Black folk and the ‘Popoff Principle’

Black folk and the ‘Popoff Principle’

It’s a sad but inescapable fact that black people appear more susceptible to religious chicanery than most other communities.

Here’s a case in question: Back in the 1980s, a very wealthy televangelist called Peter Popoff, above, went bust after he was exposed by James Randi as “a blatant fake” on the Carson Show. Prior to his exposure he was pocketing an estimated $4-million a year.

In September 1987, sixteen months after the Carson airing, Popoff declared bankruptcy, with more than 790 creditors having claims against him.

But by 1998, according to Wiki, Popoff was making a recovery – “seeking to jump-start his ministry by repackaging himself for an African American audience.”


His spiel was to package and sell “free” debt relief spring water via TV commercials aimed mainly at black audiences … and the money came pouring in. This prompted a Christian website to post the following in 2013:

Water will not make you rich. The only people who get rich from the miracle spring water that Peter Popoff is selling is Peter Popoff.

These are the types of people that really hurt Christianity more than anything that atheists or agnostics do. They operate on the faith from a perspective of being on the inside and target the vulnerable. These are the very people that need the most help, the most guidance, and the above all else, the truth.

Instead, Popoff is selling little packages of water that have “supernatural debt-cancelling power”. Drink it and your financial woes are over. Drink it and get rich. Drink it and prosper.

Please, if you know of anyone who follows this ‘ministry’, talk to them. Spread the true word of God that can only be found in the Bible … Be aware.

In 2003, Popoff’s ministry received over $9.6 million and by 2005 the amount had risen to over $23 million. In that year he and his wife were paid a combined total of nearly $1 million, while two of his children were receiving over $180,000 each.

Financial data is not available for Popoff’s ministry following 2005 because Peter Popoff Ministries changed from a for-profit business to a religious organization in 2006, making it tax-exempt. Popoff purchased a home in Bradbury, California, for $4.5 million in 2007. He drives a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz.

I remembered well the highly-publicised exposure of Popoff in the 80s, but, until today, hadn’t realised that he had made a spectacular comeback.

What prompted me to re-examine Popoff was news that another fraud had been exposed: Victor Kanyari, of Kenya’s  Salvation Healing Ministry.

'Like my wheels? You should do, you paid for them.'  – 'Prophet' Victor Kanyari photographed earlier this month by Diana  Nhila/Nation Media Group.

‘Like my wheels? You should do, you paid for them.’ – ‘Prophet’ Victor Kanyari photographed earlier this month by Diana Nhila/Nation Media Group.

According to this report, he is a self-styled modern-day prophet, a “miracle healer” who has attracted thousands to his Nairobi “church” with claims of being able to cure everything from childlessness to HIV/AIDS.

But last month, the investigative news programme “Inside Story” exposed Victor Kanyari as a charlatan. The programme revealed elaborate play-acting by Kanyari and a group of devoted followers who helped perpetuate his claims by making false testimonies and staging “healings” in front of the congregation.

Such cases are not new – but the blowback this time is significant. Many Kenyans are outraged that Kanyari easily exploited widespread trust in church institutions and targeted the poor, many of whom are desperate and willing to pay small fees to get the aid Kanyari promised. The case has spurred a bid for new regulation, with the attorney general announcing last week an indefinite ban on registering any new churches.

Plus, it was reported that Kanyari is now be investigated by Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions.

And for mainstream Christians, it raises concerns that faith in the honesty of most religious outlets will decline.

This prompted the Friendly Atheist to comment:

Ah yes, Kenyans should trust only bona fide clergymen, right? Too bad that their ilk comprises Catholic leaders who falsely tell women not to get tetanus vaccinations because they’ll become infertile; Anglican priests who bed the women in their flock; Episcopalian clergy who impregnate nuns; Evangelicals caught stealing babies; priests who hire hitmen to dispose of religious rivals; and so on.

Exemplars of genuine godliness, all.

A while back, in article posted on on the Randi Foundation site, Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe blamed the gullibility of Africans on mainstream Christianity and Islam.

Some paranormal or supernatural claims of the two main religions of Christianity and Islam are part of the factors holding Africans hostage. Most Africans cannot think freely or express their doubts openly because these religions have placed a huge price on freethinking and critical inquiry.

