KIMBANGUIST CHURCH (ELCSK) TIMELINE
1887 (September 12): The actual date of Simon Kimbangu’s birth is unknown. An official date was therefore established.
1880: Kimbangu’s wife, Muilu Marie, was born.
1914 (Februrary 12): The Kimbangus’ first son, Charles Daniel, was born.
1916 (May 25): The Kimbangus’ second son, Paul Salomon Dialungana Kiangani, was born.
1918 (March 22): Joseph Diangienda Kuntima, the youngest of Kimbangu’s three sons and the first spiritual leader of the EJCSK was born.
1921 (April 6): Simon Kimbangu performed his first miracle, by resurrecting a young woman. It is now considered as the date of the foundation of EJCSK, originally Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by His special envoy Simon Kimbangu.
(June 6): Simon Kimbangu thwarted arrest by the Belgian colonial authorities.
1921 (September 10): Simon Kimbangu made numerous prophecies in Mbanza Nsanda, where he had found refuge.
1921 (September 12): Simon Kimbangu was arrested and jailed.
1921 (October 3): Simon Kimbangu was sentenced to death by a Belgian military tribunal. The King commuted his sentence to life in prison prior to his scheduled execution.
1921: Muilu Marie succeeded her husband as the head of the movement following his imprisonment.
1951 (August 4): Joseph Diangienda, Kimbangu’s youngest son, had a vision of his father showing him countless young disciples being called to serve God under his leadership.
1951 (October 12): Simon Kimbangu died after spending thirty years in jail at Elisabethville (presently Lubumbashi).
1952 (July 29): According to several witnesses, Simon Kimbangu appeared in an apparition in Lowa, a town in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo where he had lived with his followers. In this apparition he reportedly designated his youngest son Joseph (Diangienda) as the leader of the future church and prophesied future events.
1959-1989: The church’s name was “Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by its prophet Simon Kimbangu” (EJCSK in French.) Then, following a conference held in its holy city of Nkamba in 1989, the term “prophet” was replaced by “special envoy” to better reflect the believers’ understanding of the founder’s identity and mission.
1959 (April 27): Muilu Marie died.
1959 (July 29): Diangienda was involved in an automobile accident in the town of Lukulu, shortly before he succeeded his mother as the head of the movement. This incident was interpreted by Kimbanguists as the transmission of power from his father and was subsequently commemorated annually.
1959 (December 24): EJCSK was officially recognized by the Belgian state, shortly before the country’s independence.
1960 (June 30): The Democratic Republic of Congo became an independent nation. The date is also celebrated by the Kimbanguist church as the day of the fulfilment of one of the best-known prophesies made by Simon Kimbangu.
1969: EJCSK joined the World Council of Christian Churches.
1974: EJCSK joined the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC, Conférence des Églises de toute l’Afrique or CETA).
1981 (April 6): The temple of Nkamba was inaugurated in fulfilment of one of Simon Kimbangu’s prophecies.
1991 (September 12): The state of Zaire rehabilitated Simon Kimbangu’s name.
1992 (December 24): EJCSK held an official ceremony of atonement for the sin of Adam and Eve.
1992: Charles Daniel Kimbangu died.
1992 (July 8): Joseph Diangienda Kuntima, the youngest of Kimbangu’s three sons and the first spiritual leader of the EJCSK died.
2010: Kimbangu was awarded the title of national hero during the presidency of Joseph Kabila.
2021 (June): The World Council of Churches withdrew EJCSK’s organizational membership on doctrinal grounds.
2001 (August 16): Paul Salomon Dialungana Kiangani died.
