At what point does faith turn into tyranny? In Immanuel, winner of the inaugural Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, Matthew McNaught explores his upbringing in an evangelical Christian community in Winchester. As he moved away from the faith of his childhood in the early 2000s, a group of his church friends were pursuing it to its more radical fringes. They moved to Nigeria to join a community of international disciples serving TB Joshua, a charismatic millionaire pastor whose purported gifts of healing and prophecy attracted vast crowds to his Lagos ministry, the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN). Years later, a number of these friends left SCOAN with accounts of violence, sexual abuse, sleep deprivation and public shaming.
In reconnecting with his old friends, McNaught realized that their journey into this cult-like community was directly connected to the teachings and tendencies of the church of their childhood. Yet speaking to them awakened a yearning for this church that, despite everything, he couldn’t shake off. Was the church’s descent into hubris and division separable from the fellowship and mutual sustenance of its early years? Was it possible to find community and connection without dogma and tribalism? Blending essay, memoir and reportage, Immanuel is an exceptional debut about community, doubt, and the place of faith in the twenty-first century.