The pastor meant to cast out demons, but the girl died

Pentecostal churches in Africa do a lot of harm. The president of Cameroon is attempting to do something about that.

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has ordered the closure of nearly 100 Christian churches in key cities, citing criminal practices organized by Pentecostal pastors that threaten the security of the West African nation.

But Pentecostal pastors said the move is evidence of Biya’s insecurity about the churches’ criticism of the government.

Biya is using the military to permanently shut down all Pentecostal church denominations in the nation’s capital, Yaounde, and the North West Regional capital, Bamenda, which have the largest Christian populations in Cameroon.

To an American, steeped in the culture of freedom of [including from] religion, that seems like a very risky move, and even ethically dubious. But then again it’s Pentecostal churches that stir up witch panics against children and other vulnerable people…

More than 50 churches have now been closed, with the government targeting nearly 100 in eight other regions.

“We will get rid of all the so-called Christian Pentecostal pastors who misuse the name of Jesus Christ to fake miracles and kill citizens in their churches. They have outstretched their liberty,” Mbu Anthony Lang, a government official in Bamenda, told CNN Wednesday.

Nearly 500 Pentecostal churches operate in Cameroon, but fewer than 50 are legal, he added.

On Sunday, a 9-year-old Christian girl collapsed and died during a prayer session in Winners’ Chapel, a Pentecostal church in Bamenda. The girl’s mother, Mih Theresa, told CNN Wednesday that the pastor intended to cast out the numerous demons that were in control of her daughter’s life.

“I want the government to stop these pastors who use mysterious powers to pull Christians and kill then for more powers. All my children have ran away from the Catholic Church in search for miracles, signs and wonders,” she told CNN while holding back tears.

Argh, what to do. “Religious freedom” shields horrors like that, so what is the best thing to do? I frankly don’t know.



  1. Emu Sam says

    One possibility: go after the individuals involved, and when convicted, let the sentencing be with extreme prejudice. Beyond murder, include such crimes as fraud and something like a hate crime. They’re not doing it because that specific person made them mad/can benefit them/other motivation. They would do it to anyone else with roughly the same characteristics. Include the families of the victims.

    Also, go after them on fraud accounts before someone dies.

    Make sure the results of the cases are widely known as part of education efforts to immunize people against not only current fraud but whatever other types of fraud might spring up.

    Tell any new preachers, “yes, we are watching you and waiting for you to put one foot wrong so we can charge you with fraud, too.”

    All that requires a working justice system. I assume if Cameroon can shut down churches, they have something like judges, attorneys, police, etc.

    Why does my ipad want to believe I could never desire punctuation when another letter would still create a word?

  2. Acolyte of Sagan says

    They have outstretched their liberty,

    I might disagree with his actions but I can’t fault his thinking here. Could you see Cameron or Obama saying that about any religion?

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    The exorcism was a success, but the patient died.

    There are no words.

    As for legally? In the US the killing would be prosecuted, but we really on definitions of “reasonable” action, which depends on community context: if everyone does it, is it reasonable? Yes, in most cases, though you can’t presume illegal action to be reasonable (speeding is ridiculously common, but not legally reasonable). Killing isn’t reasonable because it’s outlawed, but they would be looking at the underlying acts – are exorcisms reasonable to perform? This depends on the community and the level of knowledge within it.

    So even if the US standard was applied, it may not be possible to find negligence, recklessness, or indifference required for the types of convictions that might apply. There are certainly cases that would come out differently in the US and Cameroon, though I have no idea if this would be one of those cases (it would also depend on state law, since authority over the criminal law is primarily a state thing).

    But you would prosecute this as a crime of murder or manslaughter.

    Then you would have the families go after the church’s assets – and win all the things.

    Presto, church shut down, and none of it violates the 1st amendment.

    Downside? It takes years. Meanwhile some ability to spend through the assets remains. The family might not get much.

  4. quixote says

    This is a point I belabor to everyone who’ll listen … and to some who won’t. I’m very interested hear trained philosophers’ take on it:

    Isn’t this a problem of the unrecognized hierarchy of rights? People are created equal, but rights are not. And yet the tendency is to pretend they are, and then resolve conflicts by always giving precedence to a few (speech, religion; guns in some circles). Then what invariably happens when the hierarchy of rights isn’t explicitly recognized is that whoever yells loudest carries the day.

    Here, for instance, the only reason there could be any ethical doubt is if the right to live and the right to free exercise of religion are either equal or religion is considered more important. Which would be exactly backward. The right to be free from physical harm has to take precedence over freedom of religious practices, because otherwise both become meaningless.

    That, to me, is the hallmark of getting rights in the wrong order. Neither life nor religion is preserved. If I can kill you because I believe strongly that it’s a good idea, then there’s nothing to stop you from doing the same to me if you can. Neither of our lives or our religions is protected.

    But if the dependencies, to use a computer term, are correctly aligned, then both life and freedom of religion are preserved, with the latter limited only to the extent necessary to make it compatible with the more foundational rights.

    Am I making sense? Are there much more elegant ways to address all this already worked out? Must be. I’d be very curious to know how the experts approach it.

  5. davidmc says

    Tax them out of business.
    Tax their property. Land, art, gold, and cultural artefacts
    Tax their donations.
    Tax their paraphernalia, crackers, cassocks
    License, require permits for their superstitious activities. For example a permit for making Holy water, £1000 Per Annum,(or gallon) demon exorcisms £1,000,000 etc. Loud wailing from rooftops, ringing bells in a built up area or the countryside.
    And on the back of each permit should be printed exactly how their money will be used to fund sex education/health/contraception and gay parades, welfare, and an atheist teacher in every school teaching atheism and evolution and secularism and owt else they don’t like.


  6. medivh says

    Depends on what they mean by a legal church, really. If a church is to be like any other business; that is given licence to operate, monitored, and taxed, shutting down the ones operating outside the law seems the only reasonable action on offer. If it’s an attempt to make sure the government can persecute at will because they know exactly where the people who follow this or that religion hang out, revolution seems necessary.

    Not knowing much about Cameroon, I can only guess. But I do see good possibilities among the many bad ones.

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