The actual date on which Simon Kimbangu [Image at right] was born is unclear. As a result, the EJCSK has simply decreed that he was born in Nkamba, a rural town of the then Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC) on September 12, 1887. Kimbangu’s future wife, Muilu Marie, had already been born in 1880. He received a Baptist education at the Baptist Mission Society (BMS) and lived and taught the Bible in his hometown, N’Kamba. His personal status gave him both a solid knowledge of the Bible and a strong familiarity with the aspirations and concerns of his fellow Congolese. In 1918, he repeatedly heard the voice of Jesus ordering him to convert the Congolese people. He first tried to ignore the calling, for he had not been ordained to pastor, even though his abilities had been recognized by his peers, and because there were White missionaries already doing this work. In the early twentieth century, it was assumed that only White people could liberate African people from their (presumably) sinful state. Yet, the simple fact that Kimbangu was having visions and a mystical exchange of his own with Christ set him apart from this frame of White control. On April 6, 1921, he reportedly
worked his first miracle in his hometown when he healed a dying young woman named Nkiantondo. As this took place in a context of resistance to Belgian colonialism, people came to Kimbangu in large numbers to hear him preach and to ask for healing. His message, rooted in the Bible, emphasized moral values, condemned witchcraft and the use of fetishes (magic), and banned polygamy and lascivious dances. People thronged to him from the two banks of the Congo River and Angola to listen to him and apply his precepts (Van Wing 1958).
The ensuing prophetic movement, which the Africanist scholar George Balandier described as political-religious (Balandier 1970), in turn spawned an unprecedented social movement. The missionaries sent to the Congo by the Catholic and Protestant churches organized to counter his success, deeming Simon Kimbangu a heretic. Meanwhile, the Belgian colonial authorities decided to put an end to Kimbangu’s anticolonial preaching when they heard that he was prophesying that “the White man shall become Black and the Black man shall become White” (Diangienda 1984). His botched trial resulted in a death sentence, which the King of Belgium commuted to a life sentence. Thirty years later, in October 1951, Kimbangu died in jail in Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi, in the southeastern province of Kasai). While he was in prison and following his death, the movement was led underground by his wife, Muilu Marie, [Image at right] until she too died in 1959. The same year, the Belgian government granted official recognition to the movement, which is now considered as the largest African Initiated Church. The EJCSK joined the World Council of Christian Churches in 1969 and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC, Conférence des Églises de toute l’Afrique or CETA) in 1974.
The EJCSK’s motto is “Love, Commandments and Work.” Since the 1970s, it has been present in Europe and North America; the members, who overwhelmingly originate from the two Congolese republics and Angola, have formed close-knit communities that gather for worship, religious ceremonies, the church’s feasts listed above, weddings, and funeral wakes. The Kimbanguist diaspora maintains a continuum with the cultural and national identities of the home countries, but it also adjusts to the constraints and value systems of the host countries where its members have emigrated.
As his ministry only lasted five months (from April 6 to September 12, 1921) Simon Kimbangu had no time to leave any theological writings. However, his teachings were kept and augmented by his sons and successors, particularly Joseph Diangienda. Contemporary Kimbanguism therefore has two narratives, with, on the one hand, the elites’ discourse and the academic theology from the Divinity School of the Université Simon Kimbangu, and, on the other hand, the popular Kimbanguist theology stemming from traditions cherished by the mass of believers. Most of the latter come from interpretations of the leaders’ speeches and behavior. This has been aptly described by the American sociologist Susan Asch as
“official Kimbanguism” and “the Kimbanguism of Kimbanguists”: the opposition hinges on the spiritual role attributed to the prophet Simon Kimbangu: intermediary of the Africans with Christ or embodiment of the Holy Spirit. While apparently simple, this key concept is fundamental, because it is revealing of the actual gap which separates the Christo-centric orientations of the circle of reformist leaders, on the one hand, and the Kimbangu-centric traditions of the overwhelming majority of the Kimbanguist followers, on the other hand (Asch 1984).
