Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Reinhard Bonnke and Witchcraft

Attendees burn "witchcraft" items at CFAN gospel crusade rally in Abakaliki, Nigeria.

German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, founder of the international ministry Christ for All Nations (CFAN), has preached at Christian gatherings across the globe. His rallies in Africa draw thousands of attendees, and CFAN reports from the rallies speak of faith healings and ecstatic religious experiences. However, these same reports also speak of burning "witchcraft" items, and Bonnke has spoken of breaking alleged witchcraft curses at his rallies. Given the prevalence of violence against those accused of witchcraft in parts of Africa, Bonnke's rhetoric troubled me.

In sub-Saharan Africa, belief in witches still persists, as does fear of their alleged powers. Human rights organizations and news sources have reported on cases of people accused of being witches and then subjected to exorcisms, rejection by family, torture, or murderChildren are also be victims of witchcraft allegations, and cases of child abuse involving witchcraft paranoia abound. According to a 2010 UNICEF report, witchcraft allegations have been exploited by both traditional healers and charismatic churches in sub-Saharan Africa. Pastor-prophets identify supposed witches through dreams or visions, thereby reinforcing beliefs in witchcraft and witchcraft allegations.

Thus, when I watched a video of Reinhard Bonnke speaking of witchcraft and curses at a rally in Oshogbo, Nigeria, I was alarmed. Nigeria has witnessed witchcraft accusations and horrific violence as well, prompting a formal investigation in Akwa Ibom earlier this year. Although Bonnke did not advocate violence or persecution of accused witches, I fear that encouraging belief in witches and witchcraft is extremely irresponsible in that cultural environment.

GOD TV has posted excerpts from several CFAN events online, and I watched a video of Bonnke speaking at a "Classic Crusade" rally in Oshogbo, Nigeria. Speaking through a Yoruba interpreter, Bonnke focused on the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus. I found one particular metaphor at the 21:30 mark amusing because of its erroneous assumptions about genetics.

"Medical science tells us that the baby always gets the blood from the father, the father, not the mother. This is a medical fact. So if there is to doubt as to the paternity of a certain child ... there are three men who could have been the father of that baby, God forbid. This is just an illustration, okay? The medical doctor would take blood samples from those three men in question and the baby, and then the doctor under the microscope can see the connection of the father with the baby in the blood. And the doctor will then say to one of those three men, you sir, you in the middle, you are the biological father of this baby. Here is the proof. Here is the proof. The proof is in the blood ... Now, let me ask you a question here, and I'm asking you to reply, please. Who was the father of Jesus? [Audience replies "God"] You people here in Oshogbo are all highly educated. Your answer is perfect. Yes! Yes! You see, if Joseph had been the father of Jesus, the blood of Jesus would have had no power to wash away the sin of anybody."
Metaphor notwithstanding, the genetic material of both parents determines the blood type of the child, actually. (See here and here.)

More on topic, Bonnke's talk was peppered with claims about witchcraft and sorcerers. At the 7:58 mark of the video, Bonnke vowed to use his holy authority to lift witchcraft curses and exorcise evil spirits.

