I was on Twitter today when someone with whom I have regular interaction sent a link to me along with the following question:
“How would a Christian like you respond to a story like this? [Link Here]“
He was talking about the ten-year-old story of Nigerian Pastor Daniel Ekechuk, a man who is widely reported on the Internet to have been miraculously resurrected three days after being certified dead by a coroner. My Twitter comrade knows that I follow the teachings of Jesus, but with one foot firmly (and healthily) planted in skepticism. He knows that I read the Bible as cultural commentary couched in myth– and that I am often critical of the prosperity gospel’s health and wealth-centered message. I suppose, given those variables, he was curious to know what (if anything) I thought of Ekechuk’s sensational story.
I informed my friend that I found the story utterly fascinating and that I’d prefer to blog my thoughts about it rather than respond in 140 characters. It was my intention to read the story in its entirety and research the claims for myself before offering a firm judgment.
I clicked on the link again this evening, only to make a startling discovery. The person or people who published the story had removed* it from the Web within just a few short hours of my initial visit to their website. Call me cynical, but I found that very suspicious. I launched a fervent Google search with hopes of unearthing a similar story, and eventually located a website with this account:
Some believers gathered around Daniel’s body and prayed while Reinhard Bonnke, who knew nothing of the dead body in the basement, preached and prayed. Eventually, it was noticed that Daniel’s corpse twitched, and then irregular breathing started. (By this time, Reinhard Bonnke had left the premises entirely.) The attendant believers began praying fervently, and because his body was stiff and cold, they began massaging his neck, arms and legs. When those in the sanctuary got word that a dead man below was coming back to life, the basement room was soon jammed with people. Suddenly Daniel sneezed and arose with a jump. It was somewhere between 3:50 and 5:15 PM on Sunday afternoon. Daniel had died Friday night around 10:00 PM. He slowly became fully coherent over the next few hours.
A version of this story is also available in a 700 Club interview of Reinhard Bonnke by Pat Robertson himself. According to both articles, Daniel Ekechuk visited the annals of hell while dead. From the piece on the 700 Club’s website:
BONNKE: An angel took him to show him Paradise. He showed him the mansions that are waiting for the saints. And he showed him hell. He saw the people in hell. He said one shouted to him, ‘I was a pastor and I stole money. Help me to return the money.’ He said it was so frightening to him that the angel turned to him and said, ‘The prayer of the rich man in Luke 16 will now be fulfilled, and you will be sent back to earth as a last warning to this generation.’
ROBERTSON: For those who are not aware of that, in Luke 16 the rich man lifted up his eyes in torment and said, ‘I have a number of brothers. Let me go back and warn them.’ Father Abraham said, ‘No, they have Moses and the prophets. If they won’t believe them, they will not believe the one who rose from the dead. Now, he says that in this last day, he’s going to be the one? He has come back?
BONNKE: He has come back. People who see this video [Raised from the Dead] are getting saved by the thousands. I hear reports from across the world. It is such a powerful tool of evangelism and we are absolutely delighted. I wish I could have produced Pastor Daniel here today.
ROBERTSON: We tried to get him through customs, but it is so tough in America to get a visa in this country. We couldn’t get him in. You say he saw hell. Were there fires? Torment?
BONNKE: He said he saw no fire but he said he saw these people cannibalizing themselves. Every time they had done it, the flesh seemed to jump back to the same places and then the torment started again. He said it was so horrible. He came back and said, ‘Heaven is real. Hell is real. Become serious with God. You need to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and live a holy life.’
ROBERTSON: I want to stop right now, ladies and gentlemen, and ask, where are you in the Lord? Are you playing games with God? Where are you with God?
For the record, the video to which Bonnke refers (Raised From The Dead) was once sold to the public by his ministry. The video is now available for your viewership on Youtube at no cost.
So what do I think? Well, first, allow me to say this: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES. I believe things happen that defy science and nature and human explanation. I believe there are things that occur in our world which can only be explained metaphysically. I understand God as the Life-Force of the Universe, and I am more than comfortable saying that God is the Root Cause, or Source Energy, of genuine miracles. However, I don’t believe that any one religion has unique access to genuine miracles, and I don’t believe God is particularly interested in coercing the world (either through philosophy or fear) into following one specific religion.
Having said that, I’ll now reveal that it’s difficult for me to simply accept the story as told by the websites’ publishers. First, let’s remember that Pat Robertson is the same guy who said the Haitian earthquake was God’s judgment on Haiti for making a “deal with the devil” in the year 1791. He regularly blames natural disasters on the victims’ failure to please his version of “God,”– words that should cause anyone to question his credibility as a spokesperson for the Divine.
Second, Reinhard Bonnke is a well-known
snake-oil salesman faith healer in the world of televangelism. He (along with Benny Hinn) was the subject of a 2001 HBO investigative report called A Question of Miracles which criticized his ministerial practices in Africa. HBO followed several of Bonnke’s “healed” subjects for one year and revealed that their healings were inauthentic. He had a sole, vested interest in Ekechuk’s resurrection account when it was first popularized as he was selling a video about it. Both his reputation and business ministry were staked on the story’s “truth.” (Frankly, one would think that if Bonnke and Ekechuk really wanted to help people escape hellfire, they’d do it for free. But that’s a totally different blog post altogether.)
Third, the only websites that seem to have any information supporting these claims are sites which promote an Evangelical theological perspective. The articles I read all intersperse scriptural references with Ekechuk’s story as support for the veracity of the story, and their narratives seem to culminate in alter-call-style appeals for the reader to escape what the pastor “witnessed” in the afterlife by seeking salvation. I could not find a single non-religious source to corroborate the resurrection story; not a scientific account, not a medical account, not a journalistic account. Nothing. One would think that if a man were raised from the dead after having been injected with embalming fluid and sealed in a coffin, scientists, journalists and medical examiners would be swarming the scene.
Do I hope this story is true? Yes. At the core of my being, I want it to be true because it makes me sick to imagine that such a hoax could live for a decade without critical examination.
But I don’t believe it’s true. It reeks of televangelistic opportunism, and it makes me sad about the state of Christianity. That is all.
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*Note: After viewing this article, the gentleman who operates the blog that hosted the dead link mentioned that he had simply changed the permalink. The story can be viewed on his website by clicking here.