AFRICA/DR CONGO - What is the "Kimbanguist Church"

Saturday, 28 January 2023 local churches  

Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) - Among the various confessions present in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a country that is preparing to welcome Pope Francis on his apostolic visit) there is one born at the time of Belgian colonization. It is the so-called "Kimbanguist Church" (Église kimbanguiste), whose official name since 1987 has been "Église de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par son envoyé spécial Simon Kimbangu".
Simon Kimbangu was born on September 24, 1899 in Nkamba, in present-day Kongo-Central province. Member of the Baptist Missionary Society, after some visions he proclaimed himself a "Special Envoy", affirming that he had received from Jesus Christ the mission and the authority to carry out a spiritual ministry that would extend from Nkamba throughout the world. Simon Kimbangu began his mission with the healing of a young woman, Maman Kiantondo, in Ngombe-Kinsuka, on April 6, 1921. For the religious movement he founded, the holy book of reference remains the Bible. But to this new preacher, Adam and Eve were people of color. At the height of colonization, his preaching took on the tones of a campaign for the emancipation of black people. This message, and some of his further alleged "miracles", attract a growing number of followers.
Such a phenomenon deeply irritated the Belgian colonial administration, which viewed the messianic movement as a potential destabilizer of the colony's social fabric. The colonial government adopted extreme repressive measures against the "movement".
The "prophetic mission" of "Pope" Simon Kimbangu lasted only five months. He was arrested in Nkamba, tried and sentenced to death on October 3, 1921 by a military court; the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by King Albert I of Belgium. The convict was deported to Elisabethville (present-day Lubumbashi), 2,000 km from his hometown, where he died on October 12, 1951. But the only effect of these measures was to reinforce the movement, which spread rapidly. On December 24, 1959, the Kimbanguist Church was finally recognized by the colonial power, on an equal basis with the Catholic and Protestant Churches. At that time, the movement was led by the youngest son of Pope Simon Kimbangu, Joseph Diangienda Kuntima, spiritual leader and legal representative.
In the highly hierarchical structure of the group, the spiritual leader, as the supreme authority, has under his orders a general assembly, a body in charge of the general policy of the community, and an executive council. Also famous is the Orchester Symphonique Kimbanguiste, which was for a long time the only symphony orchestra in Central Africa.
Currently, the so-called Kimbanguista Church has groups of faithful spread across Africa, Europe and America. Community members claim to refer to the Nicene Creed. The doctrine followed by the followers recognizes four sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, marriage and ordination. But the host that is distributed in the liturgies is represented by a bread made of corn and bananas. Furthermore, since the faithful cannot consume alcoholic beverages, the blood of Christ is "symbolized" with honey mixed with water. The Kimbanguist doctrine is also summarized in the trilogy "Bolingo, Mibeko, Misala", which means "Love, Commandments, Work". In 1992, Kuntima claimed to have verified "after exhaustive studies" that the birth of Christ took place on May 25.
The Kimbanguist Church has been a member of the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ECC) since 1969 and of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) since 1974, but since 2001, Kimbanguism is no longer part of ecumenism or recognized as a Christian community by the other Churches and ecclesiastical communities after the self-proclamation of the son of Simon Kimbangu, Solomon Dialungana Kiangani, as the "reincarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ".
In terms of relations with politics, the Kimbanguist Church has always been content with some recognition from those in power, having supported Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko (in power from 1965 to 1997) and then Kabila the father (1997-2001) and son (2001-2019) and now President Félix Tshisekedi, elected in 2019.
The Kuimbunguist Church claims more than 35 million followers worldwide. According to data deemed reliable by U.S. intelligence analysts, at least 10 percent of the 105 million inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of Congo are Kimbunguists. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 28/1/2023)