Because these belief systems rely on paranormal claims themselves, Africans feel they cannot speak out against superstition as a whole, or they will be ostracized or even killed by religious zealots.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Kenya report).

29 responses to “Black folk and the ‘Popoff Principle’”

  1. barriejohn says:

    Yes, how silly of people to follow these self-styled “prophets”, with their “exorcisms” and “holy water” – they should, instead, follow the established Christian churches, like the RCC, with its, erm…exorcisms and holy water.

  2. Cali Ron says:

    “Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe blamed the gullibility of Africans on mainstream Christianity and Islam.” It’s not just Africans who have been made gullible by Christianity and Islam, that disease afflicts people of all persuasions and places. But not to worry, I have a special artesian well in my backyard that produces water that cures gullibility, just send me…. and if you act now I’ll include an autographed copy of the word of god. That’s right, signed by god, but act quick, because supplies are limited. Only believers need reply.

  3. Vanity Unfair says:
    A wolf, having stolen a lamb from a fold, was carrying him off to his lair. A Lion met him in the path, and, seizing the lamb, took it from him. The wolf, standing at a safe distance, exclaimed: You have unrighteously taken from me that which was mine. The Lion jeeringly replied: It was righteously yours, eh? Was it the gift of a friend or did you get it by purchase? If you did not get it in one way or the other, how then did you come by it?

    One thief is no better than another.

    Aesop’s Fables
    Copyright 1881
    Translator: unknown
    WM. L. Allison, New York

    “Please, if you know of anyone who follows this ‘ministry’, talk to them. Spread the true word of God that can only be found in the Bible … Be aware.”
    Or, look for wisdom elsewhere.

  4. Paul Cook says:

    This is clearly a line Christians use everywhere. Holy water, oils, ointments etc sprayed, rubbed, daubed onto appointed ones who need to posses special powers, or get well soon, such as HM queen. If she can have it why not the poor?

    On a web site from Lourdes you can buy a litre of Lourdes holy water for $55 so Popoff’s Tap is a steal.

  5. Angela_K says:

    Paul Cook. $55 for a litre of “holy water” is indeed a bargain when compared to another type of water bought by the gullible: Homoeopathic remedies.

  6. Paul Cook says:


    Indeed that’s true!

    Here’s the link- in case you need crimbo gifts for the mentally infantile or insane.

    Also Barry posted it a few weeks back.

    Please mention my name when buying as I get a further discount if I buy tat myself!

  7. Paul Cook says:

    I looked again at the top photo.
    The Nazi salute is evident and being made too by the man in the blue shirt behind him.
    Nazism, fascism and Christianity – if there’s a link I think we should be told.

  8. barriejohn says:

    Paul Cook: Speaking of “tat”, did you know that the word tawdry, meaning gaudy and of poor quality, is derived from the rubbish sold to pilgrims at St Audrey’s Fair at Ely (in particular, cheap lace)? Nothing changes!

  9. Brian Jordan says:

    Although teeming with tat, that gift shop is missing my favourite catholic memento, as seen in Boyes in Guisborough some years ago: a soap pope on a rope.

  10. Paul Cook says:

    You can’t be a true believer if you
    don’t use that soap-it washes away all sins – guaranteed.

    No surprise there than!

  11. Philip Smeeton says:

    I can understand European-Americans getting fed up with the behaviour of African-Americans. I am certainly fed up with the behaviour of Muslims in Europe. The point is that the whites and blacks, the muslims and non-muslims, are better off living in separate countries. Until we realise this, until we are allowed to realise this, the ethnic, society destroying, conflict will continue.

  12. AgentCormac says:

    They’ve been at it for centuries. The act of touching wood for good luck, for example, comes from the Middle Ages when charlatans of the day sold relics which were supposedly bits of the actual cross that Jesus had been attached to. These relics were then carried about by the gullible who would touch them upon hearing word of plague, death or other misfortune, in the mistaken belief that they would somehow be protected and spared.

    Coincidentally, the story of Aimee Semple McPherson, a glamorous American evangelical preacher from the ’20s who disappeared and then re-appeared in mysterious circumstances, has been posted on the BBC website just this morning.

