Did the Actions of Sarah Palin’s Exorcist, Thomas Muthee, Lead to the Murder of Mama Jane, the “Witch” of Kiambu?

Former Fuller Seminary professor Peter Wagner, in his book, Praying with Power (published in June of 2008), provides a rather detailed—and frankly chilling—description of Sarah Palin’s exorcist and witch hunting political ally Thomas Muthee.

Specifically, Wagner recounts the start of Muthee’s career and his encounter with the “witch” known as “Mama Jane.”

Who is Peter Wagner? Here’s a quote from his Wikipedia page: 

In 1982 Wagner teamed up with John Wimber, a founder of the Vineyard Movement, to create a new course at Fuller called “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth”. Since that point, Wagner has been formally associated with Charismatic teaching and theology. Wagner describes himself as a Charismatic Evangelical. During the 1990s he also taught a Sunday School class with a strong focus on the charismatic gifts, known as “120 Fellowship”, at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA.

Below I quote and discuss various passages on Thomas Muthee from Wagner’s book.

It’s important to note that Wagner knows Muthee personally, and works with him on various projects.

This first quote is from page 23 of Praying with Power:

Notice that Muthee links politics, economics, and religion.

There is, in other words, no church-state separation for Muthee. Economic and political battles are undergirded by spiritual battles against demons.

One can only wonder whether Sarah Palin thinks of economics and politics in similar terms.

Notice also that Wagner positions Thomas Muthee as someone who has unusual spiritual powers. In any other context, we would say that Wagner is attributing to Muthee magical or psychic powers—but in the lingo of charismatics, these are called the “gifts of the Spirit.”

One of Muthee’s gifts, apparently, is the ability to discern things in the spirit realm, for he “had learned that the devil assigns . . . demons over towns, cities, and nations, as well as families.” This is a curious thing to discover, and if true, is an extremely important piece of information to communicate to an American vice-president or president.

Do you suppose that Sarah Palin would give weight to Thomas Muthee’s words for her, whenever they might meet or talk by phone?

The second quote is from p. 24 of Wagner’s book:                                     

Notice that Wagner presumes that witchcraft is something real—and he exercises no skepticism in the recounting of this story.

God is also presumed, without evidence, to be the source for Muthee’s vision.

The next quote from Wagner’s book, from page 26, brings us to a characterization of Kiambu’s local “witch,” Mama Jane:

Notice the adjectives used in the passage. Mama Jane is “notorious,” “perverse,” and “powerful.” The car accidents are “mysterious.”

The exact same narrative template could have been used by medieval Europeans to describe Jews in their community and a cluster of, say, drowning deaths in a particular part of town.

In other words, if this kind of talk was directed at Jews, and diabolical happenings were attributed to them, we would recognize immediately the mind of an anti-semite. What we see, instead, is the mind of a mysogenist.

The next passage appears on page 27:

Notice here that Wagner is setting up Mama Jane as being in a contest with Thomas Muthee’s group, and that she is provoking confrontation.

Whether she was engaging in such confrontation is open to question. Another way to interpret her behavior is that she was simply a woman with animist or magical beliefs, and that she was practicing her religious beliefs in proximity to Muthee’s group, which they interpreted as a challenge.

Or it may be that Wagner’s characterization of the situation is accurate, and Mama Jane was provoking a confrontation with Muthee’s group.

But if this is the case, we can only wonder whether or not Mama Jane, as a woman besieged and outnumbered, was simply fighting back in the way that she knew how—by counter gestures of magical thinking.

But even this explanation sounds fishy. A woman facing the paranoia of her community, and the violence it could entail, is unlikely to act out public gestures that would provoke further paranoia.

In short, Mama Jane’s provocations may be akin to a story teller’s rationalization after the fact.

It would be hard to justify harrassing a woman who mostly kept to herself.

In any case, the encounter between Muthee’s group and this unfortunate woman appears to have been one saturated with paranoia, superstition, and magical thinking, perhaps from both sides.

