At a church event, a then serving President said that he honoured the church’s invitation because the pastor of the church routinely prayed for him and e-mailed him the transcript of the prayers. To pray for your president is magnificent, but to email him the text of the prayer was expedient: a self-serving act (most likely) aimed at getting the attention, and currying the favour of the President.
Pastors, especially those of the new generation, Pentecostal, mega churches in Nigeria desperately desire to hobnob with presidents, governors and other members of the power elite. The power elite appreciate the ingratiation of these pastors, and though rarely prophets, pastors or preachers themselves, they relish being thrust before church audiences to pray, preach and exhort. There is a symbiotic alliance between the Nigerian power elite and religious elite. They need each other in their determined exploitation of the Nigerian masses.
Over the years, the Nigerian power elite have reduced Nigeria to a blundering and floundering country, considered a failed state in some international circles. Their corruption, irresponsible governance and anti-people policies consigned a disproportionate percentage of Nigerians to raw-dirt poverty and stupefacient ignorance. Their moral bankruptcy and lawlessness promoted avarice, aggressiveness of wealth and culture of impunity – essentially – a moral and ethical collapse of the Nigerian society.
Ordinarily, the Nigerian men of God should be unrelenting in their condemnation of these rulers. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, enjoined his followers to “criticise an erring ruler fearlessly in behalf of the common good”. Yes, it is a moral, spiritual and social obligation to censure an errant leader. Criticisms are most helpful to rulers. They remind them of their frailties and limitations, that, in spite of the loftiness of their positions and expansiveness of their powers, they remain as fallible as an abased destitute. It humbles and sobers them. And sobriety and humility are necessary qualities for responsible leadership.
The Bible states that, “he who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” Accordingly, earlier men of God like Samuel, Elijah and John the Baptist boldly reprimanded leaders that ruled unjustly and without the fear of God. Modern history is also suffused with instances of pastors taking resolute stances against bad leadership, social injustice and wicked government policies. Black American preachers like Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson played pivotal roles in getting America to live up to her creed that, “… all men are created equal.” During the apartheid era in South Africa, Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak, among other clergymen, played pivotal roles in dismantling that unconscionable, institutionalised racism. But in Nigeria, preachers, for the most part, do not question the abuse of power and the bad policies of the power class, most of who rule unjustly and without reverence for the law, respect for man or fear of God. This is because the pastors, mostly, of the one-man-owned Pentecostal churches, are as greedy and venal as the most morally degenerate of the political elite. With their Prosperity Doctrine and its inherent distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they ignore the motifs of Christianity (repentance, righteousness, love for others, etc) and dwell on the false doctrine of sowing seeds and prospering. The object of the Prosperity Doctrine is not to make Christians more Christ-like but to line the pastors’ pockets, maintain their swanky lifestyles and enlarge their financial empires. Preaching their false doctrine with the flippancy and smoothness of a con artist, they badger and browbeat their members into emptying their pockets into the offering boxes as offerings, tithes and seeds. While a considerable proportion of their members live in poverty and squalor, the pastors, with their tax-free wealth, dwell in mansions, possess fleet of luxury cars, own private jets and indulge their other fantasies. The political class are obliging them this protection because they need the pastors to brainwash Nigerian Christians into political passivity. So, the pastors can continue with their convolution of the Christian doctrine and exploitative amassing of wealth but, in return, preach passivity and docility to their members. With the level of disillusion and frustration among the masses, the pastor’s role is to dissuade a populace enraged by the excesses and evils of the power elite from questioning their leaders and demanding accountability and retribution. As such, from the pulpit, Nigerian pastors exculpate the power elite from the havoc they are wrecking on this country and indict the masses for the offences of the leaders. They preach docility, servility and tolerance (for the intolerable) to their members; insinuating that it is sinful to criticise your leaders. They urge them not to complain about the desperate poverty that mars their lives; the pigsties and hovels they inhabit; the trash strewn, festering, oozing and vermin-infested neighbourhoods they live in; etc; but to just pray for their leaders. • Ezukanma, a social analyst, writes from Lagos