FAKE PASTORS: Why South Africans Fall For Them?

South Africans – like many people across the globe – are seriously susceptible to religious abuse. National media have been abuzz with an invocation of unexpected stories about manipulation, abuse and fraud by pastors. The newest example, a fake “resurrection” that made headlines around the world.  Why do South Africans fall for charlatans?

One possible reason is that faith continues to play a very significant role in South Africa. In the last household survey over 84% of South Africans indicated that they are Christians. And a 2010 Pew Report found that 74% of South Africans said that religion played an important role in their daily decisions, values and shaping of their morals. In addition, churches and religious leaders enjoy higher levels of public trust in South African society than either the government or private sector.

Some suggest that this susceptibility to religious belief is due to the moral and political failures of the state and politicians. Religious leaders and institutions gain trust in situations where the population faces high levels of economic and social vulnerability, as is the daily reality for many South Africans. Religious groups are often the only sources of care and hope.

South Africans allow charlatan pastors to win their trust, take their money and get them to engage in frightening, and even comical, quasi-religious acts because of a combination of two factors. Many South Africans have high levels of trust in religious leaders.

At the same time, there’s a great deal of economic need. In situations like this people look to “supernatural” means to solve basic problems. Research on these phenomena in countries such as Brazil and Nigeria shows similar tendencies.

People are drawn to what is known as prosperity gospel pastors because they are offered the opportunity of escaping poverty and becoming rich by means of God’s blessings. South Africans who are losing hope of gaining adequate employment, see the lavish lifestyles of prosperity gospel pastors as appealing. The message is that: obedience and sacrificial giving (to the pastor and their church) is the road to wealth.

Where there is inadequate health care, it isn’t surprising that people turn to “miracles” to find relief.  It happens in other countries around the world where religion is held in high esteem and social systems are not adequately functioning. The solution is serious reform and accountability from religious and political leaders. 

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