  13. Paul Cook says:


    but franky has had a chance to speak at the EU and will later speak on human rights at the Council of Europe. Shame the RCC ignores them completely. What an utter disgrace.

    As to this brilliant well thought out sound bite-

    “The …. Pope however has ….called Europe a “tired” continent which worships the “idol of money”.

    he is too dumb to see the hypocritical irony.

  14. barriejohn says:

    The point is that the whites and blacks, the muslims and non-muslims, are better off living in separate countries.

    Do you seriously believe that this is the way forward?

  15. Stephen Mynett says:

    “$55 for a litre of “holy water” is indeed a bargain when compared to another type of water bought by the gullible: Homoeopathic remedies.”

    Good point Angela and think of this, it will be possible to dilute it with more water to make it even more potent.

  16. Paul Cook says:

    Philip Smeeton
    I cannot understand how you make such a comment as remarked by Barriejohn.

    This was tried before it was called The Second World War.

  17. AgentCormac says:

    Say what you will about homeopathy, it still doesn’t change the fact that nothing is more effective at getting rid of a cold than echinacea.

  18. Stephen Mynett says:

    Makes me think of the old joke about taking syrup of prunes to stop you from coughing.

  19. barriejohn says:

    AgentCormac: I don’t think anyone has an issue with herbal remedies, some of which are very effective, but taking water isn’t going to cure anything (except dehydration!).

  20. barfly says:

    $55 for water go to morrisons buy a 5 litre can of hobgoblin it works out cheaper at 3£ a litre and taste better and it cures loneliness upset tums headaches and boredom and you get he magic protection of the hobgoblin.

  21. Angela_K says:

    AgentCormac. Echinacea is a plant herb and not a Homeopathic remedy, where the odds of getting a single molecule of the original substance is a very large number to one against.

  22. Stephen Turner says:

    I understood: NOTHING is more effective than echinacea!

    I don’t know about any evidence base and have never tried it myself
    but there is a saying about it: if you don’t take echinacea,
    your cold will last a week, and if you do it will last seven days.

  23. Paul Cook says:

    Obviously the best way to avoid a cold is not kiss some old goat in a funny hat with a Gandalf beard.

  24. Jeffrey Jones says:

    Ah, Philip Smeeton, we tried that here in South Africa; it was called Apartheid. It worked well for us whities (mlungus, in the Xhosa language), for the darkies, not so much.

  25. dennis says:

    we in the states already live apart. see what happens when we interact with one another here. Ferguson happens !!

    as to polluted water, hurry drink it all fairy angels and wait on the end of times.

  26. Cali Ron says:

    An acquaintance of mine was once lamenting how great the sixties were and how he wanted to go back to those good ol’ days, when a black friend of mine informed him that he wasn’t to fond of the idea of going to the back of the bus and police harassment. What you propose is segregation, which has been done in the States and was just another form of racism. How about we try education and tolerance instead.


  27. Cali Ron says:

    As for Ferguson, equating a white cop killing an unarmed black man with blacks and whites interacting is a huge stretch. I work at a company with hundreds of employees, including Black Americans, East Indians, Pakistanis, Mexicans, many different Asian cultures, etc. We interact just fine. Embrace diversity, as long as it’s based on reality, not superstition.

  28. Robster says:

    The holy water market will dry up quickly if work is not done to expand and enhance the range. First some flavour needs to be added, then to keep things interesting why not market some holy ice blocks on a stick, following jesus’ example? Great for hot weather, imaging the warm and fuzzies believers will get running their tongues over the jesus ice block licking between the folds of jesus flesh for that flavour boost so desired, which by a miracle will take ages to melt proving its divinity. Consumers are advised to wait for the crown of thorns to melt a bit before consumption or tongue damage may occur.

  29. Laura Roberts says:

    Angela_K and Stephen: I see no reason to think Echinacea is an effective treatment for UR ailments. The herbal remedy industry have published a few nominally encouraging results, but proper blind tests show no effect beyond placebo (e.g., Note that the cited study was supported by the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, so any bias would likely have been in the direction of rejecting the null hypothesis.

    Having said that, placebo effect is real, and evidently does not lose its efficacy even if the subject knows it’s a placebo (I’ll search for the citation if you’re interested). So the upshot is, go ahead and take Echinacea if you think it makes you feel better.