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Angola - Religion

The government estimates the population to be approximately 20 million. The last official census was in 1970. The majority of the population is Christian. The Roman Catholic Church estimates that 55 percent of the population is Catholic, while the government estimates that 70 percent is. The National Institute for Religious Affairs estimates 25 percent of the population combines Christian and traditional beliefs; 10 percent is Protestant, including Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Congregationalists (United Church of Christ), and Assemblies of God; and 5 percent belongs to Brazilian evangelical churches. A small portion of the rural population practices animism or indigenous religious beliefs. There is a small Muslim community, unofficially estimated at 80,000 to 90,000, most of whom are migrants from West Africa or of Lebanese origin. Some Muslim sources put these figures closer to 500,000, but it is not possible to confirm the estimate. There are approximately 450 to 500 Jews, primarily Israelis.

At independence the MPLA-PT's strong commitment to Marxism-Leninism meant that its attitude toward religion, at least officially, corresponded to that of the traditional Soviet Marxist-Leninist dogma, which generally characterized religion as antiquated and irrelevant to the construction of a new society. The government also viewed religion as an instrument of colonialism because of the Roman Catholic Church's close association with the Portuguese. Furthermore, because membership in the party was the road to influence, party leaders and many of the cadres were likely to have no formal religious commitment, or at any rate to deny having one (even though most of Angola's leaders in the 1980s were educated at Catholic, Baptist, or Congregational mission schools).

Nonetheless, the government acknowledged the prevalence of religion in Angolan societies and officially recognized the equality of all religions, tolerating religious practices as long as the churches restricted themselves to spiritual matters. The state, however, did institute certain specific controls over religious organizations, and it was prepared to act quickly when it felt that it was challenged by the acts of a specific group. Thus, in early 1978 the MPLA-PT Political Bureau ordered the registration of "legitimate" churches and religious organizations. By the late 1980s, there was a slight change in the government's policy toward religion. The president and others in the government and party elites, recognizing that political opposition had not coalesced around religious leaders, became less fearful of religious opposition and therefore more tolerant of religious groups in general.

Although Roman Catholic missions were largely staffed by non-Portuguese during the colonial era, the relevant statutes and accords provided that foreign missionaries could be admitted only with the approval of the Portuguese government and the Vatican and on condition that they be integrated with the Portuguese missionary organization. Foreign Roman Catholic missionaries were required to renounce the laws of their own country, submit to Portuguese law, and furnish proof of their ability to speak and write the Portuguese language correctly. Missionary activity was placed under the authority of Portuguese priests. All of this was consistent with the Colonial Act of 1930, which advanced the view that Portuguese Catholic missions overseas were "instruments of civilization and national influence." In 1940 the education of Africans was declared the exclusive responsibility of missionary personnel. All church activities, education included, were to be subsidized by the state. In reality, Protestant missions were permitted to engage in educational activity, but without subsidy and on condition that Portuguese be the language of instruction.

The important Protestant missions in place in the 1960s (or their predecessors) had arrived in Angola in the late nineteenth century and therefore had been at work before the Portuguese managed to establish control over the entire territory. Because specific Protestant denominations were associated with particular ethnic communities, the structure of religious organization was linked to the structure of these communities. This connection was brought about in part by the tendency of entire communities to turn to the variety of Protestantism offered locally. The conversion of isolated individuals was rare. Those individuals who did not become Christians remained to a greater or lesser extent adherents of the indigenous system; unless they migrated to one of the larger towns, persons of a specific locality did not have the option of another kind of Christianity. Those members of a community who had not yet become Christians were tied by kinship and propinquity to those individuals who had. On the one hand, indigenous patterns of social relations affected church organization; on the other hand, the presence of Christians in the community affected the local culture to varying degrees. Christians who could quote Scripture in the local tongue contributed phrases to it that others picked up, and the attributes of the Christian God as interpreted by the specific denomination sometimes became attached to the high god of the indigenous religious system and typically made that deity more prominent than previously.

Members of civil society criticize the Catholic Church for having a close connection to the ruling party. The criticism focused on prominent Catholic leaders public support for the ruling Peoples Movement for the Liberation of Angola Labor Party (MPLA) during the August presidential elections and the alleged preferential treatment, including funding, the MPLA gave the church in return.

Muslim group leaders reported Muslims could not practice Islam freely because the government did not recognize Islam and selectively intervened to close mosques, schools, and community centers. Although government officials asserted the government protected religious groups without legal status and did not have a policy to close mosques or other Islamic facilities, there were several reports of local authorities closing mosques or preventing their construction.

Government agencies, religious groups, and civil society organizations continued campaigns against indigenous religious practices involving shamans, animal sacrifices, or witchcraft. The stated goal of these campaigns was to discourage abusive practices that included willful neglect or physical abuse, particularly of women, children, and the elderly. According to the National Institute for Religious Affairs (INAR), cases of abusive practices diminished significantly due to the campaigns and government directives.

In April 2012 the government held a workshop to discuss concerns about the reported proliferation of nontraditional religious groups and beliefs (i.e., other than mainstream Christian groups traditionally present in the country). The workshop identified some religious groups known to accuse children of witchcraft or to accept payments for faith healing.

There was general societal unease concerning smaller, newer religious groups, such as the many small family churches opened in recent years, often with no more than a dozen members. Observers from longer-established religious groups accused the founders of these small churches of profit seeking. Critics stated that leaders of some family churches exploited the poorest segment of the population and demanded tens or hundreds of dollars in tithing in exchange for promises of long life, prosperity, or miracles. Critics also maintained some religious groups created their own nongovernmental organizations with profits going to the pastors instead of helping the poor.

Angola is generally not tolerant of what it considers extremist groups. Angola is a conservative country when it comes to religious groupings; there is a propensity to intolerance when it comes to other religious organizations and sects that dont fall in line with its own national identity. It doesnt react well and it has clamped down a lot on sects of this nature.

Nine Christian groups operating in Huambo province were declared illegal by the government, according newspaper Jornal de Angola. New guidelines require such groups to have 100,000 registered members spread across at least a third of Angola's 18 provinces, the newspaper reported. Groups that have been shut down include World Vision, which had operated in the country since 1989, and Christian Vision. Oliver Raper, director of Christian Vision, said that two of its churches in Huambo and Nambe provinces had been suspended but otherwise activities were continuing as normal.

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Page last modified: 02-05-2015 20:12:52 ZULU