Research: Prophets are followed even by the rich, not just the poor

“While the majority of congregants, like the majority of South Africans, are typically poor and dependent on social grants, these churches also count significant numbers of professionals, business people and increasingly, politicians, in their ranks.”

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Social Anthropology lecture at the prestigious Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Ilana van Wyk, says it not true that it’s only the poor and uneducated that follow prophets such as Bushiri.

The renowned scholar has made his take in an opinion published on the online intellectual debates site The Conversations.

He was responding to Christian commentators who have been calling for urgent government intervention to protect poor people duped by the improbable promises made by what they termed as “scam” churches and “fake prophets”.

Writes Ilana van Wyk: “My research showed that prosperity gospel churches attract people from all walks of life and a variety of educational backgrounds.

“While the majority of congregants, like the majority of South Africans, are typically poor and dependent on social grants, these churches also count significant numbers of professionals, business people and increasingly, politicians, in their ranks.”

She argues that prosperity gospel believers are not captive victims of so-called cult leaders.

Ilana van Wyk also that she struggles to convince people that those who subscribe to this gospel are not simply credulous dupes.

“For its followers, prosperity gospel is not a con; rather, just a different approach to their God,” she writes.

Ilana van Wyk is an anthropologist and she has been studying prosperity gospel churches in South Africa for nearly a decade. She has attended hundreds of daily services, watched scores of televised ones, analysed websites and chat forums and interviewed hundreds of prosperity gospel believers.

Unlike theologians who argue about the legitimacy of Biblical interpretations and questions of doctrine, Ilana van Wyk has been interested in the kinds of people who swear undying support for men like Prophet Bushiri.

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