavian in origin. The missions established a committee to maintain contact and minimize competition among them. This body evolved into a union called the Church of Christ in the Congo, now the Church of Christ in Zaire. The Church of Christ developed rules that permitted members of one evangelical congregation to move to and be accepted by another. It also established institutions that served common needs, such as bookstores and missionary guest houses.
Since independence, church leadership and control have been widely and successfully Africanized, though not without conflict. Most mission property has been transferred to autonomous Zairian churches, and many foreign missionaries now work directly under the supervision of a Zairian-run church. The new indigenous leadership has succeeded in expanding its churches in Africa's largest francophone Protestant community.
Protestant churches are valued, as are their Catholic counterparts, not only for the medical and educational services they provide, but also for serving as islands of integrity in a sea of corruption. Explicit recognition of this role came in 1983 when Mobutu sent emissaries to Europe and the United States to encourage increased involvement by foreign mission boards in Zairian institution-building; a conference in Kinshasa with local and international Protestant officials followed. Not only was a renewed church involvement sought with struggling institutions, such as the formerly Protestant university in Kisangani (nationalized in 1971), but churches were asked if they would be willing to station representatives within the major government ministries in order to discourage and/or report acts of corruption by state officials. Sensing the threat of co-optation, the Protestants respectfully declined.
State solicitation of Protestant action was logical. The state sought a counterweight to its critics in the powerful Catholic church. Protestant churches, and particularly the Church of Christ leadership, have been consistently supportive of Mobutu, making them an attractive potential partner. And the Church of Christ served the state in areas where state-church interests coincided. Both church and state looked askance at the formation of new uncontrolled religious movements and splinter groups. The government's requirement that religious groups register with the state and post a Z100,000 (for value of the zaire--see Glossary) deposit in a bank in order to be legally recognized helped limit their development; so too did the lingering effects of the colonial franchise system. When, for example, a charismatic preacher of the officially recognized but noncharismatic Church of Christ of the Ubangi (Église du Christ de L'Oubangi) broke away in 1988 to ally his own congregation with a charismatic but officially recognized church community in distant Kivu, the Church of Christ in Zaire stepped in to adjudicate. The governing body prevented the Kivu church from accepting the rebellious preacher and his congregation, leaving him with no outside allies or resources and effectively localizing his potential impact.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents