Dodgy churches in the spotlight

An investigation into highly unorthodox activities at a number of SA churches is aimed at protecting congregants from manipulation and fraud

Church finances, the commercialisation of religion and promises of miracles by churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of religion will soon be under scrutiny.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) has launched an investigation following reports of dubious churches that prey on their unsuspecting congregants,” The Star reports.

If you’ve watched reality shows such as Preachers of LA, you know there’s a lot of money to be made as a church leader. Some might find it questionable that men of God live in opulence while so many of their congregants are in dire financial straits, yet these people continue to donate money.

READ MORE: Why people ate snakes at Pretoria pastor’s church 

While just how much money churches and pastors make is not generally public knowledge, some church leaders, such as Malawian pastor Hastings Selanje (of God’s Chapel International), often boast about their riches on social media.

Selanje, who also owns a company called GBS Solar, does not seem fazed by the criticism levelled against him and the negative comments that are often posted on his Facebook page. He continues to post photos of his luxurious home and his numerous vehicles, including several Mercedes-Benzes and Land Rovers. Despite all this, people continue to attend and donate money to his church.

Selanje is just one of many pastors who make headlines regularly – not for their good works, but for how much money they make.

In 2011, Forbes named the five richest pastors in Nigeria, men who are worth millions of dollars. Included on the list were: David Oyedepo, who at the time was worth $150 million; Chris Oyakhilome, worth between $30 million and $50 million; and Synagogue Church of all Nations’ Pastor TB Joshua, whose net worth at that time was between $10 million and $15 million.

Speaking to The Star, CRL Rights Commission Chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said it becomes an issue when churches start selling T-shirts, water and pap to their congregants. She added they were also concerned about worshippers being told to substitute water for their HIV medication.

In the past, Durban-based Pastor Hamilton Nala made claims that he could cure HIV with his holy water. Nala, who came under fire from the Treatment Action Campaign in 2013 for this claim, continues to sell the “faith” water at his church for about R15 for a 500ml bottle.

“We need to look at these various miracle claims and see what form of legal structure is in place,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.

The CRL Rights Commission investigation will not only help to clamp down on churches that sell desperate people fake miracles, but will also come down hard on those that humiliate and endanger their congregants, as Pastor Penuel Mnguni of End Times Disciples Ministries did recently by making them eat rats and snakes.

“We want to find the underlying causes that lead our nation to the point of desperation where they think it is okay to eat snakes and drink petrol,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.

Sources: The Star, Forbes