Have you ever seen Leap of Faith? Steve Martin stars in the film as a faith healer who travels around the country performing “miracles.” The question of whether he’s a con artist is answered quickly, but one boy who cannot walk and asks to be healed threatens the faith healer’s whole show.
I won’t ruin the end for you, but it’s a great movie that shows why faith is so powerful. People believe in what they want, regardless of the truth or facts revealed to them. In some cases, though, when the wool is pulled back, some people start seeing their miracle workers for who they really are.
See what happened when these so-called prophets and leaders tripped up a bit. Click ‘Start Slideshow‘ to see the truth!
In India, Pandit Surender Sharma was a famous tantra master who claimed he could do pretty much anything with black magic. He even believed he could kill someone using nothing but his tantric powers. Perhaps he didn’t expect anyone to take him up on the challenge. One man, though, asked him to do his best – on live television.
In 2008, Sanal Edamaruku, appeared on a popular TV show to not only debate tantric power versus science (he was debating on the side of science), he also agreed to allow the tantra master to try to kill him. For two hours, Sharma tried his best with chants, his fingers, and more, but none of it worked. Sharma surmised Edamaruku must have worshipped some god that was protecting him. Joke was on Sharma, as Edamaruku claimed he’s an atheist.
One step beyond faith healing is, well, simply faith in a god and a man of that god. For example, in South Africa, there’s a story about a woman who believed so strongly in her faith and the pastor of a Mount Zion General Assembly church that she allowed that pastor to place a large, heavy speaker on her chest. Pastor Lethebo Rabalago asked the woman to lay down on the stage and he placed the speaker on top of her. He explained that the woman’s faith would protect her. Then Rabalago stood on top of that speaker for five minutes while he preached.
During this demonstration, the woman remained quiet. It wasn’t because she was deep in meditation or prayer, though. It turned out that she had suffered serious internal injuries and later was pronounced dead at a hospital because of those injuries to her lungs.
Ganesh Yogi Maharaj
Before he became known as a miracle worker, he was simply known as Pakirappa Patil. In 1961, he moved to the Kempwad village in Karnataka, India, where he worked as a primary school teacher. Three years later, he opened a school of his own, or a mutt. At some point, he changed his name and was known as Ganesh Yogi Maharaj, and he developed a following that believe he could defy death and perform miracles.
On one night, the 86-year-old (or 75-year-old – there are varying reports on his age), drank down a vial of insecticide after telling his followers he would die and then resurrect three days later. He’d done it before, after all and defied death. This time, though, a Taluk health officer confirmed that he was indeed dead. His followers finally relented in waiting for his return and performed final rites.
Snake handling is an off-shoot of the Pentecostal faith, and I’m sure you can see where this is going. Gregory Jamie Coots was a popular pastor in Kentucky who was known for handling snakes – and managed to live to tell about how his faith in God helped him survive it all. In 2005, the pastor, who had been preaching at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro for 21 years, he was bitten by a rattlesnake.
It was nothing new for Coots, who had survived bites before. This one was different, though. Snake handlers often believe, as Coots did, in prayers for healing, rather than modern medicine. Coots said he was feeling sick and needed help getting to the bathroom. It was there that he realized that this snakebite might’ve been his last. His face had started to go numb.
Jamie Coots, Continued
Those who were there with him dragged the pastor to a vehicle and loaded him up. Coots’ son, Cody, was trying his best to get his father to come to. He slapped his father’s face to try to stir him a bit. Coots let out a long breath, and Cody screamed. They finally got Coots home and into a chair where they all prayed around him. Someone did call an ambulance that night, and paramedics came to Coots’ home, but they left soon after when Coots’ wife denied medical help.
The hospital is nearly a stone’s throw from the Coots’ home, but the family chose to pray instead. It’s what Coots wanted. If Coots had gone to the hospital that night, he likely would’ve lived. His last words before he died: “Lord, come by … Oh God, no … Sweet Jesus.”
In central Nigeria, Bishop Emmanuel Esezobor is known for his ministry Firehouse Church and the various supposed miracles he performs there. There are two stories floating about, but either one is enough to raise eyebrows. In the first, it’s believed a man was offered about $1,400 to participate in a “miracle” in which he would lay in a coffin for a certain amount of time and then pop up to prove that Esezobor had the power to revive the dead.
But the man suffocated inside the coffin. In the other story, the man was already dead, and his family wanted Esezobor to bring him back to life, but he couldn’t do as he’d claimed, and the family smeared his good name. Either way, this has to work against the pastor, but he’s still laying on hands and preaching at his church.