And it got worse:

Yes, you read that right.

Stone her.

And yes, this is the 21st century, not the 16th.

And yes, it appears that no explanation but deviltry (“it could be no coincidence”) could be fathomed, by Muthee’s followers, for Mama Jane’s proximity to a dangerous traffic area.

On page 30 of Wagner’s book is this description of Muthee’s demand that Mama Jane leave the community:

By the way that Wagner describes it, it is hard to tell if these were individual or collective public gestures of iconoclastic burning and destruction.

And one can only wonder what else was deemed worthy of burning that Wagner does not mention.

Books? 

Whatever exactly went on in Kiambu, Muthee’s cruel and arrogant behavior, and that of his agressive and frightened followers, must have been terrifying for Mama Jane to behold. 

And Wagner might have, with the exact same evidence, depicted Muthee as a fanatic and hysteric trampling on the basic human rights of another human being.

But instead, Wagner makes Muthee into a modern day Elijah in the process of vanquishing a Satan-driven follower of Baal.

Wagner’s triumphalism reaches a still more feverish and absurd pitch in this next passage, from pg. 31 of his book:

Mama Jane’s arrest and detention is simply described by Wagner as “questioning.”

But Kenya is not the United States, and the police may well have threatened, intimidated, or even tortured her.

Her quick exit from the town, and her complete disappearance from the narrative, suggests that she may well have been threatened with death.

She may even have been killed, inside or outside the city, perhaps by the police, who then said that she “left” the community.

Why, one wonders, given the high degree of paranoia and superstition that Muthee had generated in the town, should we take for granted that Mama Jane got out of the community alive?

Wouldn’t the rumor of her being a witch have followed her?

Does it really make sense that she just went away and lived somewhere else in peace?

Wouldn’t her life, after her encounter with Thomas Muthee, have been forever precarious?

Wagner’s gleeful statement that Kiambu became a witch’s graveyard may, in literal fact, have been true.

I hope that Mama Jane got out of Kiambu alive.

But I don’t trust the narrator of this story, or Thomas Muthee’s version.

Something seems improbable here.

As Judge Judy used to say, “If it doesn’t make sense, it probably didn’t happen that way.”

Wagner’s telling of Thomas Muthee’s rise to power in Kiambu ends on this note:

And they all lived happily ever after—except Mama Jane.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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18 Responses to Did the Actions of Sarah Palin’s Exorcist, Thomas Muthee, Lead to the Murder of Mama Jane, the “Witch” of Kiambu?

  1. TNO says:

    A very reasonable question and one I would like an answer to…

    Where is Mama Jane?

  2. And you thought Jeremiah Wright was scary! Read Obama’s first book, Dreams from my Father, to learn his accounts of corruption and superstition in Kenya.

  3. R. Gagnon says:

    Thank you for all the work you put into this article. I put a link to your article in a post I put up on Gather about the subject. Hopefully, people will check out your work.

  4. santitafarella says:

    R. Gagnon,

    I had to do some digging to put the story together. Thanks for linking to it.

    I feel like we need to preserve the story of this poor woman, Mama Jane.

    Far, far too many anonymous women throughout history have “disappeared” or been outright murdered as “witches,” and here we actually have a witch story of a person that we can attach a name to.

  5. Pingback: Scapegoating Mama Jane: An Evangelical Book on Missions Tells the Story of Sarah Palin’s Witch Hunting Supporter, Thomas Muthee, and the Woman He Accused of Witchcraft—Mama Jane « Prometheus Unbound

  6. TNO says:

    Santi,

    People who might have information about Mama Jane are those who were involved in helping Thomas Muthee start up his Prayer Cave in Kiambu. According to a 2004 cache of the website http://www.godsglory.org, a couple named Rudi and Sharon Swanepoel were involved in the inception of Muthee’s ministry…

    http://web.archive.org/web/20040217193001/http://www.godsglory.org/prayercave/index.html

    The Swanepoels are of the same religious persuasion as Muthee, but the fact that their current site contains no information about the Prayer Cave or about Muthee leads me to wonder if there was a falling out between the Swanepoels and Muthee. In any case, I think there is a chance that the Swanepoels or someone listed on the cache of the God’s Glory site know something about Mama Jane.

