Nimi Wariboko, Boston University School of TheologyThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
The late TB Joshua, renowned Nigerian televangelist and founder of The Synagogue Church of All Nations, faces posthumous scandal as a BBC investigation alleges 20 years of rape, torture, and abuse towards followers. Amidst accusations of child abuse and faking miracles, Nimi Wariboko, a leading theologian, delves into the forces that propelled Joshua’s ministry and potentially allowed such abuses of power.
Understanding Pentecostalism’s Popularity in Africa
Pentecostalism, a Christian movement emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s charismatic gifts, thrives in Africa due to its belief in ongoing miracles, adaptability in interpreting the Bible, authoritative leadership, and the preaching of prosperity gospel. These elements resonate with many Africans, contributing to the movement’s widespread popularity.
The Rise of TB Joshua: Forces at Play
TB Joshua, who commenced his ministry in 1987, initially addressed the spiritual and economic needs of Nigerians, incorporating elements from Christianity, Islam, and African traditional religion. His focus on the poor’s economic struggles, televised acts of kindness, spiritual empowerment, and a modest lifestyle endeared him to millions globally. Utilizing early adoption of TV and the internet, Joshua circumvented a 2004 Nigerian ban on unverified miracles, launching Emmanuel TV to reach a broader audience.
Belief in Prophecies and Miracles
Pentecostals believe in a dual world—physical and spiritual—where spiritual influence governs physical outcomes. Charismatic individuals accessing the spiritual realm for information to explain, predict, and control events appeal to believers. Additionally, Pentecostals operate under a unique epistemology where decisions, though seemingly irrational, align ethically through a spiritual lens. Economic hardships heighten vulnerability, making individuals more susceptible to religious charlatanism.
The Untouchability of TB Joshua
Joshua’s establishment of an independent Christian denomination granted him unchecked power, as he remained unaccountable to external authorities. The perception of performing miracles, despite allegations of misconduct, was enabled by followers who saw his excesses as integral to the movement. The Nigerian state’s lack of oversight allowed religious leaders like Joshua to operate with impunity, fostering close relationships with political figures.
Addressing Future Abuses by Religious Leaders
To prevent future abuses, the Nigerian government must hold religious leaders accountable without compromising religious freedom. Swift investigations into abuse allegations and consistent enforcement of existing laws regulating religious organizations are crucial. The government’s commitment to economic flourishing and the example of obeying its laws are essential steps toward a more responsible religious landscape.