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?

10 Responses

  1. Richard Bartholomew wrote: “Of course, I’m sure that Strader does not share Bishop Moses’ enthusiasm for Ukpabio, and that he is just as appalled as most other people by the plight of children accused of witchcraft.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure. Wich-hunting, albeit usually in not-quite-as-lethal forms, is a built-in part of the theology of the “New Apostolic Reformation,” notably their teachings on “strategic level spiritual warfare” and “occult level spiritual warfare,” especially when coupled with the explicitly theocratic “seven mountains mandate.”

    “Occult level spiritual warfare” necessarily involves witch hunting, at least on the level of prayer against suspected witches, and sometimes — even here in the U.S.A. — it translates into more than just prayer.

    For example, the well-known now-disgraced former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard used to brag about having driven “witches” out of town.  (About Ted Haggard, see Soldiers of Christ: Inside America’s Most Powerful Megachurch by Jeff Sharlet, Harper’s Magazine, November 2, 2006.  This article includes the following: “He sent teams to pray in front of the homes of supposed witches — in one month, ten out of fifteen of his targets put their houses on the market. His congregation ‘prayer-walked’ nearly every street of the city.”) Before his sex scandal, Ted Haggard was a close associate of C. Peter Wagner.

    “Strategic level spiritual warfare” is all about exorcising “territorial” demons and thereby claiming physical territory for the kingdom of Christ. “Strategic level spiritual warfare” necessarily involves an attitude of conquest. Even if done nonviolently, it is naturally likely to lead to attempts to marginalize anyone who is perceived as consorting with demons. Such attempts are especially likely when those doing the “strategic level spiritual warfare” are also advocates of full-blown theocracy.

    Anyhow, thanks very much for clarifying the relationship between Helen Ukpabio and C. Peter Wagner’s Internaltional Coalition of Apostles.

    • Thanks for the feedback, but I imagine that by “witches”
      Haggard and co mean people who identify with religious practices that incorporate “magic” in some way – e.g. various Pagan, occultic/esoteric, or New Age goups. Of course, that’s still bullying, and likely to lead to paranoia, but it’s not quite the same thing as denouncing someone as a “secret” witch.

      • This is a matter that needs further research. But it is my impression that a lot of “new Apostolic”-type Charismatic Christians do indeed worry about “secret” witches, as well as about people who are openly Pagans and occultists.

        For example, it is my impression that a lot of dominionists believe in grand conspiracy claims featuring “the Illuminati,” who are usually alleged to be secret Satanists and/or occultists. And it is my impression that a lot of dominionists worry that “the Illuminati” are using various aspects of pop culture (e.g. the Harry Potter books) to recruit children into witchcraft/occultism/Satanism.

        And it’s not hard to find American-based web pages (with or without the conspiracy claims) aimed at parents who are worried that their own children might be secretly getting into witchcraft. Here is one example I found via a quick Google search, advocating pretty much the standard Satanic panic mythology, aimed at “parents and grandparents of school-aged children to help you identify any signs and signals of interest in occultism, satanism, witchcraft or other evils.”

      • Richard, I’d second Diane’s point and add that I’ve noticed NAR and Third Wave / Neo-charismatic leaders discussing “witchcraft” and “sorcery” in very non-standard terms.

        These characterizations of witchcraft and sorcery seem to cast a very wide net – for example, “witchcraft” often gets conflated with rebellion against authority (the “Jezebel Spirit.)

  2. Richard, I must agree with Diane and Bruce on this one. In the NAR and even in the broader neo-Pentecostal world in the U.S., the idea of “fighting the spirit of witchcraft” now refers to quite a broad swathe of people and ideas, not just those considered pagan or New Age. I am on vacation at that moment (25th anniversary trip with my husband) and away from my books, etc. However, I have also seen numerous examples of claims that ordinary people, including children, are becoming possessed by demons.

    In one of Ted Haggard’s books he claims that he had a vision in which all infants of parents who are not born again Christians, have a demon attached to them immediately at birth. I have also seen examples where pastors are claiming that illness or other misfortune is caused by a demonic curse placed on a person by one of their relatives. This is not Africa, but mega-churches in major US cities where this is taking place.

  3. Following is the website of a deliverance ministry whose pastors, Paul and Alma Cooprider, are ordained with both Ignited Church, Lakeland and Spiritual Freedom Church of Phoenix. Their website has information on deliverance from demons including an article titled “Six Entries of Evil,” which explains how demons supposedly get into the body. This includes the claim that demons gain access to abused and abandoned children and other victims of abuse. I am seeing this explanation quite frequently.

  4. Thanks, this is all good feedback, please keep it coming…

  5. […] Pastor Responds on NE Moses Links Posted on July 8, 2010 by Richard Bartholomew A few weeks ago I wrote about Bishop NE Moses’ links with Ignited Church, a neo-Pentecostal megachurch in […]

  6. […] aware of what is occuring in Nigeria. But, apparently not. Brayton got chided by Strader for linking to this post. Ed, this is Pastor Stephen Strader in Lakeland, […]

  7. […] children as witches as ignorant, but he appears to be a lone figure. I’ve made the point before now that some of these pastors – including Ukpabio – are part of a global neo-Pentecostal […]

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