• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Bishop who Consecrated Helen Ukpabio as an “Apostle” Speaks at Lakeland Mega-Church

Ignited Church is a neo-Pentecostal mega-church in Lakeland, Florida, pastored by Stephen Strader. The church came to prominence in 2008 when it hosted Todd Bentley and the “Lakeland Revival” – an event which various neo-Pentecostal leaders promised would herald a new dawn, but which instead ended in fiasco and sexual scandal for Bentley. Strader’s church still enjoys a high profile within neo-Pentecostalism; a newsletter that was posted to InJesus (now in Google cache) advertises some “Special Events”, including

1. April 14  Bishop NE Moses

Bishop Moses is a high-profile Nigerian evangelist, and he featured on this blog in February when I noted his consecration of Helen Ukpabio as an “Apostle” the previous August. Ukpabio, as I have blogged numerous times, teaches that personal misfortune can be caused by “child witches” who need to undergo “deliverance”; the idea of “child witches” has caused a great deal of misery in Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, and in other parts of Africa. International exposure of the situation has had some positive results, with state governor Godswill Akpabio promising laws against witchcraft accusations and recognition for Sam Ikpe-Itauma, who runs a hostel for children stigmatised as witches. Ukpabio, however, has fought back: she warned Akpabio to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”, and set her lawyers and police on Ikpe-Itauma, whom she accuses of being a “wizard”. Members of her church also invaded a conference on subject organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe.

Bishop Moses praised the attack on Leo’s conference in his ranting speech at Ukpabio’s “Apostolic” consecration:

You did the right thing. Listen, you did the right thing. We shall not run and get into our bedrooms. We shall not allow the enemy to take over. Do you understand what I’m saying?… The enemy is attacking! Witches attacking! Wizards attacking! Atheists attacking!

Bishop Moses’ visit to Lakeland is not his only association with Strader; in 2003, Strader reported to supporters (also in Google cache, but not directly accessible) that

We are in Lagos, Nigeria doing a “Spiritual Release” Conference for Pastors & Lay Leaders… Our hosts, Bishop N.E. Moses is so WONDERFUL! He and his wife are catering our meals to our hotel room to ensure that we get safe, home cooked African meals!

Of course, I’m sure that Strader does not share Bishop Moses’ enthusiam for Ukpabio, and that he is just as appalled as most other people by the plight of children accused of witchcraft. However, neo-Pentecostalism is a transnational movement, and it is natural that American neo-Pentecostal leaders will want to avoid public controversies that might damage international unity or give the impression that Africans are not equal partners. Clearly, there are also bonds of personal friendship.

At the same time, though, neo-Pentecostalism claims to be a movement which is guided by God, often in very specific ways, and the mantle of “Apostle” is meant to signify particular spiritual authority; Strader himself is an “Apostle”, and a member of Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). Ukpabio is not an ICA “Apostle”, but her Apostolic endorsement by a man who has links to someone who is an ICA member does not give a particularly good impression. And it’s not the only unfortunate association with “child-witches”; in 2006 I noted links between a Wagner associate named Gwen Shaw and Combat Spirituel in Congo.

ICA “Apostles” are not shy when it comes to explaining how God is working through them as leaders to achieve various goals; surely, therefore, they should be up to the task of challenging a distortion of neo-Pentecostal Christianity which is responsible for widespread tragic consequences?