Analyzing the latter’s adamant interpretations of the Bible, the American anthropologist Wyatt MacGaffey noted, “Kimbanguists appear to have no idea that any other interpretation of the Bible is possible than the one they put upon it” (MacGaffey, 1986:148). The first of the three distinguishing beliefs of the Kimbanguist church as elaborated by Joseph Diangienda is that Adam and Eve, the forebears of humankind, were Black people and the Garden of Eden was located in Nkamba, that is, Simon Kimbangu’s hometown and the current Holy City of the church. Consequently, since Africa is the cradle of humankind, the Black race is endowed with the positive quality of preceding the other human races. However, the second tenet of the Kimbanguist faith is that the Black race also bears the mark of the divine curse resulting from the Original Sin because, in Joseph Diangienda’s teachings, the Original Sin is witchcraft. It is therefore the reason why Blacks are oppressed around the world, lagging behind in the field of technology and scientific inventions, and contributing nothing to the development of humankind. The third tenet is that Simon Kimbangu’s prophetic and messianic action has restored the precedence of Blacks from Africa and the African diaspora, paving the way for unimagined inventions by Black men and women.
As for the White race (the only non-Black race discussed by Kimbanguists), three corresponding beliefs about it echo the three tenets above in the Kimbanguist interpretation of the Bible. First, it is redefined as having stemmed from the Black race, or from Jacob (Genesis 23:25). Secondly, Whites are said to have inherited Esau’s birthright that was stolen from him by Jacob (Esau being considered as a Black man), which enabled them to monopolize technological progress and oppress Blacks everywhere on Earth. Finally, the White race has divorced from God and strayed away from the right path, which will allow the Black race to recover its birthright.
In addition to these beliefs, popular Kimbanguism holds that Simon Kimbangu is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit; his three sons are the Holy Trinity, with Joseph Diangienda as the second incarnation of the Holy Spirit. The trinitarian dogma and Christology are thus redefined to align with the system of beliefs and reference of traditional Kimbanguism. The church’s narrative remains focused on remedying the situation of oppression of African and Africana peoples around the world and offering redemption through the faith in Simon Kimbangu and his sons’ messianic action and message (Mokoko Gampiot 2017). In their collective presentation of self, Kimbanguists see themselves as the bearers of a racial consciousness and the embodiment of Black people en route towards divine redemption. Within the Black race, these believers identify as a sacred community and God’s chosen people, like the children of Israel, on a mission to guide the rest of the Black race to this redemption by testifying to Simon Kimbangu’s prophetic and messianic action.
Kimbanguist religious life is organized around Sunday “sevenings” and baptisms, blessings of children, Holy Supper, ordinations, weddings, and funeral wakes during the rest of the week. Additionally, EJCSK members celebrate the feasts of their liturgical calendar, which commemorate landmark episodes of the history of the church, anniversaries of historic moments in the lives of Simon Kimbangu and his three sons, who are its founding fathers (see details above), [Image at right] and the birthdays of the spiritual leaders. When a commemoration is deemed particularly significant, church members organize trips to the EJCSK’s holy city of Nkamba, DRC. They also go there more informally in search of spiritual nurturing, counseling, or healing (MacGaffey 1983; Martin 1981; Mokoko Gampiot 2017).
The Kimbanguist code of conduct is rooted in a moral code that Kimbangu himself gave his followers. To an outsider, Kimbanguists, although Christian, may look like Muslims for they must be barefooted on entering a place of worship, dressed in green (symbol of hope and victory) and white (symbol of purity) for worship and feasts, and must not consume any pork, alcohol, or tobacco. They cannot dance or listen to non-religious music, and women must wear a headscarf. [Image at right] All of these prescriptions and bans are justified by interpretations of the Bible. The sacrament of marriage in the Kimbanguist church implicitly supposes the payment by the groom and his family of a dowry to the bride’s family; unless this traditional marriage has first taken place, there can be no religious ceremony. While this is not an obligation made by the EJCSK, its members abide by it because this institution is a pillar of the African societies in which the church was born.
