Is it time to divest from the business of evangelicalism?

In January a groundbreaking investigation by BBC Africa Eye and openDemocracy unearthed a series of unsettling revelations of widespread abuse endured by members of the megachurch run by renowned Nigerian televangelist, the late TB Joshua. 

This wasn’t the first time concerns had been raised about the former leader of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) who died in June 2021.

In 2014 the collapse of one of the church’s buildings led to the death of at least 116 followers, but TB Joshua did not face any legal consequences. Now, the BBC says it has uncovered new evidence that he concealed dead bodies and intimidated families in order to try and evade the law.

The most recent allegations expose heinous abuses perpetrated by TB Joshua. His ministry, cloaked in the guise of miraculous healings, drew in thousands, including those battling HIV/AIDS, cancer and other illnesses, leading many to stop medical treatments.

Survivors have given harrowing accounts of rape, including of minors, forced abortions, claims of ‘curing’ homosexuality and physical assaults.

The revelations have reignited discussions around the burgeoning evangelical movement and the deep ties between the religious and the political establishment in Africa. Evangelicalism has become deeply embedded within the political landscape, bolstered by powerful white Christian fundamentalist personalities from countries like the United States.

Protecting the powerful

The exposé of TB Joshua serves as a stark reminder of similar figures and movements across Africa. In Kenya, figures like Ezekiel Odero of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church and Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, a cult leader, are currently facing accusations related to the deaths of their followers. The exposé of TB Joshua serves as a stark reminder of the many similar figures and movements across Africa that demand our vigilant attention.

As communities face growing economic crises and inequality, these movements can often target the impoverished and the vulnerable.

Ugandan writer and lawyer Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire aptly posted on X, formerly Twitter: ‘Evangelical Pentecostalism is to USA imperialism what Roman Catholicism was to French/German/Italian imperialism, and Anglicanism to British imperialism.’ He emphasises the historical intertwining of religion with colonialism and imperialism, which has long played a role in diminishing the autonomy of Africans, all the while promising miracles and fortunes.

Alongside raging debates around ‘African morals/values’, political and religious leaders exchange lavish gifts and protections. Anti-women, anti-poor and anti-queer sentiments are claimed to be more African than marginalized Africans themselves.

Despite decades of independence, many of our states, built with religion at their core, are not equipped to protect their citizens from murderous rapists using faith to recruit victims and retain control. Political leaders deploy these religious fundamentalists and cult-like leaders to silence dissent and scapegoat minorities, thereby boosting their popularity. In exchange, religious institutions protect these political systems from demands for accountability when it comes to corruption and incompetence.

When material conditions are dire, belief in miracles becomes a refuge. But this belief comes at a cost. Divesting from the business of religion, as it was introduced by our former colonisers and as it is maintained, is fundamental to our liberation. A social transformation is needed, one that questions the power to violate and escape accountability.