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From Our Archives – TB Joshua, Nigeria’s controversial Pentecostal titan

From Our Archives – TB Joshua, Nigeria’s controversial Pentecostal titan
Pastor TB Joshua of Nigeria Photo:Flickr

The controversial Nigerian televangelist, faith healer, and neo-Pentecostal pastor Temitope Balogun (TB) Joshua has died at the age of 57. He was the leader of Nigeria-based The Synagogue Church of All Nations. By DION FORSTER.

Many will remember TB Joshua, and his church, from the widely publicised 2014 tragedy in which 116 people died when a church building collapsed in Nigeria. His handling of the tragedy was problematic. He initially claimed that the building’s collapse was caused by a “strange aircraft”. Leaked audio recordings later suggested that he tried to alter the narrative about the building’s collapse by bribing reporters. It turned out that the building was poorly constructed and did not meet basic safety requirements.

That Joshua was able to continue his ministry after this debacle is quite remarkable. Very few business leaders or political leaders would be able to survive such a scandal. Yet, support and admiration for him remained.

After his death, he was being hailed by his followers on social media as a man of God who gave to the poor.

TB Joshua had more than 3.5 million followers on Facebook, and before his YouTube channel was shut down in April for videos claiming to ‘cure’ homosexuality, it had close to 1 million followers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Planes, Blame and Autocracies: How T.B. Joshua will get away with murder

The ongoing support for him and his ministry can be explained by understanding the theological tradition in which he operated.

Tech-savvy televangelist

Joshua was part of a relatively new development in World Christianity. He was a media-savvy televangelist, and more recently an internet influencer, known for advocating the prosperity gospel. The advent of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has meant that there are more and more of these preachers popping up with followers numbering in the millions.

Their appeal lies in the prosperity gospel that they preach. Regarded by many Christians as heretical teaching based on manipulation rather than genuine care, the prosperity gospel is often called the “health and wealth” gospel.

Its preachers view God as a mix between a personal stockbroker and a therapist. The core of their message is that God desires that people should be wealthy and healthy. Of course, there is not much consideration of the fact that ageing and sickness are part of the natural order of life, or that the planet cannot sustain unchecked levels of consumption and production.

Prosperity gospel

The prosperity gospel is most popular in contexts where people face significant economic and health challenges, such as Africa, Latin America and among poorer demographic populations in the West. Among such populations, faith becomes an important source of meaning and hope because people are vulnerable and face significant challenges or needs.

People find great hope when their well-dressed, articulate and affluent preacher tells them that all they need is faith in God for them to become wealthy and successful. These claims are often supported by testimonies from members of the congregations who testify how their “sacrificial giving” showed that they had more faith in God than in economic and social systems.

Sadly, it is most often only the preacher whose wealth increases.

Promises of healing

Similar reasoning is used in relation to health and physical wellbeing. If you are sick, or under threat of getting sick, you can overcome illness by faith. These preachers claim that the clearest way to demonstrate your faith is to choose the spiritual over the physical. In more extreme cases preachers have told members to give their money to the Church rather than pay for medicines or necessary treatments.

Joshua’s church claimed that:

“Divine healing is the supernatural power of God bringing health to the human flesh … Thousands who come oppressed with sickness and disease receive their healing at the (Synagogue Church) … Truly, there is never a sickness Jesus cannot heal.

These healings aren’t cheap. Many wealthy and notable Africans have sought Joshua’s “healing miracles”. They include the late Zimbabwean politician Morgan Tsvangirai, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika, and the late African National Congress (ANC) leader, Winnie Mandela.

There are also numerous sports stars who are known to have sought out Joshua’s prayers for healing. Some travelled to meet the church leader in person, others partook of healing prayer sessions virtually.

Takeaways

TB Joshua’s passing is bound to present some theological problems for his church and those who hold his theological views. Did God forsake him? Was he no longer blessed? It will be interesting to see what kinds of theological answers are given for his untimely death in the days and weeks to come.

Joshua held particularly unscientific and problematic views on disease in general, and Covid-19 in particular, claiming to be able to heal persons from the disease. He prayed:

“By the power of the Holy Ghost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that affliction, that Covid-19 be flushed out! Those viruses in their internal organs be flushed out!”

The promise of healing, or a solution to grinding economic woes, is tempting, particularly when it seems that there are no reasonable alternatives. However, we must hold those religious leaders to account who use the desperation of the poor and vulnerable to enrich themselves and build personal empires.

The prosperity gospel is a very recent phenomenon in World Christianity. It only appeared on the scene in the last 100 years and is deeply influenced by contemporary views of prosperity and physical wellbeing and not by the traditional tenets of the Christian gospel or orthodox Christian teachings. Its teachings are frequently regarded as heresy.

While TB Joshua’s untimely death will be mourned by millions, his harmful legacy should not be ignored. DM

This article was republished on January 9, 2024, following the release of a documentary by the BBC on the legacy of the pastor.

First published by The Conversation.

Associate Professor of Ethics and Head of Department, Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Stellenbosch University

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Good riddance. God take him

  • Just Me says:

    84 South Africans died in his building on Lagos, on their ‘pilgrimage’ there, and the building was found to be defective. What should have happened is immediate arrest for culpable homicide and prosecution in Nigeria and South Africa for the unnecessary deaths of 84 people.

    This prosecution can still happen, notwithstanding his death.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Religion in general is a pack of BS lies, at least these guys are honest about being dodgy and provide some good stage shows along the way.

    Also… OMG how awesome is his hairstyle? Just wow. Paging Boney M… come in Boney M!

  • Jane Lombard says:

    Yesterday (8 Jan), BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, featured two women who are former members of this church, TBJ was still alive. The two extremely brave young women, both British, detail how they were subjected to coercive control from him and, inevitably, to sexual assault and multiple insurances of rape. They now quite rightly realize they were in a cult that was presided over by a monster who kept their passports and refused them any financial freedom. I recommend a listen.

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    How do proponents of ‘prosperity gospel’ reconcile their hunger for weath with Jesus’ admonition: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”? How amazing that with all the calls for decolonization, that the majority of the colonized continue to embrace the beliefs of the colonizer (albeit with some sensational variations). For that matter, how amazing that in this day and age anyone can believe that what the bible presents is consistent with reality, that somehow a band of bronze age desert nomads were granted the real inside story re our existence and nature.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    OK – let us now call a spade a “spade” – Prosperity Gospel is nothing else but materialism abusing Gods’ Word to justify it. Also, the true Christian gospel does not preach healing through preachers – its’ healing is through prayer directly to God, which can be done by anyone, and it most certainly does not need payment in order to happen. Secondly, the message of the gospel is not one of material prosperity at all – it is about freedom from the burden of SIN. And additionally, the Lord cares for people and provides what one needs to be happy as He created us, not to be prosperous. He sees when people are distressed; but He also see where the distress comes from, and He then addresses the root cause and not what the distressed person necessarily wants. And lastly, our concept of justice has absolutely NOTHING to do with what the Bible says about justice. Our concept of justice is an arrangement about how to treat one another as people living together, while the Bible’s concept of justice is one that is concerned with the Honour of God as the Creator, Redeemer and the One who decides on truth, and on the past, the present and the future. He wants people to be happy, but that happiness involves sense of responsibility, reliability, a caring attitude towards others and willingness to serve others WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING BACK. So it is a mistake to relate Christian justice to the current politics – it has nothing to do with each other.

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