A Nigerian-based church with international reach has been accused of telling church members with HIV to stop taking medicine and put their faith solely in prayer and "anointing water," allegedly leading to at least six premature deaths in London.
The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), led by charismatic and controversial preacher Prophet TB Joshua, has built a large, worldwide following with claims that the self-proclaimed prophet is able to heal people of devastating illnesses, such as schizophrenia and HIV/AIDS. The ministry has been under investigation since at least October by U.K. health officials after the emergence of reports of HIV patients dying after allegedly being told by SCOAN preachers that they were already healed.
However, a Sky News investigative report added more evidence of the church's misleading claims to be able to heal HIV/AIDS when it sent Shatila, an undercover reporter and real HIV patient, into the church to ask if SCOAN ministers could help cure her disease.
"I've been unwell for a very long time. I have HIV," Shatila told one of SCOAN's pastors, Rachel Holmes.
After briefly describing the healing "process," Holmes encouraged Shatila to log onto the Internet to see several testimonies of church members who were cured of a disease by SCOAN preachers.
"All I can say is that you can go onto the Internet, and there's numerous testimonies of people who by God's grace are now healed and set free...and they've got children and they're perfectly happy," Holmes said.
"And they've got the same problem as me?" Shatila asked.
"Yes," Holmes answered, with a smile.
According to the Sky News investigation, Holmes said that SCOAN has a 100 percent success rate in healing HIV patients.
"We have many people that contract HIV. All are healed," she said.
In videos on SCOAN's website, church members are shown engaging in healing rituals that look like something out of an "Exorcist" movie. In one video, a preacher screams at a "patient," urging her to "be free" as he throws SCOAN's own "Anointed Water" onto the disease-afflicted woman. The woman is seen writhing, trembling and crying throughout the "healing" process.
On SCOAN's website, there are video testimonies of preachers healing everything from HIV/AIDS, mental disorders, lip and vaginal cancer, and even a young girl who had a compulsive desire to eat foam mattresses.
"I have been eating mattresses since I was four years old," the girl says in the video testimony. "I eat it like it's food."
After Prophet TB Joshua screams about the power of Jesus Christ, he touches the girl's belly and then her chest. She is then presented with a foam mattress, but she says she no longer has a desire to eat it, and the church crowd cheers in response.
There are videos also showing Prophet TB Joshua's "evidence" of his healing powers, with people who have illnesses such as HIV or cancer with certificates documenting their illness before the healing process. After being healed, they have new certificates claiming they no longer have the disease.
However, at least six deaths have been reported as a result of people believing they were "healed," which have led to the investigations of SCOAN's London branch.
When Shatila, the Sky News undercover reporter, confronted Pastor Holmes about the possible danger of telling people with illnesses they have been cured, Holmes denied the claims of pesonally being able to heal people.
"You've told three of my friends now that, through God, you can heal HIV," Shatila said.
"Not me, no." Holmes says. "I believe that God can cure HIV."
"But you've been telling people that you can cure HIV through healings," the young woman said.
"Not me, personally," Holmes responds. "I believe that Jesus is a healer."
After Shatila revealed that she was a Sky News reporter, Holmes refused to speak any longer and the camera crew was forced out.
After the Sky News investigation, the London branch of SCOAN issued a response on its blog:
"Recently, Sky News came uninvited to SCOAN London. Their approach was not polite. Their actions were recorded by The Synagogue and by their own camera man....When we are healed, we are healed for a relationship with Jesus forever. Christianity is a relationship. When the relationship is broken, the blessing is lost."
The response also denied allegations that SCOAN told HIV/AIDS patients to stop taking their medicine.
"We don’t ask people to stop taking medication," SCOAN statement read. "Doctors treat; God heals. Medical doctors do their work, just as ministers of God do."
Lisa Power, spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust, a U.K.-based sexual health charity, said that churches like SCOAN give Christianity a "bad name."
"It's true that the vast majority of churches are careful and supportive and actually support people onto HIV treatment," Powers told Sky News. "And [SCOAN] is a minority of churches who, frankly, are giving Christianity a bad name because they are telling people something which is blatantly untrue and which will lead them to an early, unnecessary, and often quite painful death."
The multi-million dollar SCOAN has branches around the world, including in Nigeria, South Africa, Greece, and England, as well as a TV partnership with Sky, which broadcasts the church's sermons. The partnership was announced on SCOAN's blog less than a week after the investigation aired on British TV.
Here is a video of Prophet TB Joshua "healing" people of HIV/AIDS: