Exposed: How some Pastors have turned religion into a money-making venture

These spiritual leaders of mushrooming churches offer seemingly easy solutions to complex problems. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • These modern 'prophets' have turned faith into a lucrative business, exploiting the vulnerability of their followers to make millions.

Dar es Salaam. Like in other countries across Africa, in Tanzania, a new breed of religious leaders is emerging, capitalising on the desperate to amass wealth.

These modern 'prophets' have turned faith into a lucrative business, exploiting the vulnerability of their followers to make millions.

An investigation by The Citizen has revealed that although these ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ mention the name of ‘Jesus Christ’ in their sermons, the way these altars generate millions is worth noting.

In a city where poverty is rampant and residents are desperately looking for jobs, husbands and wives to marry as well as money to quench their thirsty for various needs, these ‘apostles’ promise prosperity through giving, urging their congregants to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for blessings.

The phenomenon of these sprouting ‘churches’ has been raising concerns among social analysts and economists, who see a disturbing trend of wealth accumulation by religious leaders at the expense of their followers.

The reporter, while attending a special anointing service (during the investigation), witnessed women bringing various goods from their shops and stalls to offer as sacrifices to ‘the prophets’ in hopes of receiving greater capital.

"This is part of my capital that we were instructed to bring to the altar to receive more," said one woman. "I haven't told my husband because he wouldn't have allowed it."

This is how these believers have been made to believe, leading them to sell their possessions in exchange for the expected blessings. "My neighbour sold a plot of land, brought the money to the altar, and today he is more successful," she affirmed.

Another churchgoer shares a similar story. “I was made to believe that without the “man of god’s” blessings, I would never succeed. PHOTO | COURTESY

One anonymous source, a church usher, reveals how the famous pastors operate. “In one meeting, more than 50,000 people attend the service or crusade. Each one is required to buy anointed water at Sh10,000, olive oil at Sh20,000, salt at Sh10,000 and those who need to have a one on one with the ‘servant of god’ should plan and have at least Sh100,000.

The money collected is staggering, and only the church owner knows what to do with it.”

The usher notes that there are also special anointing where one has to buy an anointed handkerchief with not less than Sh30,000 to Sh60,000 notwithstanding other things that a prophet feels to introduce as directed by ‘god’.

Another churchgoer shares a similar story. “I was made to believe that without the “man of god’s” blessings, I would never succeed. I ended up spending all my savings on buying anointed handkerchiefs, cakes, and salt, each claimed to bring prosperity.”

These items, marketed as miraculous tools, are sold at exorbitant prices, ensuring a steady stream of income for the servants.

The sale of these 'anointed' items is not just a practice confined to Tanzania. It has roots in other countries, showing how widespread and organised this syndicate is.

“From the first day I was touched by that preacher, I don’t understand what happened because I always wanted to go and be touched again and again. Whatever he would ask of me, I would give without thinking twice,” explains a former believer, who lost faith after seeing that he was not gaining anything.

“When my faith dropped, I stopped and returned to my childhood church.”

Psychologists explain that these religious leaders exploit the psychological vulnerabilities of their followers. Dr Mwanaidi Chenge, a clinical psychologist, notes, “Desperation breeds gullibility…When people are struggling to make ends meet, they are more likely to believe in miracles and quick fixes. The prophets offer a seemingly easy solution to their problems, making them an easy target.”

The psychological manipulation is deepened by the promise of prosperity, which is rarely delivered.

Instead of teaching their followers to understand the scriptures and work towards improving their lives through sustainable means, these good-worded preachers offer a gospel of giving.

This not only perpetuates poverty but also diverts money that could be used for basic needs into the pockets of these crooks who masquerade as ‘Servants of God’.

The exploitation

The investigation found that one such church collected over Sh10 million in a single service through the sale of anointed items. The church leader, who drives luxury cars and lives in a mansion, justifies this wealth as a reward from God for his faith and leadership.

“You people instead of giving your lives to God, you keep on following what others do. I am called by God and I am only answerable to him. Do you think that we live because of people, no, it’s because of God,” he told The Citizen when contacted.

An anonymous insider disclosed: “The church owns several businesses, all registered under the man of God’s name. This ensures that the wealth stays within his control, and he pays no taxes due to the church's exempt status.

"Meeting him face to face is a long process; you have to be known—who you are, what you do, where you live, what your problem is, whether you are married, and even the names of your close people,” he explains.

The source notes that by knowing these things, it will be easy for him to tell the congregation all about you during service to show that he knew you through the Holy Spirit.”

The Tanzanian government’s exemption of religious institutions from taxes has inadvertently facilitated this exploitation, experts say.

While mainstream religions follow their holy books and focus on spiritual growth, these modern denominations prioritise material wealth, often at the expense of their followers.

The esteemed theologian and sociologist, Mr Yusuph Mkondya, says that unemployment and laziness have led many people to start churches, mostly sponsored by individuals with bad intentions.

"We see even famous people like artists and comedians becoming pastors. For some, it is a way to use their eloquence to accumulate money from their followers. Others use the church to hide their other unsavoury activities in society."

He explains that in some countries, such preachers have been caught engaging in drug and human trafficking. "Therefore, registration alone should not be the end of authorities’ keen follow up."

A global phenomenon

This trend is not unique to Tanzania. Similar cases have been reported in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and even in Western countries. These pastors/prophets/apostles use the same tactics of selling anointed items and promising prosperity.

The bigger the congregation, the larger the revenue, creating a powerful syndicate that is difficult to dismantle. In South Africa, a prophet was recently exposed for selling 'miracle' seeds, promising that they would grow into trees that bore money.

Thousands of desperate followers bought into the scam, only to find themselves poorer and disillusioned.

One anonymous source disclosed that he had been coerced into giving false testimonies by some of the famous prophets and apostles in the East African region to entice people to follow their ministries.

Such deception has been exposed in investigations like the "Jicho Pevu" report in Kenya, which revealed fake pastors engaging in manipulative practices.

Experts, such as sociologist Elisha Khamis, explain that the mushrooming of these churches contributes significantly to poverty increase in society, as money that could be used for development is instead funnelled into the pockets of these unscrupulous leaders.