opinionBy Tope Fasua
A few weeks ago, Winners' Chapel drew the ire of the British public where some have claimed that they were being taken advantage of (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2220833/Laughing-private-jet--93m-pastor-accused-exploiting-British-worshippers.html). Another Nigerian church was accused recently in the UK, of selling Olive Oil mixed with blackcurrant juice as a cure for Cancer and HIV! (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2185953/Church-slammed-selling-blackcurrant-cordial-olive-oil-drink-miracle-cure-cancer-HIV.html). I was in the UK in 2006 when Pastor Ashimolowo's church was 'busted' for violating its charity status.
The UK is a society of subtleties. Only footballers are expected to spend lavishly and ride fast cars. If you spend lavishly and live ostentatiously, you stick out like a sore thumb! It is in Nigeria that you can display an ill-gotten wealth and no one will question you. More laughably, the UK is the very country that introduced Christianity to us, so it will both be annoying and amusing to them, that we would think of re-exporting the same product to them! It's like Nigerian Muslims re-exporting a fiery brand of Islam to Saudi Arabia!
The Muslim religion may today be going through global scrutiny and have become the subject of global hate being fanned by the 'mainstream' press, and is not also helped by a few crazy people who believe in suicide bombing and so on, BUT it seems the Christian religion (the Nigerian/American hue) is far more aggressive. One of the responses to the recent bombing of a military church in Jaji, Kaduna, by one Revered Solomon Umazi was to blame Christian missionaries for not taking the gospel to every corner of Nigeria. He indicated in no uncertain terms, that only 'born-again' Christians were good people. Hear him: "The attack on Christians is a failure of missionaries who did not do enough in winning the souls of these people to the kingdom of God. The few of them who have accepted Jesus Christ are living peacefully with their neighbours. We fail to reach out to them with the sword of the spirit and now, they are visiting us with the sword of the flesh... Christians should go back to them with the gospel of peace. That is why I believe that as long as the dialogue with the Boko Haram has the gospel of peace, they will be converted and then live in peace with their fellow human beings..." See http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/boko-haram-sect-is-wicked-says-oritsejafor/131702/
Your guess is as good as mine, whether this man's disdainful, supremacist and insensitive proposition will not further burn down the region and the country, if taken by those he leads. Globally, 'Christianity' has benefited immensely from crass capitalism and of course the deception and greed that extreme capitalism finances. 'Christianity' has also piggy-backed on the media which promotes conspicuous consumption and immorality. I have put Christianity in parenthesis here, because I PERSONALLY believe that perhaps 0.01% of such churches in Nigeria actually practice Christianity - which is basically, living a life like Christ would. 'WHAT WOULD JESUS CHRIST DO?' should be the hallmark of a Christian and the question they ask themselves at every point in time. Alas, Christianity, the Nigerian brand, has never been so far apart from the message of peace, harmony, tolerance, humility, honesty, modesty, charity, sacrifice, that Jesus Christ lived and died for. We don't even need any spiritual revelations to know that if Jesus Christ lived today, he would never have been a jet-set preacher, wallowing in earthly acquisitions. The fact that AT THE END OF THE DAY, EARTHLY ACQUISITIONS REVEAL THE VACUITY AND VANITY OF LIFE WHEN WE DIE, IS ENOUGH TO CONVINCE US THAT THEY ARE NOT WORTH LIVING FOR!
I need to add that, with the plethora of posters for crusades that litter Abuja while the administrators of this city look the other way, it is evident that these 'Christian' churches are competing among themselves to determine who can con more people, and who can extract more money from people's pockets. Imagine if Muslims were conducting as half as many 'crusades', using incendiary languages about 'How to Kill Your Enemies', 'Blood Must Flow', 'Point and Kill' and what not, and being so aggressive about it. Uncharitable, intolerant Christians would have broadcast it on CNN and BBC!
My personal experience with Christianity was helped back in the day by a sojourn into Tunde Bakare's Latter Rain Assembly (LRA) in Lagos. It was a refreshing brand. The LRA is not a Macdonald franchise like many of the rest. There is only one in the world. We were not compelled to pay tithes or die! Giving offering was not a kalokalo, whereby God is said to give you back in the 'denomination' of your offering. Times one million... My lethargy in attending other churches is partly due to my moving to Abuja where there is no LRA. Not that I agree with everything Bakare ever preached. I actually think it's too risky to expect everything God planned for the children of Israel to happen to the children of Naija!
But an incident that made me totally review my alliance with Christian pastors was on a day in 2004 when I went to the Hilton Hotel to book a modest room of N40,000 a night for the MD of the bank where I worked, and the man beside me, from Winners' Chapel came to book the Presidential Suite for their General Overseer, and some more luxurious rooms for other accompanying pastors! The least pastor slept in a room that cost N75,000 per night (exclusive of taxes and service charge and food etc), while the great G.O. slept in a suite that cost N450,000 per night! The next customer, after this church man left, was Peter Okocha, the MD of Chrismatel, a shipping magnate. Okocha was also an ACN governorship candidate in Delta State. He paid for two modest rooms, N40,000 each, like I did! It occurred to me that someone who struggles for his money would be careful how he spends, while some others know the rackets that pour in money for them.
As I suggested in my previous article on religious issues, just as the government would do well to register Muslim groups so that we don't have stray ones with extremist visions running amok like is presently the case - except the government itself revels in our troubles - they would also do well TO REGISTER CHURCHES UNDER A CHARITY COMMISSION. I believe churches should be REGULATED, not taxed and they should be benchmarked as to the amount of charity work they have done. This initiative is enough to transform Nigeria, socio-economically, as churches - and mosques - compete with themselves in doing good, in providing charity in a country and for peoples, in dire need of it. We can and must continue to share - our wealth, our knowledge, even our love. All the virtues and values, when shared, multiply. Let pastors pay themselves generously, but not obscenely. Let them know that 'the best of men, is still a man, at the very best', and stop thinking they are God himself. They should stop behaving like spoilt little children, who must get everything their fickle hearts may desire.
The world is watching us, and wondering: what is wrong with these people? How can Nigeria, perhaps the world's most corrupt country, also be the world's greatest exporter of religion, of a 'fake holiness'? If we were holy, would our land be like this? Would we live in fear? WHAT IS WRONG, IS WRONG. WHAT IS BAD, IS BAD! We will never tire in saying this as often as we can. The church in Nigeria is giving a very bad name to Jesus Christ!