Often, prophets and faith healers like to gain followers or strengthen the loyalty of their followers with spectacular displays of their own faith. After all, if a man of God can survive death, what does that say for his followers who have similar faith? Why, illnesses can be cured, and poverty reversed and turned into wealth! In the case of Bishop “Daniel” Abodunrin, a Nigerian prophet, a display he planned didn’t quite go as planned.
He wanted to recreate the story of Daniel, who was thrown into a den of lions and was unharmed by the animals. So, he went to the University of Ibadan Zoo and threw himself into the pen with the lions. He chanted passages from the Bible and spoke in tongues, but no angel saved him. The lions tore him to bits.
Back in the 1800s, William Miller spread the word of God as a Baptist preacher around the east coast. He was one of those early end-of-worlders. He was constantly prophesizing that the Second Coming was close. His followers became known as Millerites, and they believed that Jesus was coming back around 1843 or 1844. But the dates that he’d calculated came and went with no affair. There was no parting in the sky, and no savior returned to Earth to collect the good souls.
But you know, to err is human, and Miller chalked up his mistake to human error in Biblical chronology or something. Until the day he died in 1849, Miller believed the Second Coming was near, but it never happened. And others continue to predict the date, but still no one has been correct. But people still believe.
And then there’s the story of Muhammad Sabir. Although this story is about the supposed faith healer Sabir, maybe the star here is the volunteer Muhammad Niaz, a man who believe so wholly in Sabir’s ability to bring a man back to life that he opted to die. Sabir asked for someone to come forward who would submit to him and allow him to slit his throat, but not to worry, for Sabir believe he could revive the man and bring him back to life.
Good as new. But the man must be married and have children. Niaz, married and a father of six, volunteered, and Sabir murdered the follower. He then chanted a bit over the man’s body, but nothing happened. Sabir tried to flee the scene, but villagers stopped him, and he was arrested.
To a rational person, it may seem crazy to tell a group of people to bury you alive, but Pastor Shamiso Kanyama believed it would be a great way to show he could summon powers to heal a family that had suffered many deaths. In the small village of Mazonde, in Zimbabwe, a family believed their house was plagued with evil spirits and needed to be cleansed. That’s why Pastor Kanyama was asked to come.
The five family members said the pastor asked them to bury him alive, so he could summon the powers necessary to heal them and cleanse their home. So, they did as they were told, but when the dug him back up, he was dead. That family’s bad luck continued, as they were all charged with the murder of the pastor. I’m not really sure which lesson is more important here.
One of the most popular visuals of faith healers is of a pastor standing on a stage in a revival tent urging a boy, girl, man, or woman, who cannot walk to cast away their crutches, wheelchair, or leg braces and to walk … in the name of the Lord … walk! Perhaps that started with Jack Coe, one of the first well-known self-proclaimed faith healers in the United States. In 1955, he tried this very thing with a toddler who was inflicted with polio. He insisted the parents remove the boy’s leg braces and told him to walk.
They did as they were told, and the boy walked! Except he wasn’t healed, and walking around without his braces only made his condition worse. Although Coe was arrested for practicing medicine without a license, his case was dismissed. Only months later, Coe was diagnosed with bulbar polio and died.
There are plenty of so-called miracle workers throughout the world. In Ghana, one of the best-known faith healers is Bishop Daniel Obinim, who is also known as Angel Obinim. He’s a pastor who heads the International Godsway Ministries. At one point, Obinim claimed he was an angel, which might explain his pseudonym. He also claimed he could transform himself into objects or animals, and that he could do it for others, as well. Amusing as those stories may seem, his followers seem to believe him and in him.
One of the more shocking stories involves Obinim stepping on a pregnant woman’s belly in order to deliver her from evil – she was believed to be possessed. That’s not all, though. Obinim continued to make outrageous claims, and he was involved in some pretty shocking behavior that was aired live on television.
Daniel Obinim, Continued
This sounds fake. Like, it sounds like it was a made-up story, an urban legend, if you will. It kind of reminds me of pick-up lines – they’re kind of funny, but do they ever actually work? Obinim claimed to his congregation that he could not only cure those who are sick, but also make men’s penises larger. Seriously. All he has to do is massage their groins. There’s a video showing men lined up and the pastor going down the line, groping each man’s genitalia. He’s also claiming he can make women’s breasts large by, you guessed it, massaging their breasts.
Worse, though, was when he flogged a teen couple on live television, and the young girl was pregnant. He said it was their punishment for being promiscuous. The pastor was arrested, but many of his congregation came to his defense and demanded he be released.
Televangelist Benny Hinn reaches millions of people with his giant assemblies and TV show. The preacher offers healing to his followers through hands-on healing. He’s raking in more than $100 million per year through those live crusades and more. He claims he can heal those afflicted with cancer and other illnesses. Dateline spoke with one of Hinn’s workers who would choose the lucky ones who are chosen to go on stage. The screening is meant to do one job: Only allow those who are slightly afflicted.