    TNO

  7. santitafarella says:

    TNO,

    Thank you for the new information—hopefully we can find out the story behind this story. Please let me know if you find out more.

    I think it would be very interesting—and on humanitarian grounds, important—to discover what happened to Mama Jane.

    I also wonder what we can find out about the Nairobi suburb of Kiambu in general.

    I wonder how Catholics and Muslims etc. in that community feel about the charismatic fundamentalist witch hunting and spiritual warfare movement.

    I wonder what the average level of education is among the populace.

    —Santi

  8. TNO says:

    Someone at Mashada forums might know something about Mama Jane. People there are starting to talk about Mr. Muthee now that news of his relationship to the US candidate for vice president is spreading.

    http://www.mashada.com/forums/

    http://www.mashada.com/forums/search.php?searchid=314292

  9. TNO says:

    I’m trying to register at Mashada forums but I keep getting an error every time I submit the registration information. Oh well. I’ll try again tommorrow I guess.

    TNO

  10. susieq133 says:

    Do some research – I found an interview with Mama Jane online and she is still living in Kiambu and running a daycare.

  11. santitafarella says:

    susieq:

    that’s a very important piece of the puzzle—if true. could you post, please, your online source—so i can check it out?

    —santi

  12. susieq133 says:

    You can go to this site and read the entire article but I would take it with a grain of salt.

    http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3773/context/archive

  13. santitafarella says:

    susieq:

    “womens e news”, the website that you directed me to, is actually quite interesting. and the article that you point to is very informative. the editor of the news site is a feminist who apparently once worked with the ny times.

    so i’m not sure why you think that the article might be dubious—and taken with a grain of salt.

    of course, all news should be read critically, but do you have reason to think that this particular news article might be false—or at least in key parts false?

    could you explain?

    —santi

  14. susieq133 says:

    You’re the one that used the word “dubious”. I’ve just learned not to trust most of what I read or hear. First hand knowledge is the best thing to base your opinion on.

  15. susieq133 says:

    I’m sorry – I should have said, “on which to base your opinion”
    I saw that you are a teacher and my old English Comp teacher would have corrected me!

  16. santitafarella says:

    susieq:

    i’m not uptight about ending a sentence on a preposition.

    and i hope that you didn’t think i was attacking your post—or you. i was just trying to find out if you had some information about the website that would lead me to take the story with an even greater degree of skepticism than usual.

    it does seem to vary from muthee’s claims about mama jane—and so it raises a “he said”-“she said” dilemma about what actually went on in Kiambu.

    if the article is accurate, i’m happy to hear that Mama Jane survived her encounter—and even managed to find a way to continue living in the community of her choice (against the pressures of religious conformity).

    but if the article is accurate, muthee is, at the very least, a fabulist—and at worst, an outright liar, charlatan, and religious bigot.

    can you imagine what it must take for someone to pray for the death of another human being because she doesn’t share your religious beliefs? that’s what the last paragraph of the article says muthee did.

  17. susieq133 says:

    I’ve done alot of research on Bishop Muthee. Here’s a site you can check out.

    http://www.restorationalliance.org/ra_African_Water_Projects.html

    Since this was written, they have dug two wells, with the help of US churches and the people can’t believe people whom they don’t even know would “give” them free water.

    There is more “good” info out there if you just keep an open mind and look for it. Don’t get hung up on someone’s opinion – form your own based on facts.

    I’m not good at debating with someone (though ones around me would probably disagree). I would rather put myself down than to brag about a fool!

  18. Pingback: Demons 90210?: In the NY Times Today is an Extensive Write-Up on Sarah Palin’s Connection to the “Spiritual Warfare/Spiritual Mapping” Fundamentalist Movement « Prometheus Unbound

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