by Pamela Maringa

The church is a place where people come for various personal needs. People come to worship together and, hopefully, learn to serve one another. This is where people get their weekly boost and strength to help them cope with life.

South Africa has had more church drama recently, than it has had in the past years. The news has covered stories about pastors who make the congregation eat grass and rats, drink Dettol or spray Doom into their faces. The most shocking stories included Prophet Mboro, who made international headlines, when he claimed he was abducted by God and he went to heaven where he took pictures with Jesus. The pictures were sold for five thousand rand each. He also went on to say that Jesus has a young Xhosa wife. The most recent sensation is the Nigerian pastor, Timothy Omotoso, who has been arrested and charged with rape and human trafficking.

Usually, after a Sunday service, we come back home and eat our Sunday lunch while my aunt watches the Gospel Channel, where different pastors preach. Her own personal favourite is TB Joshua. A few minutes after my aunt put the channel on my cousin came and joined us. He remarked: “You guys are still watching TB Joshua. He is old news. People now watch Prophet Bushiri”. Bushiri is a Malawi-born prophet who is known to be living a lavish and extravagant lifestyle  in South Africa

My aunt went on to share that she dislikes this new foreign pastor. He showed up and everyone left their church’s to join him. She has been to Bushiri’s church a couple of times and, she says, he is a fraud. She shared how people would pay to receive prayers. Some would pledge their salaries. If nothing has changed in their lives, they were told that they didn’t have enough faith. There are also allegations that he makes death threats to the congregation and admits to killing people. All this has affected the way she gives her tithe to the church.

These churches continue to increase in our communities and people continue to be victims of these money making scams. People have reached a point where they don’t believe that prayer alone can change their situations. They need something that they can use along with their prayers. So they end up supporting the businesses within the church. They buy anointing water, anointing oil, car stickers, calendars, pillow cases and more, for protection. They have been brainwashed to believe that God won’t hear their prayers unless a “prophet” prays for them. All the while the prophets get richer and the poor congregants, get poorer.

The church should instil positive change in people’s lives. However,  what we see today goes against what the church’s role should be. We see these so-called prophets abusing their positions to hurt vulnerable people.

The perfect example of good leadership was Christ. As a leader he was humble and was willing to serve others. He was generous,  to the point where he gave his life on the cross. In the same way, Pope Francis chooses humility above luxury possessions, he uses his possessions to help the poor. He remains humble and continues to spread the good news, not the love of money.

My thoughts, as I heard all these stories was: How do we protect people from these con artists? Is there any regulation in opening a church organization? Is the Commission for Rights of Cultural, Religious & Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission) doing enough to protect people? And what are we as the congregation doing to protect ourselves?

I may not have all the answers to these questions, but I think the congregation needs to able to identify good leadership by going back to the Scriptures  and studying the character of Christ. By doing so, people are able to make informed decisions about the churches they are committed to. As a church, we need to realize that we can’t have people take advantage of us. We can’t keep running from church to church looking for Christ. Christ is not in any pastor who claims to be a prophet.  Christ is in all of us. As Christians, we are given the authority to pray for situations, and we are expected to witness to the values Jesus taught us.