The EJCSK has a clergy comprised of male or female pastors, deacons and deaconesses as well as catechists, as in the Baptist church. It is governed by Simon Kimbangu’s offspring, who are more or less recognized as a sacred leadership. As mentioned earlier, Simon Kimbangu belonged to the Kongo ethnic group, whose customs are ruled by a matrilineal system in which the head of the clan (mfumu-kanda) is automatically the oldest living uncle. As Nkaloulou (1933) has observed, “In an avuncular system, the children do not belong to their mother, whose role is simply to birth them; they belong to her brother.” As the Kongo system has the nephew inheriting his maternal uncle’s possessions instead of his father’s, it may be observed that Simon Kimbangu is a good example of this system, since he inherited his wife, Muilu Marie, from his maternal uncle on the latter’s death.
However, the structure of the EJCSK that his three sons put in place seems to challenge the traditional matrilineal system, since they not only succeeded him but also placed an unprecedented theological emphasis on their father and his birthplace, Nkamba. When Kimbangu’s descendants are in a place of worship, their seats face the pews and the church members behave with devotion towards them, kneeling to greet them and speak to them in search of advice or healing. When they address the congregation, they give precedence to the eldest male among them, even if there is an older female sibling in attendance; in case there is no male descendant, then the eldest female member of “the descendance,” as church members call them, will take the microphone.
It follows that the head of the EJCSK can only be a male descendant of Simon Kimbangu, and the rest of the church hierarchy is expected to follow his orders and leadership. The clergy as a whole is designated under the name Mbuta (a Kikongo word meaning “elder”). There are two types of pastors in the EJCSK: some are appointed to the position, while others are graduates from a divinity or pastoral school. The EJCSK demands that candidates to the position be religiously married, while remaining inclusive of widows, widowers, and women who got divorced because they refused to remain in a polygamous marriage.
[T]here are no unmarried pastors in the Kimbanguist church, unless they are widowed. Very simple reasons have led us to opt for such a position. Everyday experience has abundantly shown that in the churches that adhere to a strict enforcement of celibacy among their clergy members, cases of unauthorized relationships have been recorded as clergy members could not overcome sexual weaknesses. Granted, a married clergyman is not always shielded from extramarital sexual temptations, but it goes without saying that he is in a better position than his unmarried counterpart in his constant struggle to resist them (Diangienda Kuntima 1984:290-91).
Consequently, pastors are expected to demonstrate perfect moral integrity, and so are the members of Simon Kimbangu’s biological descendance, as they are supposed to act as models to the rest of the church. The clergy retains the specific function of administering sacraments (baptism, marriage, the Holy Supper, ordination) to the congregations, with or without oversight from the founder’s descendants. Deacons and deaconesses are entrusted with raising funds, visiting the sick and the inmates, preaching and administrative duties within their congregations. They may be delegated to perform certain tasks by the pastors they usually help. Finally, catechists’ role is to teach the EJCSK’s catechism and doctrine to the children or candidates to baptism or adhesion (for those coming from another Christian church).
In its contemporary form, Kimbanguism is usually expected to strive towards the accomplishment of Simon Kimbangu’s ideal of racial justice and restoration of a social order imperiled by politics or witchcraft (Asch 1984; Aurelien Mokoko Gampiot 2004). Indeed, the Kimbanguist movement has also been known historically by the Kikongo term Kintwadi, which designates a sense of unity conveyed by collective action. The EJCSK has demonstrated this spirit of unity by gathering members from many ethnic groups beyond its Kongo cradle. However, today this unity has been jeopardized by two types of internal conflicts.
The first of these is the succession crisis began in 2002 shortly after the passing of the founder’s last son and successor, Paul Salomon Dialungana Kiangani. A schismatic group was led by the latter’s son, Simon Kimbangu Kiangani, and a parallel church was formed by his cousins, also identifying as the Kimbanguist church. As a result, congregations are now identified as belonging either to the “3 = 1” church, which claims that the Kimbanguist Holy Trinity is currently embodied by Simon Kimbangu Kiangani, or to the “26 = 1” church, which holds that Simon Kimbangu’s spirit is fully present when his 26 grandchildren are together. As of 2022, six of the founder’s grandchildren have died, but the name has remained unchanged.
