Exodus 22:18 tells believers that they cannot "suffer a witch to live" (KJV). From medieval Europe to the Salem witch trials and beyond, there have been witch hunts. The most recent front is in Nigeria and other countries in Africa, where children are being abandoned, tortured, mutilated, and sometimes killed because they are believed to be witches.
This isn’t news, unfortunately: it’s been occurring for years now, but the situation appears to be worsening. Not only are adults called out as witches, but more and more children are being called witches and being punished by their parents, who believe witches can bring about bad fortune: "divorce, disease, accidents or job losses ", according to the Guardian . And what is even more deplorable in my opinion is that according to the BBC , even in 2009 the Pope is still campaigning against witchcraft instead of clearly coming out against these witch hunts.
The crusade against witches in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is being led by people who call themselves Christians, from the pastors who are scaring people out of their minds with stories of witches, and charging handsome fees to perform exorcisms, to the parents and community who are shunning, torturing, or killing the witches when they can’t afford an exorcism.
People who do not buy into the witch nonsense are accused of aiding and abetting witches. According to Sam Ikpe-Itauma from the Esit Eket area of Nigeria:
For every maybe five children we see on the streets, we believe one has been killed, although it could be more as neighbours turn a blind eye when a witch child disappears.
Some people will argue that witches and witchcraft have existed in Africa for ages. Yes, but the open and merciless pursuit of witches in the name of Christianity is a much more recent phenomenon. According to the Guardian:
Although old tribal beliefs in witch doctors are not so deeply buried in people’s memories, and although there had been indigenous Christians in Nigeria since the 19th century, it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs. Evil spirits, satanic possessions and miracles can be found aplenty in the Bible, references to killing witches turn up in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Galatians, and literal interpretation of scriptures is a popular crowd-pleaser.
Pastors openly admit that they are fighting against witchcraft.
Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. ‘We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.’
Although he denies charging for exorcisms, reports of pastors doing so are widespread.
The problem is not limited to Nigeria, but is occurring in a number of African countries, including Angola. Here is what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in March of this year
In today’s Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because – they say – they are sorcerers
At first view, this seems positive: Benedict seems to be speaking out against people who are going after kids and others because they are believed to be witches. Benedict did also say that Catholics should "live peacefully" with animists, according to the Huffington Post (a liberal political commentary site). So what’s the problem?
What’s missing is Benedict speaking for the Catholic Church condemning pastors who, in the name of Christianity, are attacking witches. No admonishment to the local church leaders who are spreading the fear of sorcery, who are tearing families and communities apart, making money off exorcisms, and exploiting the fears that they, as alleged men of God, are helping to create.
Speaking out against "sorcery" while asking for "peace" does not do this; it sends a mixed signal. Instead of clearly telling people to stop attacking witches, his solution to the problem was urging people to convert to Christianity! It’s not enough to say that people should just get along. There should be a call to hold the people responsible for these crimes accountable and to get the word out that such violence is not condoned. In my opinion, until he and other leaders launch a clear public campaign against what pastors are doing to alleged witches in Africa, they are complicit in what is happening.
Please read the articles from the Guardian and the BBC if you want to find out more. The Guardian site also has heartbreaking footage of some of the mutilated children and parents who are telling people to take their children away because they are witches (but often not being able to explain why they know they’re witches, or how to make them not witches). What is happening to these kids is too sad for me to even describe here; hundreds of them huddling up after their parents scald them, burn them, or chase them away from their homes.