I want shine a spotlight on a somewhat sensitive subject that is holding society at ransom — nefarious pastors and churches. Perhaps the reason there has not been an inquiry into “church capture” is many of the bourgeoise are the enablers and beneficiaries of it.
The psychological bond between a cult leader or personality cult and the followers is strong and if you were never in a cult where you were indoctrinated, you probably do not understand the deep psychological stronghold that the leader has on his followers.
The “personality cult” describes a leader who uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestionable flattery and praise. These people present themselves as god-like, heroic, supreme and irreplaceable. They are dynamic and charismatic, able to inspire people.
The abuse that comes from the cult leader can be subtle because most of these leaders do not seem bad. But they are manipulators and are able to explain away every action, no matter how egregious.
Cult leaders employ mind and behavioural control techniques that are aimed at severing followers’ connections to the outside world. These methods can deepen members’ existing emotional insecurities, while encouraging them to become reliant on their cult for all their physical and emotional needs.
These people dictate the face of society’s social and economic struggle to serve the interest of their cult, meaning that people’s plight becomes a necessary rhetoric to legitimise the interest of the cult. In other words, the interests of the cult are presented as the interests of the masses.
We see it through the principle of the divine rights of cult leader pastors and bishops said to hold office at the will of “God”. Pastors can be associated with a dictatorship where no internal democracy is implemented, protected and respected. It is clear that the connection between a personality cult and his followers defies logic.
His followers are not stupid, gullible people and he has not bewitched them. They are simply experiencing cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is a state of psychic tension caused by the simultaneous holding of mutually inconsistent attitudes or the existence of a lack of consonance between attitudes and behaviour. Simply put, cognitive dissonance happens when you have two opposing version of the truth.
Some signs to look out for to identify cults:
l Opposed to critical thinking;
l Isolates members and penalises them for leaving;
l Emphasises a special doctrine;
l Seeks inappropriate loyalty; and
l Dishonours family units.
The former chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, described churches that have turned into cults as a state of emergency.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said state capture was spoken about, “but we have not talked about church capture, because in essence that is what has happened, where people have suspended their thinking and it is now being outsourced to this one person”.
Throughout history cult leaders “prophesy” the day they would be arrested or prosecuted by the law. Bishop Stephen Zondo, Prophet Bushiri and Prophet Lukau are the latest reported to have made such utterance to their members. The Timothy Omotoso case is a perfect example of this. After he was arrested and charged with rape and human trafficking, his followers shared videos of him prophesying how he would be prosecuted, and that they must know that Jesus is coming soon. These prophecies seek to make the leader a messianic figure, so that his followers never see him as a culprit, but as a victim.
Many members of these cults have been displaced and subjected to character assassination from pulpits for daring to question certain acts of the cult leader. Their family lives have been permanently scarred by sexual abuse, unemployment and other psychological forms of displacement.
I would like to recommend the following actions to be taken while law enforcement continue with their investigations into these unscrupulous churches:
l A commission of inquiry, in terms of section 84(2)(f) of the Constitution, to investigate allegations of church capture, money laundering and racketeering, rape and other forms of sexual abuse in all charismatic, traditional and Protestant churches, and appoint a judge to chair it;
l The department of social development to establish a committee to look into the alleged misappropriation of money and the dodgy operation of these churches;
l The South African Human Rights Commission and Commission for Gender Equality to invite aggrieved parties to submit evidence of violations; and
l All pastors and bishops accused of rape and any other serious crime to step down from all pastoral duties pending investigation and court proceedings.
Sello Ivan Phahle is the managing director of SIP Media. These are his own views