Every year in this country a pastor emerges claiming to be God’s anointed – blessed with the powers of healing. It is not enough that they claim this “gift”, but they use “artefacts” to help them realise their divine inspiration.
Snakes, fire, petrol, the ingestion of grass, and now, the spraying of Doom, supplement the prophets’ “healing powers”. The 24-year-old prophet of Doom, Lethebo Rabalago, from the Mount Zion General Assembly, sprays insecticide, Doom, to boost his claims as God’s miracle worker.
Having used it on several congregants, he claimed they had been healed, but denied the media the right to interview his “beneficiaries” – lest they expose his self-serving chicanery.
Police allegedly responded to complaints, but claimed to be powerless to act unless people complained. This is rubbish. State institutions such as police, the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Religious and Cultural Rights are obliged to be proactive against such violations, which endanger the health of the public, regardless of whether complaints are lodged or not.
Not only are the dangers of exposure to such potent insecticides described on the spray cans, but people who are often semi-literate, poor and powerless are the victims of this kind of religious trickery.
South Africa is littered with false prophets, who make a killing from the pulpits. Many of these “fly-by-night” pastors are also in it for the money, extracting tithes from the poor to enrich themselves.
Their probable rationale must be that, “if politicians can do it, why not us”. Famous American televangelist, Joel Osteen, claims that “if your pastor is wealthier than the people he serves, you should wonder if he is here to help us, or are we there to help him”.
Lest we forget, anthropologists have studied millenarian movements, most of which emerge under stressful socio-economic and political conditions, where people experience social unrest and loss of power.
Such religious manifestations are (to quote Wikipedia) “born of frustration, despair or bewilderment, which seek to cut through a hopeless situation with a promise of good government, great happiness and prosperity. Such aspirations are often articulated or symbolised in a hero or prophet.”
South Africa’s poor live under the burden of high rates of unemployment, poverty, disease and crime; the 24-year-old millenarist himself is a victim of our socio-economic decline, although he claims: “The anointing I’ve got is not for sale.”
The question is: where people are vulnerable to such religious exploitation, does the state have a right to intervene to protect them from such manipulation? Or does freedom of religious expression include the freedom to destroy oneself? These difficult questions raise issues of when the state should be allowed to intervene to “protect” citizens from those who claim to be anointed by some deity.
The Bible is replete with warnings against false prophets, the most famous being: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
Now more than ever, people need to be aware of false prophets, who do not hesitate to make a profit off the vulnerable. They are indeed wolves in wolves’ clothing.