The hostility between Pastors Chris and Anita Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy Church is getting messier, as it has emerged that Christ Embassy has deleted her pictures and personal information from its official website.
Those in the know described the action as the beginning of a process to shut her out of the church, after she accused her husband of "adultery" and "unreasonable behaviour" in the divorce suit filed in London last April but only made public on Friday.
According to The Streamng, Christ Embassy's new website now shows only Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, with a broad smile welcoming his followers to the month of September and tagging it, "Month of Praise".
In the message on the website, Oyakhilome also urged his followers to "rejoice for the joy of the Lord is your strength".
Also, on the website of the Rhapsody of Realities, a daily devotional co-authored by the erstwhile couple, there was nothing to show that Anita had anything to do with the church, as the only visible face on the website among the family members was that of her husband.
However, it was too early to ascertain if the September edition of the Rhapsody of Realities still had the photographs of both the pastor and his wife, as was the case in the past.
The duo had presented themselves as a model couple, who many of their followers and members wanted to emulate. In the past, when the going was good, Anita and Chris Oyakhilome held hands on the church website and smiled broadly. They projected the image of a perfect couple.
Signs that things were falling apart for the couple began to surface at the beginning of the year when Chris and Anita were hardly seen at public occasions together.
Also, the cracks became apparent last May when Pastor Chris said some unpleasant things about Anita while he addressed his pastors in the United Kingdom. He told the pastors: "Bitterness is prolonged and accumulated anger. My wife is always angry and bitter."
He further condemned the attitude of the wife for seeing herself as an equal. According to Chris, "Some pastors' wives think when they marry a pastor, they are equals to the pastors. My wife thinks so. As a matter of fact, Rev. Tom was her pastor before I married her and Rev. Ray and Evang. Owase were her leaders long before I married her. How come she thinks she's senior to them now?"
The fact that when the chips are down, the ownership of the church will not be debatable was also well laid out by Chris when he stated: "I already started Christ Embassy before I married her. I didn't marry her and said we should start Christ Embassy. I was already pastoring. I already set my sail and knew my direction before I married her. I only said come and help me."
Pastor Chris, as he is popularly called, and his Christ Embassy Church, are no strangers to scandals, as they have had a sizeable load of it in the past.
In 2010, Oyakhilome was accused of engineering a money laundering scheme in Nigeria, and questions swirled around his finances because of his glamorous lifestyle.
Many pastors and theologians also excoriated Oyakhilome for his "New Creation" doctrine which many saw as heresy-a form of gnosticism that postulated that after a person became a Christian, any sin they committed was only in the body and will not affect the spirit.
In 2008, Oyakhilome's reputation as a faith healer was further tarnished in Johannesburg, South Africa, when a man told a Soweto newspaper that Christ Embassy offered him more than $1,200 to sit in a wheelchair and pretend to be crippled until Oyakhilome prayed for him.
"The man went to the media instead of taking the money, sparking concerns that healings were being faked to impress growing crowds," said Lee Grady in an article in 2012 published by Charisma Magazine.
The same year, another Nigerian pastor, Chris Okotie, had accused Oyakhilome of conniving with Pastor TB Joshua in practising necromancy as well as other unbiblical acts in order to win over a large congregation.
In addition, Oyakhilome had been the target of criticism by the Treatment Action Campaign for his support of faith healing to cure HIV/AIDS.
Similarly, allegations that Christ Embassy members were reportedly being forced to give huge sums of money in offerings, with the biggest donors receiving the biggest award, had left many people concerned.
Many Nigerians had also alleged that the church operates like a cult and pressures members to marry only within Christ Embassy.
Many people also remember the scandal involving Christ Embassy and Sheraton Hotel some years ago when a member of the church, who worked at the Sheraton Hotel, stole money from his employers and gave it to Christ Embassy.
But when Sheraton approached the church for a refund, the church allegedly claimed that the money had been given to God and could not be retrieved.
Many had also excoriated Pastor Chris some years ago when the church began collecting gate fee from members for their New Year eve service.
More recently, Oyakhilome came under attack after he claimed that Christians were free to masturbate because it was not a sin.
But the latest scandal involving Anita and Chris, who have two daughters, Sharon and Charlene, seems to threaten the very existence of one of the biggest churches in Nigeria.
Christ Embassy runs several arms including the Healing School, Rhapsody of Realities, and an NGO called the Inner-city Missions as well as three Christian television channels: LoveWorld TV, LoveWorld SAT and LoveWorld Plus.
The church has branches all over the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, South America and the whole of Europe.
With Agency Report