According to an ongoing University of Tampa study of churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, churches in Guyana collects an average of more than $350 million (tax-free Guyana Dollars) each year from their followers.
If that figure (which is equivalent to around US$1.7 million dollars) is believable, then we can clearly understand how some churches are able to build new structures from the ground up, which can amount to as much as $100 million Guyana dollars in some cases.
Hence, there is not much need to ask where they actually get the money from.
But who are the ultimate grandmasters in all of this, or rather, who are the people that are materially benefitting from all of this?
On one side of the coin, the general and the spiritual upliftment of the congregation benefits through the workings of genuine Pastors and honest leadership. But on the other side of it, the worldly desires of religious fraudsters under the guise of Pastors, are the only ones that really benefit, and continue to benefit.
In Guyana, like most places, taking on the title of Pastor, Apostle, Priest, Pandit or Imam, has no legal requirement.
Anyone can practically wake up one morning and add any of those titles to their name if they so wish, as there is no law or established statute that can realistically stop them from doing so.
But just in case you do not see an issue with that, then you must first realize that adopting the title of Pastor or Pandit (for example) has many advantages, since it carries a psychological impact on persons who are often induced into extending their trust and confidence in a person who holds themselves out as a Pastor or a Pandit.
After all, societal norms and normal processes would require that we give ultimate respect and tolerance to a person of great religious standing or a person who carries the title of a religious leader.
Knowing this, a large number of persons from all corners of the earth have come to Guyana and established themselves as a trusted appointee of the Lord, while dozens of locals have also suddenly taken on the title as Pastor or Pandit.
In essence, being a religious leader and taking advantage of its flaws is not anything hard to do.
In the case of a Church, you can simply rent a building somewhere, place a cross on it, come up with a good name, appoint yourself as Pastor, and then try to lure as many people as possible into your following.
It is as simple as that.
And whatever offering they throw or donations they make to that Church, you can practically do whatever you want with that money.
Because no matter how you twist it or turn it, the Guyana Revenue Authority or the police cannot hold you accountable for the disposal of the Church offerings.
After all, the State does not get involved in religious matters, and moreover, do not interfere with the affairs of the church, unless something explicitly criminal is reported.
In other words, you cannot file a criminal complaint against a Pastor even if he openly takes all of the Church offerings and buy a new house, go on a vacation, buys a luxury car, holds a rum binge party, or pay his bank loan.
For many, that is where the problem lies.
The general rule of the church simply demands that you do not question the spending of Church offerings or even question the decisions of its ceremonial finance committee or treasurer, who has to do the Pastor’s bidding in any case.
It is these loopholes that dozens of religious fraudsters have been relying on to set up front churches and basically run it like a gangster business.
From compelling their congregations to only throw large currency notes into the offering basket, to demanding gifts of gold, properties, and other valuables, religious criminals sets no limit upon the people that they prey on.
While their targets are mainly depressed housewives, troubled persons and young women under distress, a large number of professionals have also been dragged into the fold, and would often find it difficult to part ways with an exploiting church.
In other instances, there have been too many cases of religious fraudsters coercing young female members of their congregation into promiscuous relationships with the male hierarchy, while many married women also ended up becoming entrapped in adulterous relationships with church leaders that they often cannot part with.
All of these sorts of occurrences behind the walls of the church has been labeled as a religious fraud by US Federal agents who are stepping up their assault on this new class of crime.
Religious fraud is big business in almost every part of the world.
In the United States, it is widely believed that churches make more than US$400 billion per year, including the Catholic Church which is tagged at around US$170 billion.
But more than half of that $400 billion is harnessed annually by religious fraudsters who are able to continue to dig into cash under the protection of their church.
As indicated earlier, an ongoing University of Tampa study of churches in Latin America and the Caribbean have suggested that Guyanese churches collect more than $350 million (tax-free Guyana Dollars) each year from their followers.
It is also believed that at least $120 million of that money is collected and utilized by religious fraudsters in Guyana, who like their US counterparts, use various churches as fronts to easily drain cash out of the pockets of unsuspecting Guyanese.
Moreover, Churches and religious organizations in Guyana also enjoys millions of dollars in duty-free concessions and other tax concessions from the State, thus allowing them to keep most of the money that they have collected.
Nonetheless, the ultimate question has always been “where does all of that money go?”
But since Guyana is a very small country, and a somewhat difficult place to conceal everything, tracing the cash is not as difficult as many may want to believe.
While some churches would genuinely burn some of their cash on supporting charitable causes and other community projects, and funding the work of the church a large percentage of the others simply uses it to enrich their hierarchy, which would often transcend into the purchasing of luxury vehicles, acquisition of private properties and other luxury assets, often under the guise of a church loan that will never be repaid.
In one case, the Guyana Guardian uncovered a situation where one particular religious fraudster was using the church offering to support his entire family that lives abroad, at a rate of more than $1 million Guyana dollars per month.
Two others were found to have used millions of church dollars to buy shares into a local bank and a beverage manufacturer under their respective names.
In another instance, a young religious fraudster who also holds the title as Pastor ensure that he furnish his young mistress with a new car and an active University education using cash from his church treasury.
When each one of them was confronted about their religious misdeeds, the only thing they all wanted to know was “which one of their church members had provided the respective information to the Guardian”. Nothing else.
For them, it is the Church money, and the Church has the right to spend it in whatever way they deem right.
Because no matter how many articles are published out there today about religious exploitation by some make-believe Pastors within their fly-by-night churches, Guyanese people are still going to turn up and throw their hard-earned cash into the offering bowl again, tomorrow.