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Snakes on a plate

PROPHET MD BALOYI

THE IRREVERENT REVEREND


The Church has lately been in the news and social discourse for all the wrong reasons. The social media world has been abuzz the last few weeks because of some unconventional and disturbing displays of "God's power" or miracles. Our neighbours to the south have been properly alarmed and disturbed by the goings-on in a couple of Churches.

A phenomenon of clergy feeding their congregants anything and everything in the name of miracles, signs, and wonders has been gaining rapid momentum. Clothes, cloths, hair, lizards, snakes, and everything in-between has been eaten in the Name of Jesus! In fact, we are told that the lizards and snakes were a "mystery"; that by eating them, the faithful had in actual fact eaten Christ Himself!

The opinion hive has been on high gear and emotions have been running high from both those vehemently opposed to these displays and those who are rubbing their hands in glee and asking for more. Clearly, miracles have a market and throngs will descend anywhere the unusual occurs. But what is a miracle? The term “miracle” has lost much of its luster in our day.

 And it isn’t because we see miracles taking place so often that we no longer are sensitive to their meaning. It’s because our speech has evolved in such a way that today, if I got to work on time this morning, “It was a miracle that I made it, seeing that there was so much traffic on the freeway.”

A biblical model and definition, on the other hand, for a miracle is another thing altogether. Not everything hard to believe can be quantified as a miracle according to scriptural standards. Miracles are those acts that only God can perform; usually superceding natural laws. Baker’s Dictionary of the Bible defines a miracle as “an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God.”

It goes on to add that a miracle occurs to show that the power behind it is not limited to the laws of time, matter or mind as it interrupts fixed natural laws. So the term "supernatural" applies quite accurately. It’s very interesting that a common word used for miracle in the New Testament can also be translated as “sign.”

In other words, a miracle is a sign that God uses to point to Himself; the same way we follow signs to find a museum or an airport. That being the case, we have to soberly and objectively ask ourselves if eating unconventional and disconcerting things really point people to God. Granted, there might be a "wow factor" to it, but if it's shrouded in disgust, people are more put off than drawn.

An interesting question may arise. Does something have to break a natural law for it to be a miracle? C.S. Lewis defines a “miracle” in his work by the same name as an interference with nature by a supernatural power. Obviously, to interfere with natural law may not necessarily mean to break the natural law. In fact, nature and “super nature” become interlocked after a miracle occurs and nature carries on according to the change wrought by that event.

A science example: the law of inertia (Newton’s first law of motion) states that an object will remain in rest until an external force is applied. Nature can only move from event to event through supernatural intervention. Deists believe that it was only at creation that the supernatural and the natural related. But we Christian theists believe that God has intervened in nature by its inception, sustained it by His preserving power, and will redeem it through the final act of intervention.

The creation and incarnation of Christ are the perfect examples of supernatural inertia (another way of referring to a miracle), not to mention their conclusion as well, in His second coming. God is still in the business of working miracles.

The miracles recorded in the Bible fall into several categories. The following examples are illustrative, though certainly not exhaustive: First, there are supernatural acts of creation. Certain creation activities were accomplished by the word of God (Hebrews 11:3); He merely spoke, and it was done (Psalm 33:9).

Obviously, this type of divine action is not being duplicated today since the creation process of the material universe was concluded at the end of the initial week of earth’s history (Genesis 2:1-2). Second, there were miracles which involved a temporary and localized suspension of laws regulating nature. Jesus calmed a ferocious storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27), and, on another occasion, he walked upon the waters of the lake (John 6:16-21).

Third, there were signs which involved the healing of man’s physical body. The blind were made to see (John 9:1-7), and the lame to walk (Acts 3:1-10). Fourth, there were signs demonstrating divine power over death.

Lazarus, dead and buried for four days, was raised (John 11:43-44), and, of course, the resurrection of Christ is the very foundation of the Christian system (1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Fifth, some of the wonders of the New Testament age had to do with the expulsion of demons that had entered into human bodies (Matthew 12:22ff).

This was evidence of the fact that the Savior’s power was superior to that of Satan. Sixth, the exhibition of divine authority was seen in the manipulation of certain material things. Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11), and multiplied a lad’s loaves and fishes, so that thousands were fed (John 6:1-14).

Seventh, miraculous power was demonstrated in both the plant and animal kingdoms. Balaam’s donkey spoke with a man’s voice (Numbers 22:28), and the Lord Jesus, in an object lesson relative to the impending destruction of Jerusalem, destroyed a fig tree with but a word from his mouth (Matthew 21:19).

In this study, we will limit ourselves mostly to a consideration of miracles as purported to occur today, particularly ones to do with eating things. As I've already stated, the eating of non-food things has caught everyone's attention and made theologians out of atheists.

