TB Joshua’s worldwide fame is founded on the miracles that are said to have taken place in his church in Lagos and in his healing services around the world. His official TV channel Emmanuel TV shows back-to-back videos of these dramatic miracles. Tens of thousands of people from all over Africa come to Lagos for healing, often at huge personal cost. But how many of them experience the life-changing miracles that are so familiar from official SCOAN accounts and videos? And how many of these stories of healing actually stand up to scrutiny?
In this post we hear from a British doctor and a former disciple who, as former followers of TB Joshua, have had several years experience of his healing ministry in Lagos. Their testimonies show that official accounts of TB Joshua’s miracles give a distorted picture of what goes on at the church, and illustrate how TB Joshua’s approach to healing leads to great suffering for many people who come to SCOAN seeking help.
Graham* from the UK spent 4 years as a disciple of TB Joshua, and as a trainee preacher he represented SCOAN around the world. He left SCOAN in 2010. Dr John Hardaker, also from the UK, was a regular visitor to SCOAN between 2002 and 2010, and joined the SCOAN mission to Haiti following the earthquake in March 2010. He ended his involvement with SCOAN in 2010 after growing concern about aspects of the ministry.
Signs and wonders?
“When I first arrived in SCOAN, I was amazed by what I saw,” says Graham. “I saw people who had seemed to have genuinely recovered from serious diseases. They had doctors certificates and there were visible changes in their condition. Seeing God at work in such a dramatic way was one of the main things that led me to becoming a disciple. I still believe that amazing things have happened there.”
Like Graham, Dr Hardaker doesn’t deny that remarkable things had happened at SCOAN. He believes there are three possible explanations for what he witnessed. “Firstly, there may have been miracles that were genuinely of God.” he says. “Secondly, there could have been things that were influenced by the occult. Finally, healings may have been entirely staged or exaggerated. It’s very hard to say now what was genuine, but I believe I saw all three of these mechanisms in action.”
God’s truth can stand scrutiny
Later in this article, Graham’s testimony will uncover some of the routine manipulation that takes place at SCOAN. But let’s assume that there have been genuine miracles at SCOAN. How should this affect our view of the ministry?
Firstly, the presence of miracles would not alone prove that TB Joshua is a man of God. As this post demonstrates, the New Testament speaks of ‘false prophets’ who will perform genuine signs and wonders while claiming to act in the name of Jesus Christ. In any case, the Bible emphasizes the need for discernment and questioning at all times: “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (Thessalonians 5:21).
Secondly, the presence of miracles would not justify SCOAN’s fierce control and manipulation of information and denial of any apparent ‘failures’. “In SCOAN, there did not seem to be room for negative findings at all.” says Dr Hardaker. “If anything negative came to light in the live meetings that might represent a failure, it was quickly marginalized, explained away, forgotten or omitted from the record.”
“As with Paul in the Bible, God sometimes chooses not to heal people,” says Dr Hardaker. But this is not a possibility that SCOAN publicly acknowledges. Many people proclaimed healed by TB Joshua have died of their illnesses shortly afterward; we at TB Joshua Watch personally know three people who have died in these circumstances. More are documented by South African journalist Jacques Pauw who we previously quoted in this article. However, these cases are never mentioned on Emmanuel TV or in any SCOAN accounts. Instead, they seek to sweep these ‘failed’ cases under the carpet.
Dr Hardaker also questions the reliability of testimonies of healing. “Too often, the only evidence for a miracle is a positive testimony, given in an emotionally charged atmosphere, by people who are desperate to believe.” he says. “They report this on Emmanuel TV with a commentary saying “How can you ask for more evidence to believe that these miracles are from God?””
Hardaker believes that this is not evidence enough. “There needs to be truly free and independent scrutiny from a group of trustworthy and impartial researchers who have access to all participants. They must have the liberty to report all findings both negative and positive. This will then get somewhere near to assessing veracity.” However, he isn’t optimistic. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine this happening at SCOAN, even on a small scale. But surely God’s truth can stand scrutiny. Why not pursue it?”
The following testimony from Graham suggests that SCOAN may have very good reasons for not pursuing the truth.
Bending the Truth: Manipulation and Deceit
In his four years as a disciple of TB Joshua, Graham became familiar with how the SCOAN system worked. “Tens of thousands of people came every week for healing” says Graham. “Obviously with so many people, it was impossible for everyone to receive individual prayer. So there was a prayer line team dedicated to selecting the most suitable people for healing.”
“The prayer line team was made up of people that had worked for TB Joshua for many years, led by junior pastors. They would go through the crowd, gathering information about people’s problems- looking for physical signs of sickness, finding out how long people have been afflicted.”
Graham explains that one of the jobs of the prayerline team was to thin out the numbers by telling people to go home. “When they came across someone with a severe illness, a junior pastor would often tell them to ‘go home and keep believing’” says Graham. “Generally, the people who were selected for healing were the less serious cases.” he says. “The team were also on the look-out for cases that could work on camera. They were very interested in having a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture.”
However, Graham began to notice that the prayerline team did a lot to make things appear more miraculous than they really were. “I’ve seen many examples of miracles being ‘embellished’ by the team. For instance, a man came who struggled with walking. But he was actually able to walk- he came to the church on foot. The prayer team came, discussed his problems, and told him he had been accepted for prayer. But first, they put him in a wheelchair. He was wheeled up to receive prayer, and when he was prayed for, he suddenly rose from the chair and walked across the hall.”