The second type of challenge is due to the coexistence of various nationalities among the congregations, which now occasionally creates tensions stemming from nationalist sentiment. Indeed, while all church members are asked to participate in the EJCSK’s financial efforts to build hospitals or community centers, nearly all of these facilities have been built on the territory of the DRC. The only exception is Angola where one of the dissenting members of “the descendance” has actively improved the country’s infrastructures. This discrepancy has not gone unnoticed to all and is increasingly being criticized by the church members and even some pastors (Mokoko Gampiot 2010).
Externally, since the early 2000s, the officialization of the EJCSK’s trinitarian dogma and Christology has resulted in its being rejected by the other Christian churches. These churches deem the church’s assertion that Simon Kimbangu and his son Joseph Diangienda Kuntima are the first and second incarnation of the Holy Spirit while the founder’s first son is God the Father in the flesh and his second son Paul Salomon Dialungana Kiangani is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ to be unorthodox. The EJCSK’s theological focus on Blackness and Panafricanism, with its Biblical justification of racial oppression and prophetic announcements on its resolution, is also the source of tensions with sister churches (Mokoko Gampiot 2017).
Simon Kimbangu’s doctrine was essentially a message of protest against the colonial order. His three sons’ Kimbanguism, as articulated by Joseph Diangienda Kuntima, combined this legacy with a critique of African and Africana peoples’ minority status and lived experience of discrimination in the perspective of the construction of a new, restored, Black identity. The grandsons’ Kimbanguism, emerging in a climate of crisis, seems to be centered on the preservation of the religious advantages secured by their fathers. While the latter worked for the expansion of the EJCSK, the recruitment of new believers and the establishment of international connections, the grandsons seem busier reaping what their fathers had sown, and the sharing of this material and spiritual heritage is the source of the church’s present issues. While the previous generation of leaders was also criticized for supporting the political regime (Mobutu’s dictatorship), the present one goes further, either by telling church members for whom to vote or, in the “26 = 1” branch, by launching a new political party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Moving forward, the greatest challenge facing the EJCSK, which began in 2002, is undoubtedly the reunification of its members, which cannot occur until the founder’s grandchildren themselves settle their argument. A related challenge is the church’s dependence on a financial organization that dates back to its colonial beginnings. In the early 1920s, the fledgling movement had been confronted with the need to accommodate and feed the people who crowded to Nkamba from the two banks of the Congo River and Angola to hear Kimbangu preach and prophesy or to ask him for healing. Thanks to the custom of financial collection (known as nsinsani in Kikongo), the church has relied on self-funding to achieve its various projects (the building of temples, hospitals, a university, studios for foreign visitors, and more recently, the Simon Kimbangu Museum in Nkamba). Nsinsani remains the main source of funding for the EJCSK, with donations meeting the objectives thanks to competitions among the various choirs and the men’s, women’s or children’s groups to which all church members belong. In the home countries as in the diasporic communities, collections are organized at a specific moment in the Sunday worship service, in a lively musical atmosphere created by the church’s well-known brass band (Fanfare Kimbanguiste, FAKI). While this financial model is undeniably effective, the church has failed to find other sources of funding for its projects.
Image #1: Simon Kimbangu standing in front of his jail in Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi).
Image #2: Kimbangu’s wife, Marie Muilu.
Image #3: Simon Kimbangu’s three sons and successors. Center: Charles Daniel Kisolokele, the eldest, with Paul Salomon Dialugana, the second, on his right, and Joseph Diangienda Kuntima on his right in the temple of Nkamba.
Image #4: Muilu Marie Diangienda, granddaughter of Simon Kimbangu and daughter of Joseph Diangienda Kuntima, giving a speech to the Association of Kimbanguist women (AFKI) of the congregation of Saint-Ouen (greater Paris area).
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30 April 2023