What strikes me is the preoccupation with eating and drinking. Nothing is off-limits. Not that it should, as I will further elaborate later. But why eating all the time? Eating this, eating that, drinking this, drinking that? Why is everything based on what can be eaten? Why is the "demonstration of power" centered almost exclusively on eating? It's either something nasty is being eaten or bodies are being trampled upon and stomped on!

These have become the most prominent occurrences – eating strange things and stomping on people! One could almost be tempted to conclude that the objective of all these is to humiliate and cheapen human life and dignity.

Again I ask, why eating all the time? Could it be that there is a deep rooted hunger for something? And why insist on eating contrary to the spirit of these words: Romans 14:14-17 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Paul begins this passage by saying we are to accept those who are weak in faith; and the weaker in faith eat only vegetables while the stronger in faith may eat all things.

It's imperative that I state that, Biblically speaking, in the spirit of the New Testament, anything can be eaten. Yes, including snakes and lizards and fabrics. If it's a matter of disgust, we daily eat more disgusting things – from snails to frog legs to insects. Cooked of course. The difference is we don't eat these creatures in the name of demonstrating power. You can eat anything if you want to. But just because you can doesn't mean you should!

1 Corinthians 6:12-13 KJV [12] All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. [13] Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them… Colossians 2:16 KJV [16] Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink… 1 Timothy 4:3-5 KJV [3] …and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. [4] For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: [5] For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

Last year, there was an uproar when a certain man of God made his congregants drink petrol. I happened to see the broadcast. The question arises: Did the petrol turn into a beverage or it merely tasted like it to the palates of the drinker? Secondly, could anyone, even unsaved visitors, drink the petrol and remain unharmed, or you needed special faith to drink it?

Personally, I think anybody should be able to drink it without needing faith. Why do I say this? Well, simply because proponents of the petrol-to-pineapple juice miracle and the other instances of eating, almost always use Jesus' water-to-wine miracle as a precedent or point of reference.

Since that is the case, we then have to ask ourselves: Did the water turn into wine or it merely tasted like wine? Following up on that, could anyone drink that water/wine without needing to believe? My answer to the latter is, yes. Anybody who was at that wedding in Cana could drink that wine without it tasting like water for it was not water tasting like wine to those who believed or were "under the control of the Holy Spirit."

They didn't need faith for it to taste like wine since it had become wine. Therefore, if the petrol miracle is of the same vein, anybody at that service should have been able to drink the petrol without needing faith and without fear of harm since it would have ceased to be petrol. So then, we see an immediate difference between what is happening today and what took place in the Bible.

Of course, it's no less of a miracle if grass were to taste like macaroni and cheese. The problem with that scenario is that the miracle is only apparent to those brave enough to eat! To others of "less faith," it still looked like grass.

The miracle therefore could only be confirmed by the eaters. Unfortunately, that becomes subjective. A miracle should not be subjective. In fact, a miracle should not even be defended. A miracle, in the Bible sense, was apparent to all. It spoke for itself without needing apologetics.

Jesus often wrought His miracles in hostile territory amongst hostile crowds. They all, even His detractors and naysayers, could confirm that indeed a miracle had occurred. In our present considerations, we cannot confirm the veracity of the miracle but must depend on those who ate and drank.

As I stated, it is no less of a miracle for a snake to taste like a chocolate slab of Chomp. If the snake did taste like chocolate, then assuredly a supernatural feat had occurred.

However, skeptics here have a field day. The main argument becomes that the prophet used the power of suggestion to "ready" the snake eaters' palates to expect a chocolate taste. As such, they argue, it was more the power of suggestion than miracle. Without siding with them, I must concede that the argument is a valid one.

Bible miracles go beyond mere taste. The snake must become, not merely taste like, chocolate. What has repulsed both the Church and the world was that the snake was still a snake. Had it become a slab of chocolate, the debate would have been of a different kind. We must also interrogate and appreciate the purpose of miracles.

Miracles, in the Bible, were always demonstrated to meet a need. None of the Bible miracles was used just to excite the masses. Moses' rod became a snake for a purpose. The Red Sea was parted for a purpose. Balaam's donkey spoke for a purpose.

The widow woman's oil kept flowing for a purpose. Water was turned into wine for a purpose. None of the miracles were performed for the sake of "demonstrating power." Right at the start of His ministry, Satan tempted Jesus to "demonstrate power" by turning stones into bread.

Jesus refused. I fear modern prophets would have immediately turned those stones into doughnuts! Later on, the Pharisees asked Him for a sign so that they could believe (Matthew 12:38-39). Again, Jesus refused to play along. The power of God is not to be used to entertain.

The power of God must set the captives free and advance the kingdom of God. It's also important to underscore that miracles should not dehumanize and humiliate the beneficiaries or repulse the spectators. Miracles must bless both the recipients and those watching.

It would perhaps be understandable if the people eating reptiles and rodents were hungry. In that case, then perhaps God could use what is readily accessible to meet their need, whether it be a snake or a lizard. But that's not the case.

They eat because they can! On the weight of the above, what need is met by eating fabrics and reptiles?

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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