Christians Hunting Witches (Again)

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I’ve written before about how witchcraft persecutions have become an international problem, how that fanaticism is slowly being exported to the “civilized” West and is cross-pollinating with the first-world churches that support them, but that hardly prepares one for the shock and horror of knowing that these (often American-funded) Christian churches are directly responsible for the death, mutilation, and exile of children.

“His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse. A month later, he died. Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files. Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” “It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity,” said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.”

Many of these witch-hunting pastors belong to churches that are members of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) who say they can’t police their membership, though they can find it within themselves to collect membership dues. Indeed, the persecution of children for witchcraft is so “mainstream” in places like Nigeria that even the popular mega-pastors admit to horrid abuses.

“Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar … Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man’s eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft … “Witchcraft is real,” Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ukpabio says she performs non-abusive exorcisms for freeHowever, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl’s jaw during an exorcism. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.” and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials. “I don’t know about that,” she declared.

Ukpabio is very much like the “spiritual warriors” here in America, except that her accusations of witchcraft and demonic possession fuel a trend of death and sorrow.

“Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket … There are nearly 60 branches of Liberty Gospel across the Niger Delta. It was started by a local woman, mother-of-two Helen Ukpabio … Many people in this area credit the popular evangelical DVDs she produces and stars in with helping to spread the child witch belief. Ita denies charging for exorcisms but acknowledges his congregation is poor and has to work hard to scrape up the donations the church expects. ‘To give more than you can afford is blessed. We are the only ones who really know the secrets of witches. Parents don’t come here with the intention of abandoning their children, but when a child is a witch then you have to say “what is that there? Not your child.” The parents come to us when they see manifestations. But the secret is that, even if you abandon your child, the curse is still upon you, even if you kill your child the curse stays. So you have to come here to be delivered afterwards as well,’ he explains patiently.”

The plight of “child witches'” is well known now, so where is the outrage and orchestrated refusal to send money to witch-hunting churches? Where is the Pentecostal-led movement to reverse this trend and isolate people like Helen Ukpabio? It seems almost non-existent, instead, acknowledged witch-hunters have been feted in America, giving blessings to prominent politicians. As for Ukpabio, she is no longer isolated to West Africa, and has a church in Rome. How far will this madness spread before the hundreds of church-bodies who have a stake in Africa do something?

“Please stop the pastors who hurt us,” said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. “I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch.”

For those who want to help the witch-children, two good organizations to send money to are Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN (Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network). We can also urge the press to continue to ask difficult questions of American churches that support witch-hunters but plead ignorance.