Last week the BBC claimed the late Nigerian church leader TB Joshua raped and tortured his followers. Speaking to Premier, a woman named Anneka also testified to experiencing sexual abuse, brainwashing and mind reform while staying at Joshua’s notorious compound. Having watched the BBC’s three part documentary Disciples, Adesanya Adewusi says the revelations should serve as a reminder to Christians to test everything
In recent days, allegations of manipulation, abusive control, rape and torture of his followers have been made against the now-deceased pastor and televangelist, TB Joshua. Former members, employees and even his own daughter have come out and accused Joshua of dubious activities which occurred over a space of 20 years.
Temitope Balogun Joshua was the head of the Synagogue of All Nations (SCOAN) church in Lagos, Nigeria. The Church was always perceived as operating on the very edges of mainstream Christianity in Nigeria, nevertheless, Joshua had considerable influence and appeal, exemplified by his six million followers on Facebook.
Founded in 1987, SCOAN enjoyed the global appeal one would normally associate with Western megachurches. SCOAN members often travelled from other African countries and the UK, in order to catch a glimpse of reported miracles and healings.
Prior to Joshua’s death in 2021, Nigerian Immigration Service figures for 2014 indicated that an incredible six out of every ten foreign travellers coming to Nigeria for religious reasons were bound for SCOAN. In the same year that these figures were released, a SCOAN guest house tragically collpased, claiming the lives of 115 people. Joshua was never prosecuted, despite being found guilty of negligence for covering up the fact that the building had structural failings. The documentary also alleges Joshua impeded emergency services who tried to rescue victims and had dead bodies hidden. Many believe Joshua was never properly investigated because of his association with influential figures. It was felt that politicians had a vested interest in the success of Joshua’s ministry as being associated with him gave credibility to their image.
There will be those who will question why Joshua’s accusers stayed in a supposedly abusive environment for so long. Before rushing to judge the alleged victims, we need to remember that none of us are immune to being deceived as they claim they were. It is only by the grace of God that one is able to stand. This should be a stark reminder of Paul’s warning not to put confidence in our own abilities (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The documentary essentially depicts Joshua as the leader of a cult who masqueraded as the pastor of a church. Some of the scenes in the documentary – such as a woman wailing while crawling on the floor – are disturbing to watch.
The implication of the documentary is that under TB Joshua, SCOAN operated as a cult. Joshua seduced people into the cult and kept them there through brainwashing. Many were attracted to his charisma, and he was thought to be anointed. Cults tend to target vulnerable, desperate, marginalised and idealistic people who want to transform society. They use this desire to be part of something big to gain the devotion of their followers. The cult leader uses the deference that his followers have for him to manipulate them. Since he is considered to be God’s mouthpiece on earth, questioning him would be tantamount to rebelling against God. Faked miracles give added legitimacy a leader’s claim to be a man of God thereby, causing his followers to acquiesce to his commands.
Another feature of cults is that many of its members will leave behind homes, families and friends in the belief that the cult and its leader offered them something better. He will use this to convince them that they now have no else but him to depend on. He will strip people of their individuality, knowing that conformity would mean that it would be difficult to question his authority. A cult leader will isolate anyone perceived to be a troublemaker – even family members – from the rest of his followers. Shunning is a common feature of ‘disciplining’ those who are perceived to be challenging the leader’s authority.
There are four types of people in a cult. Firstly, there is the cult leader who exerts complete control over his followers. Secondly, there are the enablers who knowingly follow the cult leader’s commands. Thirdly, there are the followers who are so brainwashed that they think what they are experiencing is normal. Lastly, there are those who know something is wrong but are afraid to speak up because they think that they will not be believed. TB Joshua – as portrayed in this documentary – fits the definition of and bears all the hallmarks of a cult leader.
This documentary reminds us that we are increasingly living in times of deception, which Jesus said would be rampant in the church before his return (Matthew 24:24). This should cause us to ponder the unhealthy way we sometimes place leaders on a pedestal. Since the pastor is seen as God’s ‘right hand man’ there is an attitude of ‘whatever he says goes.’ This breeds an environment of spiritual laziness where people do not think for themselves. It is within this environment that deception – whether on the part of leaders or followers – is able to flourish. We would all do well to copy the example of the Bereans who searched the scriptures for themselves (Acts 17:11-12). Our hope needs to rest in Jesus alone, not in any pastor or ministry. In the midst of everything, he is our only solid rock (Matthew 16:18).
The three part series, Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua, is available now on BBC iPlayer
The Synagogue Church of All Nations has not responded to the recent allegations but says previous claims against the church have been unfounded.