My attention has been drawn to a report in one of the national dailies (The Nation, June 29, 2020) titled, 114 Church Members, Healed of Coronavirus-Says Oyedepo. In this report, Bishop Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church International also known as Winners' Chapel claimed that over 100 members of his church had been healed of the coronavirus.
However, the report contains some discrepancies in the figures. While the headline has 114 members, the body of the text says 10. It is not clear how the reporter came about the other 104 members. The rest of the report was filled with statements where Oyedepo lambasted the Nigerian authorities for closing down churches while allowing the markets to open. My issue is not Oyedepo's anger over the closure of churches but his faith healing claims.
Whether the number of those healed of COVID19 is 114 or 10 members of the Winners' Chapel, the claim is still weighty, reckless, and irresponsible. The World Health Organisation has made it clear that there is no cure for the coronavirus. It has outlined measures and guidelines for the reduction of the spread of the disease. Oyedepo's healing claim goes contrary to the directives and positions of this world's health body. His faith healing claim is capable of making people throw caution to the wind, indulge in risky behaviors while believing that their faith would heal them if they contract the virus.
It is with this in mind that the UN launched an initiative in May to combat misinformation about COVID19. The main objective is to tackle 'the coronavirus infodemics' by promoting reliable and science-based information about how people could protect themselves. This faith healing claim by Oyedepo is a piece of misinformation because faith healing is superstition- not a science-based proposition. There is no evidence that anybody could be healed of coronavirus as Oyedepo. Unfortunately, this faith healing report from Winners' church was not balanced and did not contain any perspective from the NCDC, or the health ministry, or a public health expert. This faith-healing claim has the potential of misleading the public, especially at a time of so much fear, panic, and uncertainty over the spread and cure of COVID19.
One understands the frustration of Bishop Oyedepo and religious entrepreneurs over the closure of churches and other places of worship. The lockdown has adversely affected the religious market. But the way to get the authorities to lift the ban on public gathering in churches is not to spread lies and misinformation about COVID19 as Oyedepo has done. COVID19 constitutes a public health challenge, and church leaders should be mindful of the claims that they make. Media organizations should be diligent enough and ensure that they balance reports of faith healing claims, that is if they must publish them.
Leo Igwe Ph.D (Religious Studies, Bayreuth)
CEO, Advocacy for Alleged Witches