Papa don't leach: False prophets and real profits

The latest antics of some "men of God" got Glenn Bownes thinking again about religion, beliefs and faith – not to mention profiteering "prophets".

Q: How do you tell the difference between a "prophet" and a "false prophet"? 

A: Profits?

The latest antics of some "men of God" have got me thinking again about religion, beliefs and faith. Not to mention profiteering "prophets".

First, let me start with a confession. I am not a believer in any supreme being. Even though I grew up in a very religious home (my late father was a Baptist minister) and, while I once considered myself a Christian, I have been a faithless infidel for more years now than I was a "child of God".

READ: On fraudulent resurrections and fake healing – Why it's a lucrative business

I do, however, have friends and family – who I love and respect – who have faith of some sort, whether that be in an omnipotent God, astrology… or even homeopathy.

What I do strongly believe is that everybody has the right to believe anything they want, as long as it does no harm to others.

This "Golden Rule" – or ethic of reciprocity – can be found in many cultures and religions, from ancient Egypt. A Late Period (664 BC – 323 BC) papyrus reads: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."; China – "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." (Confucius 500 BC); Greece – "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing." (Thales 624 BC – 546 BC.)

The Bible's Gospels also go there, quoting Jesus as saying: "Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. (Matthew 7:12). And, to quote the Prophet Muhammad: "None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself" (Sahih Muslim). 

The Torah instructs: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18). Buddhism says: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga 5,1). And Hinduism tells us: "This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you." (Mahabharata 5,1517). 

But, you don't have a right to practice your belief or faith in ways that are harmful to others, or that spread hatred. And falling back on the argument that your racism, sexism, homophobia, or general nastiness is part of your religious freedom is ethically bankrupt, not to mention unconstitutional.

Prosperity gospel

South Africans have recently been shocked, outraged and entertained by some of the "holy men" plying their trade in the country, from Prophet Shepherd Bushiri of the Enlightened Christian Gathering, Lethebo "Prophet of Doom" Rabalago of the Mount Zion General Assembly, Prophet Mboro of the Incredible Happenings church, and recent "social media star" Pastor Alph Lukau of Alleluia Ministries International. 

From spraying congregants with Doom, to filming videos of weekend "visits" to heaven, to "raising" the "dead", these "men of God" have become our equivalent of the "freak shows" of previous centuries.

All three are adherents of the "prosperity gospel", which has many, many followers in South Africa. They are also all fabulously wealthy.

According to Wikipedia "prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, the gospel of success, or seed faith) is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one's material wealth".

Of course, profiteering off the faithful isn't a new thing. The Catholic Church in the 16th Century, for example, used to sell "indulgences" – a payment to the church that got you an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins. And it is almost always the poor who are exploited by these spiritual fraudsters. So, I support calls for legal action to taken against these scam artists.

But I must admit that some of the criticisms of these preachers coming from mainstream Christian churches, leaders and their flock have raised my eyebrows.

Fraud, money laundering and pictures of heaven

People like Bushiri, Mboro and Lukau have come under attack for being "false prophets" and for "faking miracles". Mboro himself has attacked Lukau, saying: "No bona fide religious leader, in his right sense of mind and driven by the spirit of our Creator, can attempt to pull such an antic for the sake of quick fame and cameras." This coming from a man who tried to sell pictures of his "visit" to heaven that he took on his cellphone.

In 2016, his spokesperson told the Katlehong Weekly, that "Prophet Mboro" had been "captured" to heaven during an Easter Sunday service and, what's more, had taken pictures on his Galaxy smart phone before returning to us lesser beings here on Earth.

He reportedly went on to offer to sell the pictures for R5 000.

And City Press reported recently that Bushiri allegedly fleeced followers out of millions of rands through a failed "commodity investment opportunity".

"Emails and other documents obtained by City Press show that investors were promised a 50% return within 30 banking days of placing their investments of between R100 000 and R1m," the newspaper reported.

Bushiri and his wife are facing charges of fraud, money laundering and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

A special kind of nasty

In another case in Port Elizabeth, Pastor Timothy Omotoso, a senior pastor of Jesus Dominion International is facing charges of rape, sexual assault and racketeering.

News24 reported that the first witness in the trial, Cheryl Zondi, had "testified that her life and those of about 30 others were those of sex slaves who would be called into Omotoso's bedroom, as and when he had interest in a particular woman, at a specific time".

In her testimony, Zondi described Omotoso as a demanding, selfish predator who demanded that she perform "horrible sexual acts".

So, these guys definitely are a special kind of nasty. And they must answer and pay for their many crimes. Crimes like fraud, rape, racketeering.

But cries for to them punished for being "false prophets" leave me pondering: how do you tell a "real prophet" from a "false" one?Are "prophets", "miracles", "virgin births", "resurrections", "healings" only real – and "from God" – if the mainstream churches say they are real?

Asking for an imaginary friend…

- Bownes is the chief sub-editor at News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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