Pastor revs up the flock: Jesus wants you in an SUV

Pentecostal-style church expanding fast in Africa

Reuters/June 12, 2007
By Rebecca Harrison

Jesus wants you to drive a brand new Nissan Navara 4x4. He'd also like you to live in a classy house, use the latest cellphone and wear the snappiest designer clothes.

That was the message from a recent sermon at the new Soweto branch of Brazil's huge Pentecostal-style Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The church is expanding fast in Africa and bills its gleaming new cathedral in Soweto - which seats 8,000 and has room for hundreds of plush cars in its vast underground garage - as the biggest church on the continent.

The church's "prosperity gospel" message, which tells members to expect financial blessings from God as long as they give "sacrificially" when the collection plate comes around, is proving a hit in the world's poorest continent.

And it holds special resonance for the faithful of Soweto - a sprawling township once gripped by violence and poverty and now home to a burgeoning black middle class.

"God doesn't want you to be poor and ashamed - he wants you to drive a new car," the preacher at the new Soweto church yelled into a microphone, to delighted whoops from thousands.

A couple get on stage to explain how they gave a large chunk of their money to the church then watched their business grow. They were soon able to buy their own house and two cars - including the much-vaunted Nissan Navara.

"A brand new Nissan Navara, people," shouted the preacher "God wants to show his power in your life, too."

The church started in Rio de Janeiro in 1977 and has spread to more than 90 countries with 10 million members, according to its website.

Critics say the church is a cult that manipulates its members. The church insists it is part of the mainstream Pentecostal movement and notes members are not forced to donate money.

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