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  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.  Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them… Colossians 2:16 KJV  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink… 1 Timothy 4:3-5 KJV  …and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:  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?
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org