AMONG the 117 emails I received after the publication of my article, By Their Waistlines Ye Shall Know Them, there was one particularly thoughtful one that raised an important problem.

If I were to put into my own words the emailer’s line of inquiry, the issue that he raised was this: Does the New African Flamboyant Prophet (NAFP) possess some kind of spiritual power, making the relevant question only one of what the source of such power is, or is he a non-spiritual operator faking his ‘miracles’ by clever, non-mystical means, that is, operating as a stuntman and confidence trickster? Or do we have a mix of things going on here, a belt-and-suspenders strategy of sorts whereby the NAFP mixes sorcery with contrivances of practical deception here and there – somewhat like a superstitious secondary school soccer team that will lead their ritual goat onto the playing field and have it urinate on the opponents’ goal line, while also having been in camp as a team, training very hard?

So, for example, can Shepherd Bushiri actually levitate, or did some hidden bouncers lift him by the armpits as he descended the last rungs of the staircase in his Gauteng mansion, at the moment when the camera moved to only focus on his elegantly-shod feet?

To begin with, it is obvious that the NAFP is a varied phenomenon. That the NAFPs are not meaningfully understood in their complex variety is exactly why last week I expressed disappointment with the poor quality of journalistic and sociological inquiry into this important contemporary African development. And that is why I decried the poverty of theological reflection on the part of genuine pastors and prophets, who should be edifying the Christian pilgrims of this continent in their search for truth.

And, needless to say if your NAFP is indeed a real disciple of Christ who is helping advance the frontiers of the kingdom of our loving God, if the last time you saw your NAFP you looked at his waistline and didn’t have a problem with what you saw, then you need not be bothered. You need not threaten me with boils and pestilence: I do not believe that every person who uses the appellation ‘prophet’ is false.

Nor, conversely, am I saying every prophet I have not discussed in detail is genuine. My articles just cite some blatant illustrative examples. They also do not question the existence of some genuine men of God. If however, by the counsel of the Holy Spirit you have begun to ask questions and have some lingering doubts about your NAFP, then, as we go into the next paragraphs, put on your seat belt, or, if you are a NAFP yourself or particularly close to one, your belt and suspenders.

NAFPs are a complex phenomenon, and they come in different leagues. Penuel Mnguni’s congregants gather at a working class house in Soshanguve, and it is obvious from his low-tech infrastructure that he is not in the premier league financially. On the other hand, at the height of his swagger, Zimbabwe’s Uebert Angel could arrive at a service in a helicopter. And Oyedepo in Nigeria, after slapping the woman kneeling before him, can go on a holiday overseas in his private jet. There are many varieties in between.

Therefore, in terms of needing it at any given time, clearly money matters in ways that are different from one NAFP to the next. In terms of how NAFPs get money, let us consider two cases that suggest two levels at which money is sought.

The Jicho Pevu investigative work on “Pastor” Kanyari in Kenya exposed some practical, non-spiritual deceptions: accomplices being coached to dramatise their deceit; lieutenants being bought with shillings to come into an inner circle; actors being made of some vulnerable members of the flock. This is one level of operation by a given NAFP in his pursuit of riches. It is a practical conman’s entrepreneurship, nothing spiritual there.

For a second one, I go to my notebook and the notes I made during a service of Uebert Angel’s that I attended here in South Africa. I wrote then:

“His topic today is “miracle money”. We are a mixed congregation, roughly half black, half white. Angel is wearing designer jeans, and a pick shirt. He speaks about a day when he had “minus 2″ pound sterling in his bank account in the UK, and no food in the house. Citing some verses, he says he went to an ATM machine and commanded it to give him money, and the machine suddenly registered 2000 pounds in his account. As he speaks now, he says, he has a lot of money. He doesn’t wear a shirt that costs less than 1000 pounds. He recently auctioned one of his shirts, he says, and a follower bid ten thousand US dollars for it…/…At this point he is talking about his luxurious cars, and mesmerizing the audience with details of their high-power car technology…”

Against this background, Uebert Angel has claimed that he is worth at least sixty million dollars. Let us take him at his word, in the sermon that I have reported on. The logic is simple here. Uebert Angel is saying that he has the power to have money unnaturally multiply for him. Either he is lying, which is alarming, or he is telling the truth, which is telling.

If we suppose that he is telling the truth, what then is the source of this power, and how do we reconcile it with the more garden variety crook story of Angel allegedly conning the keys of a Bentley out of the hands of one of his flock? For a powerful Angel, having the multitudes shivering and falling and kneeling before him, what happens when we then see him almost worshipful as he kneels before Victor Boateng at the airport, as the latter arrives in his designer jeans, ray ban glasses, and large James Bond belt? Given that Boateng himself has not built up anything of note in Ghana or elsewhere, in terms of size of congregation or wealth, what is happening here?

And how is Angel a minus 2 pounds man on day one, a 2000 pounds man two hours later, a 60 million dollar man three years later, and an alleged fugitive from justice for a common survivor’s con a couple of years later? What explains these vicissitudes? And what explains the anxiety, the palpable fear of the spiritual fathers, in money terms? What explains the belt-and-suspenders strategies we have seen in Kanyari and Angel and others in the pursuit of wealth, and the leapfrog economics that we see in the lives of some of the NAFPs?

