Cult of personality surrounding TB Joshua
Songs are sung praising the ‘Man of God’ TB Joshua (link). Holy water, apparently blessed by the man himself, is sold in the church (It cured Mr Adoge from Ondo State of both erectile dysfunction and a bedwetting problem). Disciples are fiercely protective of their prophet and see him as near infallible. They respond to all criticism with TB Joshua’s own ‘quotable quotes’. All this adds up to one thing: within SCOAN, TB Joshua is accountable to no-one.
Atmosphere of accusation: beware of blasphemers!
Even judging by its the public face, SCOAN is obsessed with talk of blasphemy and false accusation. Emmanuel TV regularly broadcasts confessions by ‘blasphemers’ (in other words, those who speak ill of TB Joshua). The UK-based TB Joshua Fans blog talks of false accusers and liars and temptresses. According to ex-disciples, the atmosphere inside SCOAN is even more toxic. Disciples are allegedly encouraged to report on each other, suspect each other and compete for favour with TB Joshua. This atmosphere of constant suspicion and accusation means that supporters are prepped to dismiss all kinds of accusations against TB Joshua without a second thought. So sister so and so says that TB Joshua abused her? Of course. This is to be expected. She is a liar, being used by Satan to oppose the man of God TB Joshua.
Among disciples, talking about the past or ‘negative things’ is discouraged.
“I must always say things that are lovely and just, not condemnation or pointing fingers.” So says TB Joshua. Likewise, disciples are discouraged from talking about anything negative. A good principle, perhaps, except that ‘negative’ can have a broad meaning. Expressing discomfort about what you’ve been asked to do? That’s certainly negative talk. Talking about the past is also considered suspect; indeed, talking about anything outside of SCOAN catchphrases.
This attitude even extends to TB Joshua’s reaction to allegations against him. Rather than denying them, he responds with bland and repetitive platitudes, as shown in this same interview:“I keep doing good, choosing not to reply my accusers, even at the highest point of provocation and concerted attacks. I simply choose to pray for them.” To quote our commenter from SCOAN, “silence is the best answer for a fool”. It’s also a very convenient way of dodging legitimate criticism.
All disciples live together in a complex inside the church
Disciples, largely men and women in their 20s and 30s, sleep in large single sex dormitories inside the church complex. According to disciple’s accounts, they are prevented from marrying or having relationships, despite some staying for ten years or more. TB Joshua also has his own quarters within the complex. This physical proximity is not proof of anything untoward in itself. But it is certainly something that shapes life as a disciple in SCOAN.
TB Joshua is a Big Man in Lagos: armed guards, police control.
As well as his almost God-like status among his own disciples, TB Joshua holds considerable power in Lagos. His gargantuan church is surrounded by armed guards on his payroll, while ex-disciples claim that the local police force are loyal to him. This is an issue that we will return to.
On a related note, a recent Louis Theroux documentary about Lagos (sadly not availabe online but here’s a review) helps understand the power relations in this city. It looked at the Big Men who controlled swathes of the city, the police who collect taxes for them and the ‘area boys’; armies of unemployed youth who do their dirty work.
The above factors provide some powerful tools for the suppression of ugly truths. Is TB Joshua a rapist? We can’t know for sure. But we know that he is a wealthy and powerful patron in a chaotic and corrupt city, and a messianic leader of a cult-like movement where thought and speech is heavily controlled. We also know he is surrounded by fiercely loyal disciples who dismiss all criticism as satanic lies. In this context, gross abuses of power are certainly possible. For this reason, the numerous and serious allegations of sexual abuse should be taken seriously.