A popular Nigerian televangelist has urged his followers to “pray for YouTube” for shutting down his account after he posted videos on his channel claiming to ‘cure’ gay members of his congregation of their sexuality.
“I got to know what happened to YouTube when I saw the viewers complaining… I want you to help me pray for YouTube… Don’t see them the other way around; see them as friends. We need to be strong,” T.B. Joshua said in a sermon posted on the ministry’s Facebook page at the weekend.
The YouTube channel of The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) – run by Joshua – was deactivated last week and can no longer be viewed by its nearly two million subscribers.
OpenDemocracy, a media rights group based in the UK, told CNN that it sent a message to YouTube on April 8 asking if the conversion therapy videos did not violate its policies.
“We noticed at least seven videos. In one video, T.B. Joshua slapped a woman and her partner whom he called her ‘second’ (partner) at least 16 times,” said Lydia Namubiru, OpenDemocracy’s Africa Editor.
“He said he was casting the ‘spirit of woman’ out of her,” Namubiru said as she narrated the content of the footage flagged to YouTube and Facebook by her organization. The woman later told Joshua that she no longer felt affection for her partner because of his intervention, Namubiru said.
“In yet another, a young person… is slapped several times and his dreadlocks are shaven off before he testifies that he is no longer attracted to men,” Namubiru added.
A YouTube spokesperson released a statement to CNN Wednesday saying that SCOAN’s channel was taken offline for repeatedly breaching its regulations against hate speech.
“YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibits hate speech and we remove flagged videos and comments that violate these policies. In this case the channel has accumulated three strikes and has been terminated,” the statement said.
Emmanuel TV, the broadcast arm of the church, airs in Africa on DSTV – a satellite service owned by South African firm MultiChoice.
SCOAN plays host to dozens of international guests, and local celebrities, who visit the worship center for prayers.
In 2011, Joshua was listed by Forbes as the third-richest pastor in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of between $10 - $15 million.
In a statement posted on Facebook last week, T.B. Joshua Ministries said it would appeal the decision by YouTube to suspend its channel.
“Emmanuel TV’s mission is to share the love of God with everyone – irrespective of race or religion – and we strongly oppose all forms of hate speech! We have had a long and fruitful relationship with YouTube and believe this decision was made in a haste… we are making every effort to appeal this decision and see the channel restored,” the statement said.
The Lagos-based megachurch also called on millions of its followers to protest on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube – against YouTube’s action.
Reacting to Joshua’s doctrinal methods, a spokesman for the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella body of Christian groups in the country, told CNN that the association “does not interfere in how churches are run or how individuals operate their worship centers.”
The YouTube sanction poses a big blow to Joshua, whose ministrations and humanitarian outreaches in different parts of the world are showcased on the popular video platform.
Joshua rose to prominence in the late 1990s following the boom of “prosperity gospel” – a Pentecostal doctrine that hinges good health and financial blessing on the depth of faith an individual is able to demonstrate.
He, however, suffered national infamy in 2014, after a building on SCOAN’s premises collapsed, killing more than 100 people – most of whom were foreigners from South Africa, Chinese state media, CCTV reported at the time.