by Sonala Olumhense
The Bible tells the fascinating story of how the devil engaged Jesus Christ in a contest of wills. Face to face with the Lord, who had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, the devil challenged him to convert the very stones into bread. Jesus refused to do so, choosing instead to teach Satan about God.
The devil then took him high above the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple. He challenged Jesus to throw himself down to test his power. Again, the tempter received another scolding about the mightiness of God.
For his biggest pitch, the devil took Jesus up to a very high mountain and pointed out all of the world’s riches (fancy villas, private jets, beautiful women, glittering yatchs, I imagine).
Every bit of it Jesus could own, Satan offered, if he would simply bow down and worship him.
Defeated, the devil departed, and the triumphant Lord was lifted off in glory by the angels.
The experience of the average Christian is often different from that of Jesus. Still, we are expected to be Christ-like, meaning to treasure our relationship with God more than we nurture our relationship with materialism: “Him only shalt thou serve.”
Prosperity preachers do not say to their congregations, “take it…take the 30 pieces of silver!” That is two obvious. They say it is okay to have and to hold, and that God wants you to have more and get more from Him, NOW. Congregants are encouraged to give, because they would receive more of the riches they deserve.
Some pastors in history were evidently wired by the wrong electrician. Only last year, remember, one asked his followers to step into the lawn and eat the grass. In another instance, a pastor took a bevy of beautiful women to the beach, having convinced them they would find husbands…if they stripped naked for his prayers. He was last seen with a long line of nude middle-aged women on all fours while he kissed their backside.
In Nigeria, there are many respectable pastors, and the marketing of prosperity from the pulpit is perhaps the biggest business after the lootocracy. Some of the pastors in this trade are flamboyant success stories who seem ready to persuade Jesus, if he would simply step aside, they can bring their glittering riches into heaven.
To be fair, some wealthy preachers did not set out to acquire a pot of gold; it just seemed to happen. In my view, only the individual can say if he is whom he set out to be.
Of greater importance is that it is never the wealth; it is what is done with it. It is not where money meets you, but where it leads you and what it does to you. Some are filthy rich in the midst of the starving and those who cannot afford to send their bright children to school.
Some pastors are too busy preaching the gospel to take a step back from a life of luxury: palatial homes and the most expensive cars, and investments. They travel First Class, and some even own private jets. While a few are closely helping the poor and needy, there are those who believe God will prosper those He wants to prosper.
This is part of the problem with the Christian Church in Nigeria at the moment: identity. What does the Church believe in? And if a church does not Christianity make, does a pastor make a church?
It is perhaps more appropriate to state that the Christian body is growing in Nigeria. A church is not the most essential element in the faith of the individual; you can spend all day and all night in the church but yet not belong. The church is growing, but it is not clear that faith is not dwindling.
I believe the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has much to do with this. For four decades, CAN was the umbrella association of Nigerian Christian faiths. In recent times, however, it has not been one, as the devil appears have taken it to that very high mountain.
In September 2012, the Catholic Church pulled out of the group. According to the Catholic Bishops Conference, the attitudes, utterances and actions of the Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor-led executive negated “the concept of the foundation of the association and the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The Bishops said the organization had become politicized and was no longer being used to promote peace and unity in Nigeria. They declared they would no longer participate in CAN meetings at the national level until the leadership reverted to the original path.
“CAN is being dragged into partisan politics thereby compromising the ability to play its true role as conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless,” the Bishops said, and Nigerians were beginning to see the association “as an arm of the PDP.”
Since that time, sadly, things have changed in CAN only for the worse, as Oritsejafor appears to have become a part of the ruling elite.
Sure, to be a friend of the powerful is no crime, but if you are a religious leader, such privilege can limit your ability to be the “conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless.”
Only last year, there was considerable national embarrassment when Nigeria twice illegally tried to export large chunks of money into South Africa, using Oritsejafor’s private jet at least once. The pastor may well have been innocent, but for a man of God, that kind of story empties doubt into your mission and your leadership.
And now, Nigeria is embroiled in a political struggle that is fundamentally about uprooting the Jonathan government from office. Many pastors are part of his denunciation.
Not Oritsejafor. In fact, he is said to be supporting Mr. Jonathan in next week’s election because through Jonathan, he hopes to own an oil well. I am not aware he has denied that story.
As part of an election story that grows dirtier by the day, Oritsejafor’s CAN is accused of collecting from Mr. Jonathan, in bribe money, the massive sum of N7 billion.
The association has denied the charge. The problem is that CAN lacks credibility. Its bribe allegation is one of many, and some other recipients are fighting in the open about how their ‘presidential gift’ is to be shared. How does one organization prove its innocence?
Pastor Kallamu Musa Dikwa, a Northern pastor who has led the charge, also said CAN gave N3 million to each state chapter. Curiously, those bodies have shown no outrage and issued no denials.
It is no news the devil can take anyone up to that mountain in the sky. Even if CAN did not take its offer; it is clear it has a crisis of credibility on its soul that can only deteriorate.
Nigeria’s Christian community should not pretend it has been left unstained, or that there is somewhere to hide.