As an unremarkable office worker, I have never been known for my valiance, however there was something about Bob Churchill's email last Thursday that awoke my inner activist. Churchill, from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, called for volunteers to protest the arrival in the UK of the notorious 'witch hunter' Helen Ukpabio. Many people will know the Nigerian pastor from the 2008 Dispatches documentary 'Saving Africa's Witch Children' which exposed the practice of subjecting 'child witches' to horrific abuse. This vile belief system, which shoehorns a primitive fear of sorcery into evangelical Christianity, has made Ukpabio a very wealthy woman. Through her ministry of over 150 churches across Nigeria, Ukpabio has promoted the wholesale ostracism and physical torture of thousands of children.
The evangelical movement has exploded across London with charismatic preachers offering their flock material success in this world as well as redemption in the next. Ukpabio goes one step further by offering protection against 'spiritual attacks' (presumably at the hands of infants). In addition to this sinister yet ludicrous proposition Ukpabio offers her congregation protection against 'mermaid spirit attacks'. The message would be laughable, were it not so effective. For nearly 20 years Ukpabio has deployed these crude methods to accrue countless followers, and a vast fortune. It is now her intention to spread her message of god-sanctioned child abuse in Britain.
I attended the protest along with a few like-minded humanists. There was some initial confusion as the building that housed Ukpabio's meeting also held other Christian gatherings. Concerned church-goers tried to shoo us off the premises, fearing an attack of middle-class atheists. We engaged them in conversation however, and many of them shared our revulsion at Ukpabio's doctrine (one young lady did still accuse us of 'disrespecting her God'). Bob Churchill was right when he urged us not to enter into theological debate with the defensive religionists - to discuss the nature of belief with a group of irritated Christians would have been unhelpfully reductive. After all, the protest was not about 'atheists' slamming the church, it was about preventing child abusers from setting up shop in the capital. My fellow protesters were an ordinary group of citizens doing what many would given the opportunity. Indeed, as we gathered around the corner, waiting for Ukpabio to emerge, a woman from another congregation tipped us off. "That witch-hunter woman is outside" she said, "go and do what you came here for".
Bob Churchill and Channel 4 deserve kudos for highlighting Ukpabio's attempt to infiltrate London's evangelical community. My own slender contribution was exactly this: I held a sign. Still, I grew up near to Ukpabio's gathering, and the thought of child abusers operating in my neighbourhood was horrifying. When it comes to the safety of our children, we are all humanists.