Pastor being tried for sex crimes, but still they love him. Why?
We look at the psychology of the flamboyant Timothy Omotoso's slavishly devoted flock - and at his mindset too
The surreal trial of pastor Timothy Omotoso – facing a slew of serious sex-related charges – has left a watching public bewildered at the cult-like following he commands, his seemingly mocking approach to the justice system and the gravity of the allegations.
From delusions of grandeur to presenting himself to his followers as an almighty power with a direct link to God, Omotoso has a strong following because of his charisma and ability to manipulate, experts said last week.
On Monday, when Omotoso’s long-awaited trial started, the tone was set. He and his two co-accused, Lusanda Sulani, 36, and Zukiswa Sitho, 28, face a total of 97 charges, including human trafficking, sexual assault and rape.
From the onset, the ostentatious leader of the Jesus Dominion International (JDI) church put on a show.
From outlandish outfits to snickering in the dock while a witness delivered harrowing testimony – and even a drum majorette parading outside the Port Elizabeth High Court – Omotoso seemed unfazed by court proceedings. But some experts suggested that by trivialising the seriousness of the case, Omotoso was able to maintain control over his followers.
Clinical psychologist and former brigadier in the police investigative psychology section, Dr Gérard Labuschagne, said the theatrics were likely aimed more at his supporters, to keep the momentum of their support for him going.
“Could this be seen as him trivialising the situation and presenting such to his followers? And possibly himself? I would imagine he can’t look vulnerable in front of his followers; he needs to keep their support, even if convicted. So trivialising the situation can be aimed at retaining their support.
“Keeping up the pretence of his innocence, playing up to his supporters. If you can make this an anti-church conspiracy, it makes it easier for his supporters to stick with him.
“Just look at any large church and you will probably find a degree of idolisation of the leader. We see it in politics (see Trump), we saw it with Hitler, and other historical figures that had huge followings and who ended up doing weird things.
“David Koresh is another example. These people tend to be very charismatic, and often the people drawn to them have their own emotional vulnerabilities,” Labuschagne said.
A Port Elizabeth–based clinical psychologist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared retribution by Omotoso’s followers, said his demeanour in court presented as someone with a narcissistic and psychopathic personality disorder.
“These kinds of people also have a lack of empathy, exaggerated sense of self-importance, feeling of entitlement, a need for excessive praise and attention.
“People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centred, manipulative and demanding.
“A core trait of these people is a total lack of insight or sensitivity and yes, he is, therefore, trivialising the situation. He cannot let go of his guard of superiority and his actions are therefore ways of suppressing any form of anxiety he may have regarding the court proceedings.
“His giggles shows this,” the psychologist said.
The unflinching support Omotoso commands from his supporters was evident last week when, on each occasion he was led from and to the holding cells at the court, supporters in the public gallery called out: “Daddy. We love you,” with men and women blowing kisses to their leader.
“His following would probably nurture any narcissistic features, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak,” Labuschagne said.
“You would probably find that people drawn to him so intensely already had their own emotional vulnerabilities. “Underlying vulnerabilities [make them easily] manipulated by his charisma.
“Religion is already used to control the minds and behaviours of millions, this is no different except that his seems to be more about himself and his abuse of power,” Labuschange said.
On Wednesday the court heard from the state’s first witness, Cheryl Zondi, 22, who alleged Omotoso would manipulate congregants to believe that those who did not believe him or follow his instructions would die or go insane.
“I remember on one occasion there was a man who died and [Omotoso] explained to us that it was because he disobeyed his instructions.
“The whole church feared him [Omotoso].
“Every time someone died, he [Omotoso] would flaunt this,” Zondi told the court.
Zondi was only 14 when she joined the church in 2010.
Zondi testified this week how she was allegedly sexually groomed by a methodical Omotoso to perform lewd sex acts on him.
– The Herald