Joseph Diangienda is the head of the Kimbanguist church, officially called the Church of Christ on Earth, the largest and most prominent denomination in the African independent church movement. The church was founded in the then Belgian Congo by his father, Prophet Simon KIMBANGU. The independent churches bring together Christian beliefs and African values and customs. They have a wide variety of practices, but commonly emphasize healing and freedom from witchcraft.
Diangienda is one of three sons, each of whom has been active in the Kimbanguist movement. From the beginning, however, Diangienda has been the acknowledged leader.
Considered a threat by Belgian colonial authorities and strongly opposed by Catholic missionaries, Kimbangu was imprisoned in 1921, During the years of his imprisonment and isolation (1921 to 1951), Kimbanguism suffered from a lack of leadership. Numerous prophetic personalities claimed the fallen mantle, and Kimbanguist sects sprang up that rejected Kimbangu’s doctrine of submission to the state. They resisted taxes and reintroduced polygamy. The original Christian biblical inspiration was replaced by animist elements, which were reinforced by visions.
According to Kimbanguist tradition, when he entered prison, Kimbangu predicted that his baby son, Diangienda, would succeed him. Faithful to his father’s prophecy, Diangienda took charge of the movement when he became an adult and forged a united community even though Kimbanguism was proscribed and persecuted by the colonial government. In 1948, Diangienda was allowed to visit Kimbangu in prison and was formally named successor to his father, the prophet.
With Kimbangu’s death, Diangienda moved to unite the disparate groups of his disciples. In 1954 they acknowledged Diangienda, then secretary to the provincial governor, as leader. The movement subsequently began a campaign, in both the Congo and Belgium, for legitimacy. In 1956 a church council was formed to lead the movement, with the formal name Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (EJCSK). A confessional statement professing respect for the government and exclusively religious goals finally won acceptance from Belgium. The colonial government granted legal recognition to the church in 1959, but it was again restricted after national independence. To be granted government acceptance and achieve unification, Diangienda also had to pull together those groups that had formally belonged to the Catholic and Protestant missions while secretly adhering to Kimbanguism, thus completing the transition from religious movement to denomination. Just as Latin American Jews had to hide within Catholicism in order to preserve their religion during the colonial period, the Kimbanguists went underground in the mission churches.
The confessional statement affirmed that Kimbangu was “not God … but the envoy of Christ”. It stated that Kimbangu “died, rose again, and is with us in spirit”.
Under Diangienda’s leadership, the church has built a seminary and a network of schools, clinics, and social services. It has over 5 million members in some 5,000 parishes. Diangienda led the church into membership in the World Council of Churches in 1969. It was the first independent African church to be granted membership. It has also been close to MOBUTU Sese Seko, the Zaïrean dictator, who, as part of his “authenticity” campaign, helped to promote the EJCSK as a counterfoil to the Protestant and Catholic churches.
Diangienda prefers to be addressed as “eminence” rather than a “prophet”. He is a quiet and simple man in appearance, with a plain, straightforward style of preaching; he makes no claims to be a miracle worker.
Norbert C. Brockman
Additional Reading: Diangienda, Joseph. Histoire de Kimbanguisme (1984).
 Photo from Web site www.kimbanguisme.net.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from An African Biographical Dictionary, copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.