Have arthritis in your shoulder, but you can still lift your arm? You’re allowed. It’s much more compelling, and it’ll look a bit like a miracle has occurred up on that stage. Still, the charismatic Hinn continues to accept donations for allowing God to work through him and perform “miracles.”
How would you react if you found out your pastor, minister, priest, or rabbi was accused of stealing babies for sacrifice and conning you and the rest of the congregation out of money? Appalling, right? Well, this sort of controversy is nothing new for Salvation Healing Ministry Preacher Victor Kanyari. Except, he wasn’t convicted of kidnapping a young girl to feast on her blood – the kidnapping charges were laid on his housekeeper who nabbed a 7-year-old, though she said she did it because he ordered her to.
Beyond that story, Kanyari has also been exposed as a fraud and that the miracles he performed were fake. His bank account and assets were frozen during the investigation, and in the meantime, he used seed money from his followers who hoped to be cured of everything from infertility to AIDS/HIV to build a multimillion-dollar home in Kenya.
You can’t keep a good con man down. In the case of televangelist Peter Popoff, he’s sort of the comeback kid of the miracle workers who’ve been caught red-handed, but still managed to come back and convince people he’s still able to perform miracles. Back in the 1980s, Popoff was exposed for committing fraud against his followers when it was discovered that he wore an earpiece during his crusades. His wife was feeding him information about the members, and so when it seemed as though God was working through him, it was only a matter of having an organized practice.
What was also revealed was how cruel Popoff’s wife and other staff members were. They were caught laughing at one man’s appearance – a man who had testicular cancer. Popoff tried to defend himself and his wife’s actions on The Tonight Show, but the damage had been done.
Peter Popoff, Continued
After being exposed, Popoff’s following declined sharply. A year later, Popoff declared bankruptcy, and it seemed he would fade into obscurity. However, in the late 1990s, he came back and started selling modern-day snake oil, or “Miracle Spring Water,” through late-night infomercials on cable channels like BET. He also tried his luck in the United Kingdom, and the internet. Even with all the new-fangled technology to help him, Popoff prefers to work through good, old-fashioned snail mail.
So, once you reach out, he responds with all sorts of gimmicks (an eraser to ERASE your debt) and lots of promises. Popoff continues to be exposed as people come forward to complain that his miracles just don’t work, but neither does the exposure. People continue to give to Popoff time and time again.
Miracles come in many forms. Some pastors and ministers claim they can cure your ailments with prayer, or that you can do so yourself – if you send some seed money to their church. And some of the televangelists, like Mike Murdock, sort of see poverty as an ailment. “Planting a seed” is what Murdock calls it, and if you send him that seed in the form of, say, $10, it’ll come back to you as $1,000. Send him $1,000, and you’re likely to see $100,000.
So, does it work? Can you make money work for you by sending it to Murdock? One Christian sent $58 to Murdock and asked for $3,340.30 to come back to him – and then he blogged about it. The result: He’s deeper in debt and his bank account overdrawn. But it certainly worked for Murdock, who has millions to show for his “work.”
It’s kind of surprising that Pastor Creflo Dollar is still doing his thing after he really screwed the pooch pretty publicly. He owns a private jet, which he claims allows him to spread the Gospel more readily than commercial flight could. So, when one of the engines in that jet failed, he called upon the sheep he shepherds to send him $300 each so he could buy a new private jet. That’s 200,000 parishioners. The video was uploaded to his megachurch’s website, but the backlash was unexpected, and the church quickly took the video down.
Most of the criticism actually came from believers, in fact. Dollar, aptly named, regularly preaches the prosperity gospel and that Christ’s followers should have financial blessings. I mean, it works for him and other pastors who preach it, why shouldn’t it work for you? You’ve got to believe, guys!
Perhaps the critical mistake Kenneth Copeland made with his ministry was teaching faith healing, rather than the prosperity gospel. In one woman’s case, it was fatal. Bonnie Parker believed in Copeland’s teachings, and when she was diagnosed with cancer, she gave money to Copeland, hoping that her faith and her tithings could cure her. Kristi Beach, Parker’s daughter, discovered what her mother had been doing after Parker died. The truth of where her money went was there in her diaries. It didn’t help that Copeland and his wife preached about the healing powers of prayer, rather than modern medicine.
Parker died believing she didn’t give enough or believe enough. Meanwhile, the Copelands continue to preach, asking for donations, flying their fleet of private planes, and taking trips to Fiji, Hawaii, Australia, and other locations. And people continue to give, in the hopes of receiving similar blessings.