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Prophets for Profit or Prophets of Doom?


Prophets for Profit or Prophets of Doom?

You may have heard this joke:

“Q: Why didn’t Shepherd Bushiri use SA Airways to skip the country?

A: Because SAA is a non-prophet airline.”

Self-proclaimed prophet Bushiri and his wife fled to their home country Malawi last year after the Pretoria Magistrates Court granted them bail of R200 000. Bushiri – net worth about R2.3bn – is facing charges relating to fraud, theft and money laundering in an alleged investment scam that allegedly defrauded investors to the tune of R102 million.

Exactly how they managed to leave the country remains unclear, but it certainly wasn’t on their private Gulfstream III jet (which was safely in the hands of the Asset Forfeiture Unit at the time).

The wittier social commentators quipped that the man who frequently told his congregation that he walks on air doesn’t need an escape jet anyway.

But however he managed it, Bushiri is now safely back home, bragging about being Malawi’s latest big tourist attraction (he regularly pulls in crowds in their thousands, many of whom travel internationally to listen to him preach).

Now, we all know that profiting from religion is not new – churches and religious leaders have been taking money from their followers for centuries.

And you only have to look at the opulence of the Vatican, and the almost priceless artworks owned by the Catholic Church, to see that the oft-portrayed image of the clergy as being humble and poverty-stricken isn’t always true.

The Vatican, for example, makes an estimated $130 million dollars annually from visitors, and $85 million dollars through donations. In addition, the leaders of the Catholic Church actively invest money, making an additional $20 million a year through these investments.

But there’s something particularly sleazy about independent religious figures who use the money given by their faithful followers to finance their own, lavish lifestyles.

It’s not used for the benefit of anyone other than themselves.

Being a so-called prophet is undeniably extremely profitable when you hoodwink innocent people in the name of religion.

These are the people who shamelessly monetise God’s word solely for their benefit.

They might claim to have many god-given gifts – healing the sick, raising the dead and blessing barren marriages with children – but at the end of the day, their true gift is getting their followers to hand over their hard-earned cash.

And lots of it.

The problem is, as with anything that’s based solely on faith, religion is Open Season for fraudsters.

There are always afraid people, worried people, desperate or hopeful people who are ripe for the picking.

Indeed, humanity presents a happy and profitable hunting ground for anyone looking to capitalise on other people’s frailties.

It’s basically a Ponzi scheme with a halo.

And like a Ponzi scheme, it does not discriminate. If you’re needy and looking for divine way out of your undesirable situation, you’ll do.

In the immortal words of Rodriquez in the song, Rich Folks’ Hoax:

“The priest is preaching from a shallow grave.

He counts his money, then he paints you saved.”

Sadly, the tale of Shepherd Bushiri is not an isolated one.

If you were ever in doubt that there is big money to be made in the name of religion, try checking out the fleet of high-priced vehicles – including a very humble (not) yellow Lamborghini reportedly owned by Alph Lukau, from Alleluia Ministries International (AMI).

Much like the smug-and-hiding-in-plain-sight Bushiri, Lukau made his fortune through TV evangelism.

He now has over a million YouTube subscribers, and his Sandton-based church has branches throughout Southern Africa.

And there are countless more scammers and swindlers who shamelessly dupe their followers into believing they are true prophets of God.

Pastor Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Ministries in Pretoria convinced his congregation to drink petrol, claiming he had turned it into pineapple juice. The really sad thing is that willing members queued in numbers to drink it, some even reporting that it tasted sweet.

Penuel Mnguni, leader of End Times Disciples Ministries, fed his followers rats and snakes, which he somehow convinced them he had turned into chocolate.

Bishop Daniel Obinim of International Godsway Ministries in Ghana grabbed men’s crotches to cure erectile disfunction, while Nigeria’s Andrew Ejimadu, known as Prophet Seer 1 to his followers, “vomited” money into a woman’s handbag during a service here in South Africa.

I could go on and on.

From “Prophet Mboro” who was reportedly “captured” during a Sunday service and who took pictures of his visit to Heaven on his cellphone before then trying to sell them for R5 000 each, to Pastor Timothy Omotoso, a senior pastor of Jesus Dominion International, who is facing multiple charges of rape, sexual assault and racketeering, there is no shortage of examples.

There is also no apparent end in sight to the activities of these unscrupulous, amoral individuals who ruin lives to enrich themselves – all in the name of eternal salvation.

On a continent crippled by poverty and awash with desperate people, these people – far from being divinely inspired – are actually downright evil.

Of course, it’s not just Africa that has a problem with profiteering prophets.

Back in the 70’s, US televangelist couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, built a multi-million Dollar empire thanks to monthly pledges from their viewers.

Those same viewers were dismayed to discover that, in the late 80s, Jim Bakker paid almost £300 000 in hush money to his former secretary who claimed he had drugged and raped her.

Fellow televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who once labelled Bakker as “cancer in the body of Christ” wasn’t much better, having been caught on camera leaving a hotel room with a prostitute. A few years later, he as pulled over by police for driving on the wrong side of the road. His passenger at the time was a prostitute named Rosemary Garcia.

Perhaps this second incident was behind his decision to travel from then on by private jet.

And he’s not the only one for whom being earthbound was clearly a problem.

Televangelist Joel Osteen was also a fan of private jets, allegedly telling fellow pastor Jess Duplantis that flying commercially was like getting into “a long tube full of demons.”

But surely first prize must go to Kenneth Copeland, whose self-titled Kenneth Copeland Ministries operates three jets. He said in a 2019 interview that the aircraft were sanctuaries in which the pastors could talk directly to God.

I’m not quite sure when or by whom the message evolved that to be a prophet for the people, you have to be stinking rich.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 10:15

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Matthew 7:15

People have the right to practice their faith safely and with the peace of mind of knowing they are not going to be fleeced out of their hard-earned money.

As far as I’m aware, it’s cleanliness that’s next to Godliness, not wealthiness.

So, be aware, be warned and please, be careful.