On “Witchcraft” and the Spiritual Abuse of Children

This is a cross-post by Joseph Weissman

Last night I watched Britain’s Witch Children on Channel Four, which should be available on 4od. The programme highlights how African evangelical pastors in London identify children within their congregations as ‘witches’ or ‘demon-possessed’. I would highly recommend you to watch this programme if you haven’t already, in order to further appreciate the horrors of religious manipulation and spiritual abuse.

I would have liked to see a black evangelical pastor explaining why these practices are so hideous from a theological perspective, in case anyone were to imagine that this were generically an ‘African evangelical’ problem. There are plenty of mainly-white churches where such terrible abuses occur.

My fear is that a minority of British church-goers who watched the show may tacitly assume that all African churches believe in child witchcraft, when this is not the case at all. I know African evangelical pastors who are disgusted by these practices. I worshipped in a church for sub-Saharan African immigrants for several weeks during my time in North Africa, and felt lifted in my spiritual journey at times. I’ve also attended a fine Pentecostal church in Leeds with large African numbers, and know some delightful people who attend.

Depressingly though, the documentary showed me that child spiritual abuse is far more widespread in British churches than I had cared to realise.

So what can we do?

We should recognise the excellent work of Christian groups like the Bethany’s Children Trust, and secular organisations like Make a Pact and Stepping Stones Nigeria, and support their campaigns.

We should all sign the PACT.

Richard Bartholomew, in his expert post on this subject, writes:

Pastors in the UK or abroad who stigmatise children as witches need to be rebuked and rejected by their peers, and efforts should be undertaken to educate churchgoers about the subject. It would be nice not to have to still be blogging about this subject in another four years.


Bartholomew highlights a statement from the Evangelical Alliance made in 2007:

The Evangelical Alliance unreservedly condemns all forms of child abuse, and considers any accusation of witchcraft levelled at a child to be abusive, immoral and unbiblical.

It is encouraging that the EA saw fit to comment on this issue, and I hope that many other pastors and community leaders in the UK will do too.

Bartholomew has written many posts on this issue, which I think are really worth paying attention to.

As for the programme itself, there were so many horrifying moments. For me the saddest incident was the case of Nzuzi Mayingi, a Congolese evangelical who loved his wife and child deeply. After Mayingi’s pastor Dieudonne Tukala told Mayingi that his son was demon-possessed, Mayingi became a different man and stopped loving his son. Mayingi was encouraged to beat his family and eventually threw them out onto the streets. Eighteen months later, Mayingi committed suicide.

The programme also touched on the case of Victoria Climbie, who was allegedly accused of witchcraft by pastor Alvaro Lima of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in London (UKCG). According to Lima, Climbie had told him that Satan had told her to burn herself. [Lima has since defended himself in the media, protesting against accusations against him of negligence, pointing out that the Charity Commission did not name him or accuse him of any wrongdoings in its investigation.]

My heart went out to some of the people featured on the programme. There was one girl whose pastor allegedly convinced her to have sex with him in order to cleanse her from her “demons.” The girl realised she had been spiritually abused and physically violated (“to be honest, it felt like rape”), and recorded a subsequent conversation with her pastor, in which he told her that it was God’s will for them to have sex twenty-one times in order for her to fully heal spiritually.

Rightly or wrongly, many people instinctively trust their spiritual leader, due to the special way they are connected. The cleric delivers weekly messages from God to the parishioner, equipping this person with appropriate wisdom to get through life and make sense of the world. In a ‘spiritual’ relationship just as in any other type of relationship, trust is essential, and when this trust is abused for selfish gain, all kinds of evils are possible.

In another setting, that girl could have been any of us.