The joker 'healer' with the Midas touch

“With Jesus everything is a piece of cake”. The words of self-proclaimed,  evangelical “miracle” worker Melvin Banks, as he addressed a crowd of 40, mostly Black African women, at the Life For The World Christian Centre, in Peckham, south east London at the weekend.

Peckham, with its chequered past and powder keg mix of deprivation, serious crime and general discontent has experienced a period of renewal in recent years. A massive regeneration programme undertaken by the local council is slowly reshaping the borough’s reputation and the aspirations of residents.   

Add to this the potency of faith and religion- Peckham is littered with unregulated “new” Christian churches and centres of worship, often situated above the meat shops and beauty parlours of its bustling high street – and it’s not surprising that 71-year-old English man Banks should see this area as fertile ground for his particular vulture-like brand of religious fervour.

Traditionally, it is the disadvantaged, powerless classes of the poor, people of colour, women and the infirmed who have clung to the rudders of Christianity, not least in the hope that their unquestioning faith will lift them out of their rivers of despair, provide salvation and a better life after death.

Banks, a dead ringer for a used car sales man and Workingmen’s Club comedian, prepared the congregation for an evening of miracles, saying: “Last night, many came and went away without pain”.

As the wheelchair bound were rolled in to meet him to receive their “cure”, Banks began his soft sell of merchandise which included his “best-seller” God Is Great. He said: “This is the only Christian book to be sold in the largest secular store in London, whose name begins with ‘H’ (Harrods) “.

Boldly calling himself a “specially anointed evangelist…marked all over with the blood of Christ”, he unashamedly asked church goers to make a generous monetary offer “for the salvation of Peckham”. He said: “Give something so that you can get 100 per cent back. Cheques should be made payable to Revival Healing”.

And there’s the rub. Banks's supposed “healing touch” is inextricably linked to commerce and the financial exploitation of the sick. He suggests that the bigger the donation to his cause the greater the guarantee of relief from one’s ailments.   

As I sat in the spiritually sterile hall of the Life For The World Christian Centre, which was bereft of Christian symbolism except for the engraved cross on the front of the wooden lectern turned pulpit and a few banners hung from the walls with isolated lines from the scriptures, I became increasingly moved by the sight of the afflicted in the room. Some were barely able to raise their heads and sit upright in their seats to listen to Banks' sermon, which was peppered with inappropriate references to Daily Mail humour, British comedy act Les Dawson and Hollywood crooner Frank Sinatra and his world famous hit song My Way

Seated next to me was Sola Sammi, a middle-aged Nigerian woman and enthusiastic believer in the “powers” of Banks, who insisted that “the presence of God was strong in the atmosphere”. She chastised Margaret Wilkes, 81, and a former religious education teacher, who had travelled from Highgate in north London, with her carer, Bob. Margaret had been in a wheel chair for three months after a hip replacement operation a year and a half ago had gone wrong. Wiring had come loose and it was giving her great pain. She is a second time returnee to Banks and on this occasion donated £50. 

Sammi said: “Why doesn’t she (Margaret) just throw the wheelchair away and walk. She has received the healing so she no longer needs it”.

Margaret, who had been “touched” by Banks, was hoisted from her wheelchair by his appointed “trainee healers” and aided, was paraded on foot by them around the room as evidence of her recovery. She later confessed to The-Latest that she was still in pain.

There is only one comforting factor in this pitiable charade put on by charlatan Banks with the complicity of the church who entertained him. Out of the 10,000 promotional leaflets for the event which were shoved through the doors of unsuspecting residents of Peckham, only 40 desperate people responded.   

The-Latest will continue to investigate Melvin Banks and his sinister operation.