“It was presented as a miracle, but there was no change in his condition. He still walked with difficulty, just like before.”
Graham recounts another incident when the prayerline team asked someone to change their testimony. “A man came to SCOAN with his young son. He explained to the prayer line team that his son had drunk acid which had damaged his esophagus and blocked his throat. He had been unable to eat or drink, and was only able to be fed through a tube. The father said that after putting some of TB Joshua’s anointed water in his mouth, his son was once again able to eat and drink. At the time I thought this was great. It was a testimony of an impressive miracle. But I was shocked when the prayer line team decided to change the story.”
“It wasn’t good enough that the miracle happened at home. They wanted it to happen on camera. So the father told the story to camera testifying that his son was only able to be fed through his tube, not mentioning that he had already recovered. TB Joshua prayed for him and anointed him with anointed water, and declared him healed. He was then given food to eat, which he ate with no problem.”
“Again, this was presented as a great miracle. But actually the boy’s condition hadn’t changed at all since arriving at SCOAN.”says Graham. This video shows this ‘healing’ taking place. The commentary clearly states that on arriving to SCOAN, the boy was only able to be fed through his tube. Graham argues that this is deliberately deceitful.
Graham is confident that TB Joshua knew of this routine deception. “I’m pretty sure that these decisions would come from TB Joshua.” he says. “The prayerline team were constantly in contact with him.”
TB Joshua and HIV/AIDS
One of the most dramatic and controversial aspects of TB Joshua’s ministry is the supposed healing of HIV/AIDS. This is one area where deceitful claims of healing could have devastating consequences- not just for individuals, but for entire communities. How many people are genuinely healed of AIDS in SCOAN? Graham argues that again, the picture is far less rosy than Emmanuel TV suggests.
He explains how the system works: “People with HIV/AIDS had to bring a medical certificate that proved they genuinely had it. They received prayer, but were told that healing was not an instant process. They are told to continue coming to the church every week for teaching and further prayer- there were special classes for these AIDS sufferers. They’d continue to come week after week and the prophet would tell them when the time was right to get the AIDS test again.”
While AIDS victims were told to attend SCOAN classes for months after their initial prayer, a great number of people were unable to. “A lot of them couldn’t stay. For example, many people came from all around Africa. So it was impossible for them to keep attending SCOAN week after week. They had to return to their countries.”
However, even continuing to attend these classes was no guarantee of healing. “There were people who had been coming to these classes for years after receiving prayer, and they were still waiting to be told to take the test.” says Graham.
A greater burden on the sick
So what is SCOAN’s answer to those who aren’t healed? “TB Joshua teaches that God wants to heal you, but it also depends on your faith and your lifestyle.” says Graham. So if TB Joshua prays for you and declares you healed but you continue to be sick, who is responsible? “It would be implied that you are responsible. Maybe you are lacking faith, or you are still living a sinful lifestyle.”
Let’s look at the personal impact of this teaching. Put yourself in the place of someone who receives prayer at SCOAN. You are terminally ill, but have great hope and faith for healing. After the elation of receiving prayer from a great man of God, you begin to notice that your symptoms are still the same as before. What kind of thoughts would go through your mind?
“Maybe it hasn’t happened.”
“What if I’m still sick?”
“I’m going to die..”
Wouldn’t such thoughts momentarily pop up in anyone’s head, no matter how great their faith? And once you become anxious about the consequences of these doubts, imagine how much harder it is to banish them (to get some idea, close your eyes for ten seconds and try with all your strength not to think of a pink elephant). Similarly, he teaches that sinful thoughts and actions may get in the way of the healing process. Is any believer entirely free from these?
Dr John Hardaker argues that this teaching can be extremely damaging for those who have received prayer. “It leaves those already suffering from illness in a position of even greater burden.” he says. How many people have been blighted with this agony in the final few months of their lives, a time to be making peace with themselves and enjoying the company of their loved ones? At TB Joshua Watch we personally know of several such cases.
On the other hand, you could argue that this teaching is extremely convenient for TB Joshua. When claiming people are healed, he knows that if they don’t get better, his own self-proclaimed divine calling and gift of healing is never put in question.
Graham adds that the teaching of TB Joshua on this subject was far from consistent. “There were other times when he taught that his own faith was so strong that it didn’t even matter if you believed- you would be healed anyway.” he says. “There were a lot of contradictions in his teaching.”
In this article we have not set out to argue that all healing at SCOAN is fraudulent. But even if genuinely remarkable things have taken place there, there are serious questions to ask about TB Joshua’s teaching and the workings of the healing ministry in SCOAN. To summarize:
- Why is SCOAN so keen to control information, manipulate testimonies and cover up ‘failures’?
- Why does TB Joshua’s teaching, contrary to biblical teaching, not allow for the possibility that virtuous, faithful Christians are sometimes not healed?
- Why is SCOAN unwilling to put supposed miracles under outside scrutiny? Surely God’s truth can withstand questioning and examination.
Any thoughts on this are welcome in the comments section.
*Graham’s name has been changed to protect his identity. Dr Hardaker agreed to have his real name published.