"I am going to exercise the authority that Jesus Christ has given me, and I will break every witchcraft curse in the name of Jesus. Jesus said in my name they shall cast out devils. Tonight I will cast out every devil in the name of Jesus."
At the 47:16 mark, he reiterated that conversion to Christianity would cast out evil spirits.
"In a few moments, I'm going to pray for you to be washed in the precious blood of Jesus, and something fantastic will happen inside of you. All the garbage comes out. All the devils will go, and you will become perfectly washed in the blood of Jesus."
Later, Bonnke told the crowd a story of three demons observing someone who had been marked with the blood of Jesus. The big demon warned the two smaller demons not to touch those marked with Jesus' blood, lest a legion of angels defend the believer. Soon thereafter, at the 62:10 mark, Bonnke emphasized that the blood of Jesus allegedly provides superior protection from witches and curses.
"The blood of Jesus is not just here to wash us from our sins, but it is perfect protection from all curses, from all witches, from all evil, in the name of Jesus. You need no fetishes, you need no juju, you need no witchcraft medicine. You don't need anything, because the blood of Jesus is our perfect, most perfect, most glorious and wonderful protection."
Fetishes, he claimed, attract demons and bind them to the holder of the fetish. At the 67:56 mark, he admonished listeners to dispose of magical objects if they wanted to have powerful faith experiences.
"If you want to have a mighty breakthrough with Jesus, you cannot keep all the juju in your pockets, and around your wrists, and around your neck, and under your mattress, and under blanket, and under your pillow. Those items from the witch doctors, they don't keep the demons away. They bring the demons to you and tie them to you."
Bonnke shared several anecdotes about supposed bewitchings and run-ins with sorcerers. At the 63:52 mark, he claimed that sorcerers tried unsuccessfully to call forth rain to ruin his preaching event.
"Years back I was in Gabon, and I was preaching on a huge field. I preached in the evening, and in the afternoon all the sorcerers and the the witch doctors were gathering on our crusade field to do their hocus-pocus. They wanted to bewitch us. They wanted to bring rain so that Bonnke couldn't preach, but they couldn't make it rain. From the meeting I went back to the hotel. I slept. Five o-clock I got up to pray. I pulled the curtains back, I opened the windows, and I looked out. I couldn't believe my own eyes. There were the sorcerers walking around the hotel, doing their enchantments or whatever they did, and they were completely naked, I mean completely. When I opened the window, I said, "Hello! I am sorry for you. You worked the whole night so hard, and I slept so well."
Later, at the 69:00 mark, he claimed that a mother and father brought their mute daughter to him for healing. The girl was allegedly cured once a bewitched fetish was taken off her person.
"Their daughter was dumb. For two years, she had not spoken, not one word, and asked for prayer. When I looked at the girl, I saw a very special necklace around her neck. The parents said this necklace was from the witch doctor. I told them that they've got to cut it off or Jesus cannot heal the girl. The parents started to cry. They said "No no no! The witch doctor said the day we cut the necklace, our daughter will die." We said, "No! The witch doctor is a servant of Satan, and Satan is the father of all lies. Cut it off, and your daughter will be healed." They said, "No no no no!" I said bye-bye and walked away, and and they started to cry. "Please come back. We are willing to cut it off." God is my witness. Same split-second that necklace was cut off, that girl shouted "Hallelujah!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Bonnke was reinforcing superstitious beliefs among his listeners, describing alleged "witch doctors" and "sorcerers" as agents of Satan. He disparaged folk magic not because it was false, but because he believed it to be all too real. As the talk went on, Bonnke beseeched listeners to dump fetishes into large metal bins to be burned, eventually praying that all curses afflicting audience members be dispelled. In his prayer, he called upon the name of Jesus to dispel divination, occultism, ancestor worship, broken homes, and "sexual perversion", among other things, denouncing Yoruba deities such as Oshun, Shango, and Mami Wata. Thus, witchcraft, Yoruba religion, and a host of real or perceived social ills were condemned as antithetical to Christian faith.

I do not believe that Bonnke wishes anyone physical harm, and I heard no calls for violence in the video. Bonnke may genuinely believe what he preaches, or he may simply be appealing to an audience seeped in folk magic. Nevertheless, I found his rhetoric on witchcraft irresponsible, as it has the potential to inflame hostilities surrounding witchcraft.

To learn more about CFAN or to read CFAN event reports, click here

For more information on witchcraft accusations in sub-Saharan Africa, visit the following links.

UNICEF: Children Accused of Witchcraft: An Anthropological Study of Contemporary Practices in Africa

Stepping Stones Nigeria: Report on Accusations of Witchcraft Against Children in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Stepping Stones Nigeria: Witchcraft Accusations: A Protection Concern for UNHCR and the Wider Humanitarian Community?

E. Miguel: Poverty and Witch Killing


  1. The hypocrisy and stupidity are just astounding.

  2. Noodlepoodlee -- Indeed they are. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud!

  3. It is not two steps further down the path to get from communion to witchcraft and the spells and incantations purported to thwart it.

  4. Nance -- According to reports, preachers and "healers" make a pretty penny on anti-witchcraft efforts and exorcisms in that part of the world.

  5. Well, you know belief in witchcraft is Biblical. Of course, killing witches is a Biblical principle as well. I hope the more-gentle hand of the New Testament will prevent Bonnke from going that far.

    The trouble is that by singling out these witches, some people are likely to act out against them according to OT law without Bonnke's direction.

  6. Wise Fool -- I hope he never goes that far too. Bonnke should know better than to inflame such fears in that cultural climate.

  7. Typical evangelical MO: take advantage of the buzz around town. Really, it's no different from selling vitamins or cars. If witchcraft sells, that's what the preachers are going to use. It's disgusting.

  8. Lorena -- It all seems so bizarre, using any tactic to win converts.

  9. This is an illustration of how the religious and/or unscrupulous manipulate the uneducated. The answer to empowering the masses against manipulation via superstition and irrationality is education.

  10. Cognitive Dissenter -- A loud and resounding AMEN!


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