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DR Congo - Religion

The U.S. government estimates the total population is 75.5 million (July 2013 estimate). Approximately 50 percent is Roman Catholic, 35 percent Protestant (including evangelicals), 5 percent Kimbanguist (a Christian Congolese church), and 5 percent Muslim. Religious groups with small populations include Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Greek Orthodox Christians, and Jews. The remainder of the population generally adheres to indigenous religious beliefs.

Most religious groups are scattered throughout the country and are widely represented in cities and large towns. Muslims mainly reside in the provinces of Maniema, Orientale, Kasai Occidental, Bandundu, and Kinshasa. Although present throughout the country, Kimbanguists are primarily concentrated in Kinshasa and Bas-Congo.

The relationship between church and state has varied over time. In the colonial era, the mostly Catholic Belgian colonial administrators cooperated closely with Catholic missionaries, while Protestant missionaries were sometimes critical of colonial practices, as in the international movement against the Red Rubber Regime, which was organized mostly by Protestant churches. Under Mobutu, both the ECC (which includes all mainline Protestant groups) and the Kimbanguists were closely allied with the government, while the Catholics were often at odds with the regime. The Catholic Church provided essential support to the pro- democracy movement in the 1990s, with a bishop serving as president of the National Conference. Both Catholic and Protestant leaders played important roles in promoting peace during Congo’s various armed conflicts.

Most of the non-Christians adhere to either traditional religions or syncretic sects. Traditional religions include concepts such as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft and sorcery, and vary widely among ethnic groups; none is formalized. The syncretic sects often merge Christianity with traditional beliefs and rituals.

The most popular of these sects, Kimbanguism, was seen as a threat to the colonial regime and was banned by the Belgians. The Kimbanguist religion is a Protestant sect founded by Simon Kimbangu (1889-1951), who was educated by the Baptist Mission Society. In 1921 he experienced visions, and thenceforth conducted faith healing and Bible preaching. His basic precepts were condemnation of fetishism, lascivious dancing, polygamy, smoking, and drinking. The Kimbanguist's thirst for literacy stemmed from Kimbangu's command that they read the Bible.

In 1921, after having had visions in Kinshasa, he sought to escape them by returning to Nkamba. However, he not only continued to have visions but experienced miracles as well. Finally, after having refused to obey the instructions he was receiving during these visions, he was warned in a dream that if he did not do as he was told and begin to heal the sick his own soul would be reclaimied. Propelled by this imperative Kimbangu began his faith healing and preaching from the Bible.

The news of his religious activities spread rapidly to throughout the Bas Zaire region, and people began to flock Nkamba at the rate of some 4,000 to 5,000 per day. First converts began to follow him and then Catholics also Protestant joined the movement. The roads and pathways to Nkamba were crowded with the sick hoping to be cured, and churches as far people sought to see and hear away as Kinshasa were emptied as the new prophet. Kimbangu was arrested, tried by a military court and sentenced to death. King Albert of Belgium intervened and commuted the sentence to one of life imprisonment. Simon Kimbangu was imprisoned in Lubumbashi and in 1951, thirty years later, died there.

Kimbanguism, officially "the Church of Christ on Earth by the Prophet Simon Kimbangu," now claims about 3 million members, primarily among the Bakongo tribe in the provinces of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa. In 1969, it became the first independent African church admitted to the World Council of Churches.

A much more radical product of the synthesis of African and Christian elements is the Kitawala movement, which appeared in Katanga Province (now Shaba Region) during the 1920s. Born of the black American missionary activity in South Africa of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), the movement converted miners who then spread the movement northward from their South African base into the Katangan copper belt.

Watch Tower missionaries preached racial equality, equal pay for equal work, the imminent arrival of God's kingdom, and the impending struggle for the restitution of Africa to Africans. Although anticolonial in ideology, the movement had no concrete strategy of revolution, which, however, did not prevent the state from cracking down on it. As with Kimbanguism, the state attempted to repress Kitawala by relegating its members to isolated rural regions. Ironically, this strategy once again simply served to speed the spread of the movement as exiled adherents converted their rural neighbors.

Over time the movement became more Africanized and more radical, slowly transforming itself from a branch of the worldwide Watch Tower Church into what has been termed a form of peasant political consciousness. Theological messages varied from place to place, but a common core of beliefs included the struggle against sorcery, the purification of society, and the existence of a black God. Kitawala denounced all forms of authority as the work of Satan, including taxes, forced labor, and most other coercive elements of colonial rule.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2017 17:24:53 ZULU