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

I’ve been able to locate yet another major Evangelical book, written in 2000, but reprinted in 2008, that tells the story of Thomas Muthee’s rise to power in Kenya, and makes mention of his driving off from Kiambu a woman named Mama Jane.

The Muthee related passage below comes from Stan Guthrie’s book, Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century (Paternoster Press 2008).

The author is a senior associate news editor at Christianity Today.

The passage leads off chapter 9 of the book (“Prayer as Warfare”), and appears on page 92 as follows:

Kenyan pastor Thomas Muthee and his wife, Margaret, saw the notorious Nairobi suburb of Kiambu as a ministry graveyard. Searching for solutions to Kiambu’s violence and the barriers to Christian outreach, in 1988 the Muthees began praying and doing research on the cause of the spiritual oppression. Finally, Thomas Muthee says, they discovered the source of Kiambu’s oppression—the spirit of witchcraft. The locus was said to be a diviner named Mama Jane.

Muthee held an evangelistic crusade, and 200 people made public Christian commitments. Soon the church they formed, called the Prayer Cave, sponsored 24-hour prayer for Kiambu from its grocery store basement location. Mama Jane fought back but eventually left town, defeated. Muthee says that “the demonic influence—the principality over Kiambu—was broken.” Since then, the church has grown to 5,000 members, 400 of whom meet daily for 6am prayer sessions. The crime rate in Kiambu is down and the economy and population are growing.

The basic recital of facts here is markedly similar to Peter Wagner’s description of Muthee’s rise (see here), and like Wagner, Guthrie characterizes that rise as “positive” (92).

Indeed, the story reads, in both Wagner’s and Guthrie’s telling, like a morality tale. A good person fought for the community; a bad person was vanquished from the community; and everyone who loved God in the proper fashion lived happily ever after. 

But the recital of facts here also suggests a number of questions. Here are a few:

  • Why is the Nairobi suburb of Kiambu characterized as “notorious” by Guthrie—and who is the source for this piece of information? Muthee himself? Is there any reason to believe that Muthee’s telling of his success story to American audiences is in any way self-serving?
  • Why does Guthrie use the phrase “ministry graveyard?” Peter Wagner also spoke of Kiambu as a competition between whether the city would be a minister’s graveyard or a witch’s graveyard (see here). Is it possible that something far more violent happened to Mama Jane than Muthee has communicated to American audiences?
  • Why do neither this author, nor Peter Wagner, find Muthee’s behavior irrational, alarming, and fundamentally irresponsible? If you thought that you got a “word from the Lord” that there is witchcraft in a city, and you started focusing your group’s energies on one particular woman as a “witch,” wouldn’t that woman rightly be said to be suffering a grave injustice? How would you know if you really heard from God, and why should this one woman have been treated as a scapegoat—a locus—upon which a community focuses its energies and fears? Wasn’t Muthee’s behavior, in short, grossly irresponsible?
  • Even if Mama Jane were a “witch,” doesn’t she have a basic human right to non-harassed practice of her religious beliefs? Why is Muthee such a star among American Evangelical circles?
  • What does it mean that Mama Jane fought back—but eventually left town? Did she engage in counter gestures of magical thinking—as in the casting of spells? And where did she go? Did she just disappear? Might she have been killed? Did she have family? How old was she? In short, her departure from the narrative is much too tidy.
  • Why does Guthrie take correlation for causation? In other words, if Kiambu’s economy is better (and no numbers are offered to bolster this notion), and fundamentalist brands of Christianity now enjoy a more favorable reception in Kiambu, what does this have to do with the death or exodus of a single woman from the community? Doesn’t such a correlation smack of the most primitive mysogenist bigotry—akin to European antisemitism? Is it really still an option for thoughtful and humane individuals, after the Holocaust, to declare that only communities cleansed of undesirable members can enjoy economic and spiritual prosperity?

For a bit of relief from the craziness of all this 21st century witch hunting, here’s Monty Python’s version of a witch trial:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to 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

  1. Jim Wilson says:

    Good questions, I would like to know some of the answers myself. Thank you for usch a provocative and well written blog.

    Rev. Jim Wilson

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve seen from various sources that the place where Mama Jane worked/owned was “Emmanuel Clinic”. Does anyone know what Mama Jane’s job was? Or what this clinic business is about? (Some say it was divination which seems a bit odd, but who knows I guess.) Is it possible Mama Jane was providing sexual health services to the community or something (which would explain why Muthee decided she was a ‘witch’)? Maybe even normal healthcard would frighten someone like Muthee since something based on helping people via rational science rather then asking them to believe in you without evidence tends to frighten religious nutters

  3. Margaret says:

    Being prayed for by someone does not mean that you believe everything that they are praying against. When Muthee started praying for Sarah Palin, she didn’t necessarily know that he was going to pray against witchcraft.
    I am sick and tired of people who do not have the slightest clue about prayer, shooting their mouths off and vilifying those who believe.
    To all you lot out there who are shouting about things that you know nothing about, I suggest that you shut up, get a bible, read it and understand it. Only then should you qualify to open your mouths and debate this matter.

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