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Abbot Peter Novokosky

Churches off kilter

A host of things can irk us about our church community. Some are trivial; some are major.

A recent Religion News Service report will put some of our concerns into another perspective. The story was entitled, “African countries clamp down on churches tied to ‘miracle cures.’ ”

In order to attract followers, some charismatic preachers and self-proclaimed prophets in Africa make promises of miracle healings and wonders. Governments are being forced to step in to stop obvious abuses. They are dealing with tales of clergy fleecing and abusing their followers. They want to protect unsuspecting church members from corrupt or immoral schemes.

Kenyan preacher Victor Kanyari, for example, concocted a scheme asking followers to pay him in return for his cleansing them of their sins. As proof their sins were forgiven, the pastor said the water in a “miracle basin” would turn red after he prayed over it. Later, church leaders admitted adding chemicals to the water.

In a bizarre event, a Nairobi pastor banned women from wearing undergarments to church. Rev. Njohi argued that the women should be free in body and spirit to receive Jesus.

In South Africa last year, a pastor in Pretoria made members of his congregation strip naked and he rode on their backs as he prayed for them. Another Pretoria pastor, Daniel Lesego, made his congregation drink petrol and eat grass. Pastor Penuel Mnguni, based in northern Pretoria, took the cake with this message: he declared a live snake a chocolate bar and commanded the congregation to eat it.

Tolbert Thomas Jallah Jr., a Liberian cleric who heads the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa, said some African ministers are preaching doctrines that are without any biblical and theological basis. “They are doing strange interpretations of Scriptures to exploit poor people, using prosperity messages, calling for miracle services and purchase of healing,” he said.

“They are requesting money before praying for the sick, and people will have to pay money to get appointments and to register before getting to see the apostle,” he added.

In Cameroon, President Paul Biya recently ordered the closure of 100 churches over alleged criminal activities by Pentecostal church pastors linked to miracles. In January, Kenya passed some corrective regulations, including requiring all clergy to hold theological degrees. The regulations were withdrawn after bitter protests by church leaders. But government officials plan to continue their program to regulate the “evil men and women” who use the name of God “to take advantage of the citizens and fleece them,” an official said.

About 63 per cent of Africans identify as Christian, and Christian denominations have founded and still run schools and hospitals. That has been the long tradition for the Catholic Church. Whatever “miracles” are worked in these fields are accomplished by dedication, prayer and hard work.