Fear and greed fuel the growth of African churches

It's a modern-day version of a long-running evil: children in Africa are being murdered in the name of God.

The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

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.

Inciting violence against "witches" is only part of the recipe for religious success — that's the fear part — with the rest of it coming from greed.

Church signs sprout around every twist of the road snaking through the jungle between Uyo, the capital of the southern Akwa Ibom state where Nwanaokwo lay, and Eket, home to many more rejected "witch children." Churches outnumber schools, clinics and banks put together. Many promise to solve parishioner's material worries as well as spiritual ones — eight out of ten Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day.

"Poverty must catch fire," insists the Born 2 Rule Crusade on one of Uyo's main streets.

"Where little shots become big shots in a short time," promises the Winner's Chapel down the road.

"Pray your way to riches," advises Embassy of Christ a few blocks away.

It's hard for churches to carve out a congregation with so much competition. So some pastors establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft.

So here we have a desperately poor region where the people need help…and instead, they get parasites who make promises of prosperity and blame failure on witches. Religion is the obstacle here, it doesn't help.

We can't be too smug here in comfortable America, though. Look inside Sarah Palin's church, and you see exactly the same formula of fear and greed at work. Her church even supported the work of a Kenyan witch-hunter!


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