Recently a pastor died. A Cameroonian faith healer, Prophet Frankline Ndifor died a week after battling with the coronavirus. Ndifor's death is linked to a violation of COVID19 guidelines. He was laying hands on those with confirmed cases of COVID19. A pastor has also died in Port Harcourt in a similar circumstance. There may have been some other unreported cases of faith healing pastors who have died after laying hands on COVID19 patients. This is a sad development.
Some weeks ago, I urged the Nigerian authorities to sanction a pastor, Apostle Suleman, for claiming that he could heal a COVID19 patient. He asked the government to allow him into the isolation centers so that he could heal those with confirmed cases of this disease. I saw this move as potentially damaging to public health. At a time that the health authorities were grappling to understand and contain the spread of the infection, and the WHO had issued guidelines that included not touching an infected person, I made it clear that Apostle Suleman’s claim was reckless and irresponsible. I added that prayer or laying hands on persons with the disease was not among the guidelines that WHO approved for the management of the virus. In fact laying hands on sufferers violates the guidelines.
Apostle Suleman did not take it kindly. He took to his twitter to denounce me for saying that prayers could not heal COVID19 patients. He declared that I was spewing “nonsense”. He added that “God is bigger than covid19”. This statement reminded me of another incident. I quickly recalled that an American pastor who made such a statement died shortly after saying this. It occurred to me that a pastor had died and another pastor wanted to die. Will I standby and allow it?
To further dissuade him and other pastors who might want to embark on this high-risk prayer activity, I challenged Apostle Suleman to heal a COVID19 patient and get a thousand dollars. I stated that the healing would take place under agreed medical and scientific conditions. In response Suleman promised to send me details of those that he had healed (He never did). He went further to attack me for being ‘broke and poor’. Suleman sent his church members after me and they were abusing and attacking me. One of them phoned and as soon as I picked the phone she said, “You need Jesus. You need Jesus”. And she cut off the phone. Others sent me threatening messages on Twitter and Facebook. Some of the members sent messages via Facebook asking if I was ready to sleep without waking up and if I was no longer interested in being alive. I came under pressure from family members who felt that I was putting them at risk. Some relatives were concerned that they could be attacked by the goons of Apostle Suleman. Some friends called and emailed asking why I offered a rich pastor like Suleman, a thousand dollars, to heal a patient. I later increased the amount to five thousand dollars. A few called to inform me that I should have kept quiet, that I should refrain from criticizing other people's beliefs. I was so disappointed that many people including Apostle Suleman missed the point.
I did not want Suleman to suffer the same fate as this Cameroonian pastor. I did not want him to inspire other pastors to go that route. By the time I was having exchanges with Suleman, an American pastor who said that God was bigger than COVID19 had died. I did not want another pastor, and more pastors to die. I did not want this virus of evangelical recklessness to spread and complicate efforts to contain the pandemic. In the desperate quest to grow their churches and accumulate wealth clerics make irresponsible healing claims that too often endanger their lives and the health of others. Those who understand how potentially harmful these declarations are should endeavor to call out these men and women of God. They should challenge them to demonstrate the potency, safety, and efficacy of their claims. Faith healing should not be taken for granted anymore especially as the world is battling with a vicious pandemic. Faith healing claims have serious repercussions on public health.
We should not keep quiet and allow these charlatans to misinform and mislead the society, and promote habits and sentiments that accelerate the spread of diseases. We should not allow clerical con artists to continue to mine popular desperation and gullibility. Faith healing beliefs and activities of pastors have been linked to COVID19 related deaths and spread. In the case of Prophet Ndifor, a faith healing pastor has died. Another faith healing pastor has died in Nigeria. And in the case of Apostle Suleman, another faith healing pastor wants to die. We should stop him!
Written by Leo Igwe