The issue is, if these powers are Luciferian, then NAFPs’ lifestyles are precarious in the extreme. Their ultimate master is not faithful. Satan being the scumbag that he is, is a cheat, a fraud, and a conjurer. And he is an exacting master. So, at any point in time, an NAFP has no guarantee that the touch is still there. He really cannot be certain that shadowy input will always produce expected output. This is why the fame of the NAFP, and often their riches, are ephemeral, a nine-day wonder, and there is always among these personalities a built-in competitiveness, and you suddenly see a new prophet, a new sensation in town from time to time: as in, a new prophet has come into town with more mesmerising soccer results predictions and signs and wonders these days.

This precariousness also accounts for the NAFPs’ perpetual anxiety and restlessness, including their nauseating grovelling in the presence of their spiritual fathers. There is that moment when Boateng is in Harare, and either a miracle or a “miracle” has been performed, and Boateng as spiritual father is sitting smiling, beaming his approval, colourful shirt untucked in, be-jeaned legs astride, one leg draped over the armrest of his VIP chair. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and as you look at that picture you see reverence in the house of God, and an attribution of the power that has been displayed to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, look again.

So, again, we cannot know the hearts of men; only God can, for the Holy Spirit searches the depths of all things. But we have a God-given responsibility to open our eyes, to study, and to think. And to seek the discernment that comes of the Holy Spirit. As we have just seen in Paris, there are many confused haters that are visiting violence and death upon innocent people in the name of God, clearly on account of an unthinking adherence to the teachings of self-serving and corrupt religious leaders.

God therefore cares about our diligence and thoughtfulness in things that concern his kingdom. That is why in the account of how the gospel was being received among the people of Berea as contrasted with those of Thessalonica, the medical doctor Luke quotes with approval the studious habits of the people of Berea, who after interacting with the Apostle Paul would retire to their libraries to see how history, philology, and other sources of knowledge correlated with the wonderful news of Jesus Christ that they had heard. That way they became informed Christians.

As informed Christians, we would refuse to be stripped naked in church, or fed snakes or be jumped upon or slapped in church. As informed Christians, especially us women, we would refuse to be sexually assaulted by these NAFPs, refusing all these vile acts ranging from having our breasts fondled by “men of God”, spreading our garments for the philandering feet of so-called Dr Masotsha to walk over, having our pregnancies pumped under the soles of the feet of misogynistic NAFPs in West Africa, to congregating around Gumbura to be defiled and abused in demonic and unnatural sexual encounters so spiritualised that, as one co-wife reported of another in those disgusting Gumbura-gate leaks, she left his bedroom disoriented, clothes worn the wrong way, all the way from Harare to Kwekwe.

The basic reality is that, that desperado Lucifer is at work. As a spirit that fell with one third of the host of angels in his rebellion, he is capable of unnatural operations, whose effects are observable and verifiable. Since by Scriptural insight we know that angels have higher informational and kinetic potential than human beings, stuff does happen. It is therefore important for Christians be on their guard. In seeking communion with God, and fellowship with others who love him, in being part of the body of Christ, let us remember that Jesus admonished that we keep our diligence and common sense, being as unassuming as doves but alert as serpents.

In the case of our journalists, theologians, sociologists, and others, you should use your intellectual talents and academic training to help protect God’s children from charlatans. Make a contribution. Specifically on this matter of NAFPs, what is needed is dedicated investigation into basic things surrounding this phenomenon which has taken the continent by storm. High level dimensions of inquiry (which in turn could each be broken down) might include:

– A systematic examination of the biographies of NAFPs: who were they before they bounced on stage in flashy suits; and what’s their own narrative about themselves before they became prophets?

– What are their individual pathways to wealth? Invariably they will respond to a reporter or interviewer by saying they are big businessmen. Nobody has systematically followed up with basic questions about the specificity of their business enterprises. 

– Who else in their churches has access to the books? Do those other people’s mathematics about what goes in and out of the church coffers add up, and how does it square with the mathematics given by the NAFP?

– What precisely does the NAFP’s spiritual father (SP) provide the NAFP? Where did they meet? How did the NAFP identify the SP? What is the SP himself’s own profile and credentials? Who is he? 

– Where did the NAFP train as a theologian? When they visited Ghana or Nigeria, or whatever other pilgrimage they made before embarking in their ministry, what drew them to that country? Did they get any further training, if so, in what? Where did they stay when they visited that country? Who facilitated the meetings? How long did they stay there? 

– Regarding the wrist-bands, oil, and other artefacts that they use in their church, what’s the business model? Are they given for free or are they sold?

Ultimately, it is painful when the mighty name of God is misrepresented by the shenanigans of some of these New African Flamboyant Prophets. Or when innocent Christian seekers are abused in the most grotesque of ways, as we have been witnessing. Or when things of God are presented as if they were foolish, or for foolish people.

For we know that God, three in one with our Saviour Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, is the most amazing intelligence there is, as many cutting edge thinkers – from St Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther, from Augustine of Hippo to the physicist Isaac Newton – came to realise each in his own epoch.

As David – head of a nation that was consistently literate and literary over centuries, the Jewish nation, “people of the book”, and himself as their philosopher king obviously being a man who had access to the best libraries and counsellors in the Kingdom – noted in the dimensions of God’s divine intelligence that he acknowledged in that eloquent Psalm, Psalm 19, and as his son Solomon – reputed for his knowledge – discovered and bequeathed to us in his insight that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (my emphasis), God’s intelligence is of such magnitude and direction that, were he to ask us along with Job where we were when he laid the foundations of the universe, and upon what scaffolding they rest, we would have no words.

Let not a snake-wielding Soshanguve crook distort such a beautiful and Holy name in the eyes of those that seek God’s face.