Cognitive dissonance does not seem to trouble many of Africa’s evangelical church leaders. There is a yawning gap between what they proclaim and the reality of the situation in which they live, but they continue to state untruths as if constant restatement will make them into truths.
Peter Macjob’s BBC report attempts to discover truths about pastors whom he believes are bringing Christianity itself into disrepute, yet the scenes he encounters are not new. The rogue pastors and fake miracles have characterized African religion for decades.
Charlatanism is pervasive within Christian churches, particularly those associated with Pentecostal spirituality and prosperity theology.
The most high profile case covered by the BBC was that of Gilbert Deya, the Kenyan pastor who was extradited from London to Nairobi in 2017 to face charges of trafficking children.
Deya claimed to be able to pray and to make possible “miracle babies” for women who were in distress at being unable to have children. The charlatanism of Deya was apparent: lies and manipulation of credulous people allowed him to make hundreds of thousand of pounds a year.
Deya is typical of of the pastors from Pentecostal and evangelical churches where preachers will make extraordinary claims about healing “miracles” and about religious “experiences.” Listen to stories from within such circles and it is not long before one will encounter people making extraordinary claims about “healings,” yet when one asks for evidence, none is forthcoming.
At root, the religion of the charlatan pastors is rooted in a desire to exert power and a desire to attain wealth, desires it shares with most religious traditions.
‘Cui bono?’ seems always the appropriate question, for whose benefit? If you are a credulous person going to a pastor, it might be appropriate to ponder who will gain most from the encounter. Is the offer of a prayer of equivalent value to the donation expected by the pastor?
The churches and cults encountered by Peter Macjob do not attempt to engage in serious theological reflection. Their faith is expressed in loud declarations and in dramatic behaviour, discussion, debate, dispute are not welcomed.
Yet if they read Philip Gourevitch’s book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, it would challenge those inclined to make spurious claims about all the things God has done.
The book tells of an incident during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A group of Pentecostal pastors and their families were among those taken captive, and they wrote appealing for help in unambiguous terms. The letter stated in blunt terms, to anyone who might have listened, ‘We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families’.
The appeal made by the pastors for help went unanswered, their prayers for safety were in vain, they and their families were all massacred by genocidaires.
The rogue pastors will admit of no contradiction of their claims, they will listen to no challenge to their assertions. Their strident arrogance seems about as far removed from Jesus of Nazareth as is possible