I was mildly surprised this morning to read a barrage of vitriolic tweets aimed towards none other than the amiable Pastor of The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), TB Joshua. I use the term ‘mildly’ because I know he’s a controversial character whose actions usually tend to provoke strong reactions from both scales of the religious spectrum. However, the subject for this particular session of ‘online dragging’ by sharp-tongued critics was difficult to muster. Pictures and video had surfaced of the prominent cleric during a four-day prayer session at an “undisclosed prayer mountain”, in which he offered supplications regarding the world crisis, leaders, doctors, pastors and the coronavirus pandemic.
What baffles me is how the vicious scrutiny these ‘records’ received were so utterly disproportionate to their contents and the constructive message they conveyed. The main grouse of the ‘keyboard warriors’ was the fact that a cameraman followed the cleric for his prayers and such records were subsequently presented to the public. But such argument is an almost audacious display of ignorance. It’s pertinent to point out that TB Joshua is the founder of a massive media organisation called Emmanuel TV, which commands considerable worldwide viewership.
As an Emmanuel TV viewer myself, I can attest that one of Joshua’s regular programs is a session called ‘prayer for viewers’ in which he offers a variety of prayers for his listeners, the efficacy of which is seen in the multitudinous testimonies that follow. Why then should the fact that the cleric prayed publicly for his viewers – as is his customary practice – elicit such a strange backlash? It is entirely reasonable for a ‘man of people’ of TB Joshua’s stature to inform his viewers regarding his movements and offer reassuring prayers at such a time of uncertainty and fear.
Let me equally point out that ‘the man in the Synagogue’ has an almost giddy reputation for maintaining impeccable records of his life and ministry. The documentary of his life is itself an eye-opener. When the young cleric in several open-air huts surrounded by mostly children declared the beginning of his church in 1989 – a time when his name registered zero recognition – a camera was there to record The SCOAN’s birth. What prompted such a gallant conviction if not a vision of Divine origins?
The records faithfully written in the Bible serve as the basis and inspiration for the faith of millions of believers. The technological advancements of the 21st century have simply enabled an ‘upgrade’ in the manner in which records are kept – a secret TB Joshua has clearly unlocked and championed. Pushing religious inclinations aside, all lovers of technology would agree that the quality of Emmanuel TV’s broadcasting trumps every other local channel in Nigeria. Joshua has tapped into the extraordinary potential of media and social media to reach people with his message and mission. Instead of asking why the cleric would engage in such a broadcast, the question should rather be why wouldn’t he record the prayer for his 1.7million YouTube subscribers and 4 million Facebook followers?
Another set of moaners on this trending topic arbitrarily quoted the Scripture in Matthew 6 that calls on believers to pray in a secret place rather than the Pharisees who prayed “to be seen by others”. This argument also falls flat under minimal scrutiny. TB Joshua was at ‘the mountain for four days – at least 96 hours – and Emmanuel TV viewers will know he has visited such hallowed grounds for pilgrimage on numerous occasions without any attendant ‘noise’. So, why would anyone use a 15-minute clip to draw sweeping conclusions on the actions and motives of a man who sacrificed fleshly comforts in the wilderness for the purpose of prayer at a time of global crisis? Surely all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations, desire the end to this pandemic and its associated repercussions and thus agree with the premise of his prayers?
Finally, I dare any diligent believer to watch TB Joshua’s sermons and deny that the man is not thoroughly grounded in God’s Word with remarkable spiritual maturity! The substance of TB Joshua’s teachings clearly flows from a heart deeply engaged with God. Simply put, TB Joshua is a man of prayer; what we saw in the viral photographs was the public overflow of private commitment – recorded and shown for the glory of God and shame of the devil. Anyone who argues otherwise is simply exposing their blind and bigoted hatred for a man who I’m sure has done no harm to them, a man who has actually improved Nigeria’s dishevelled image on a global scale, a man who is known not to be a money-mongering minister but a champion of charity. Such a man should be cherished, not chastised. I drop my pen here.
Tawia Acheampong is a writer on religious affairs based in Accra, Ghana