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South Africa’s resurrection miracle scandal

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By Olisemeka Obeche

While Nigerians spent much of last weekend and early this week tracking results of last Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections, a lot of interesting events were unfolding across the world that equally commanded our attention.

One of those spectacular events of last weekend took place inside the capacity auditorium of the Alleluia Ministries International church in Johannesburg, South Africa. As routine healing and deliverance miracle service officiated by Pastor Alph Lukau reached its crescendo, wheelchair-ridden congregants rose and walked. Those who struggled to walk quickly discarded their crutches and hit the ground running.

The miracles session was still in full gear when a vehicle pulled up outside, with weeping family members in tow. In a dramatic twist, the officiating pastor quickly dashed outside to attend to the mourners who had arrived with a 19-year-old Zimbabwean man in a coffin who allegedly died the previous Friday.

Minutes later, the Congolese born Lukau who presides over the 8,000-membership church in Sandton, South Africa, famous for eyes-popping miracles, ordered the coffin to be opened. As he launched into customary spontaneous ejaculatory prayers and touched the dead man, suddenly, the man identified as Elliot jerked up and opened his eyes. The watching congregants and Elliot’s family erupted in joyful praises for the miracle.

But shortly after video of the miracle surfaced on the internet, the social media went into meltdown as many users questioned the authenticity of the miracle. Social media is currently awash with questions over the miracle. Why did the man not look like someone who’d been dead two days? Why was his mouth not stitched and sealed, or eyes glued? Where was his death certificate? Why was he not immediately tended to by a health care professional?

The matter took a new twist when the Kings and Queens Real Funeral Services, whose vehicle was used to carry the coffin, disclosed that the supposed deceased person was deposited at their mortuary. It was later revealed that Elliot, a woodworking factory worker in Pretoria was arrested on February 26, with his former employer disclosing that he was hale and hearty before his resurrection stunt. According to his former employer named Vincent Amoretti of PTY LTD, this was not the first stunt Elliot had been a part of as he’d previously allegedly pretended to be wheelchair-bound so that the pastor could “heal” him in front of the masses.

Expectedly, the pastor came under fire for allegedly staging a fake miracle to gain fame and fortune. South African Christians, who had seen increasing bizarre miracles in recent times, were equally rattled. The Rhema Family Churches (RFC) and the International Federation of Christian Churches (IFCC) described the resurrection stunt as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong in the religious sector. The RFC and IFCC in a statement last Tuesday said they were embarrassed by CRL Rights Commission’s findings of the investigation into the “Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems”.

“We have seen the exploitation of people, and the sexual and emotional abuse of people, all these and many other things have tainted the image of the church and put us in a very bad light.”

They described the session as a clear abuse of people’s belief. “The claim by this pastor [Lukau] has been proven to be a lie by the funeral parlours involved. This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ we preach.”

RFC and IFCC said they have distanced themselves from the “shameless acts done in the name of our Christian Faith and using the Lords Name in vain.”

The embattled cleric, however, took the criticisms of the fake resurrection miracles on his strides by heading to a local hospital to heal the sick.

But South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities on Monday said it would probe the incident. “As a commission, we need to get to the root of this. Unless we do that, South Africans are taken for a ride and their intelligence is insulted,” said the commission’s deputy chair David Mosoma.

The CRL Rights Commission says that while the debate on religious freedom continues, more people are being abused on a daily basis by false prophets claiming to be men of God. The commission says that while it will file a report on its own investigation into Lukau, it has no mechanism to arrest him or hold him to account. But it says it will continue to fight to have regulatory laws passed.

Chairperson of the CRL Commission Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva says that she’s had countless victims come forward to report abuses they’ve experienced at the hands of their religious leaders. She says these pastors know how to target the most vulnerable in communities. “There must be regulations passed that will control practitioners.”

Mkhwanzi-Xaluva says that people need a safe space to speak about the abuses they’ve experienced. “The issue of a public awareness campaign, we feel it is very critical, just as much as we feel that religious leaders should have basic training.”

At the same time, various religious leaders have called for Pastor Alph Lukau’s arrest.

Mr. Lukau is no stranger to controversy. In 2016, he made news headlines and was even the subject of an investigation after he held a gala dinner at the Gallagher Conference Centre where thousands of single and divorced women were invited to come and be prayed for so they could find their soulmates and get married. The gala dinner whose tickets costs attendees as high as R5,000 was followed by a mass wedding in his church which saw women who’d attended the dinner getting married to their partners.

Many Malawians on social media recently questioned Lukau when he was caught on video clip making fake prophecies on an Machinjiri area in Blantyre, naming streets, purportedly in the township when, in actual fact, there were no such streets.

Lukau has also raised eyebrows for claiming to heal HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and other deadly illnesses. However, unlike his counterparts, Prophets Shepherd Bushiri and Timothy Omotoso, Lukau has not faced any criminal charges or referred to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural and Religious Rights (CRL). He has, however, been embroiled in a legal battle with South African-based Nigerian journalist Solomon Ashoms after Lukau sued Ashoms for defamation of character after the journalist claimed he was a fake preacher on his Facebook account.

As incensed South African authorities and Christians have woken up from slumber and realised the urgent need to begin a crackdown on fake preachers and miracles, their Nigerian counterparts have maintained their traditional ‘siddon dey look’ approach to the same very matter that is equally pushing the society on edge.

That Nigeria, a country with the largest number and size of religious worship centers, is suffering from epidemic of fake miracles is no longer in doubt. What’s however in doubt is whether Nigerians are indeed ready to probe the miracles and prophetic proclamations that flowed from the pulpits and crusade grounds.

While activities of South African clerics have come under increasing public scrutiny and rebukes, their Nigerian counterparts have continued to enjoy some level of immunity from their followers. Pointing accusing fingers at any of those stunt-performing pastors in Nigeria is enough to attract verbal attacks and curses from loyal members. Nigerians are so sentimentally attached to their religious sects and leaders that questioning what they preach or the miraculous stunts they pull off, is an anathema.

Despite their air of invincibility, most Nigerian pastors had equally come under firing from distraught citizens for abuse of the pulpits. For instance, some hard-case Nigerians have taken a swipe at Prophet Samuel Akinbodunse over his unfulfilled prophecy that President Buhari would die before election if he campaigns for second term. Akinbodunse who is the General Overseer of South Africa based church, Freedom for All Nations outreach had earlier prophesied: “Please Nigerians, warn Buhari that he is going beyond his boundary, the Lord said his tenure is just for 4 years, if he tries to contest for the second term, before they vote he will die’’.

Following the re-election of President Buhari last Saturday, Akinbodunse has come under shelling for false prophecy. ‘Brukutu pastor, he don take tramadol’, ‘oga pastor you will dull till 2023’…. ‘By God grace Buhari will be alive and continue to be Nigeria president in 2019 and beyond”, a commentator named Hakeem Giwa fired. (Send your reactions via [email protected])

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