Tuesday, August 6, 2019

n the 1970s, when one got born-again, s/he joined the ranks of brothers and sisters who eschewed materialism, self-aggrandizement, and one-upmanship. Status was derived from humility whereas, the more one placed others above self, the better s/he was esteemed. Brethren bore no titles, wore simple clothing, and honored others. We were all equal before Christ.

The 1990s brought the prosperity gospel which turned our image of Christ and Christianity on its head. Prosperity preachers propounded that contrary to existing theology that Jesus was poor, he was actually a wealthy man. "He had wealth at his command," they said. "Even after his death, lots were cast to see who got his robe; he was that rich." And if he was rich, he wants all his followers to be rich also. Thus, the plain and humble gospel of the Scripture Union (SU) was cast aside for a flamboyance reflecting the "prosperity we have in Christ. A charismatic gospel, prosperity preaching attracted followers in droves. Fancy clothes, fancier cars, luxuries unlimited. After all, their father, God owned cattle on a thousand hills, the least they could do, was own a couple hundred.

Unfortunately, the rise of the sensational church coincided with the impoverishment of majority of Nigerians. The International Monetary Fund's austerity measures of the 1980s, eroded the middle class and decimated the lower classes. Jobs were scarce or underpaid, education became a luxury, and three square meals, a pipe dream. Both the middle and lower classes became vulnerable to the vagaries of every ruling cohort. They flocked to the church for salvation.

By the 2000s, the self-serving prosperity gospel had welcomed into its fold, innumerable brazen buzzards who stormed the pulpit with their entourages of sycophants. They ascribed titles unto themselves - senior pastor, bishop, overseer, general overseer, eminence, beneficent, apostle, venerable, papa, mama, etc. They established new denominations; creating governance hierarchy, rules, and regulations of their own assemblies. They promised prosperity, security, happiness, and every blessing would be bestowed on their congregants.

So, the people came. Those failed by the state, both traditional and modern; the destitute, and the abandoned. The Preacher became the example of what God does for those He favors. S/he was elected of God, a superstar. As poverty drove the populace mindless, they suspended logic, and bowed to the whims of the beacon who seemed to be thriving amidst the morass of the Nigerian state. She says, "I tithed my way to wealth," so they put the money scraped together for their children's school fees, into the offering basket. He says, "anointing flows from the top to those who are obedient," so they bow their heads to be watered from his. Hundreds of millions of naira pour into cavernous baskets each year.

Untouchable, the demagogue walks in and out of the parishioners homes and lives without care. Nothing is sacrosanct because all are under his "divine mandate" - man, wife, son, daughter; sin, sorrow, sadness, pain. A permissive gospel, a reckless gospeler, a haven for a multitude of sins and transgressions. After all, supernova started the church, bought the building, gathered the people, and dictates the gospel. Who born monkey to challenge him?

From the pulpit to the pews, the formula spread - to be favored of God, feed the pastor. So, the enterprising steal, kill, and sell fake drugs in order to make the money to gain the status, to become the right hand of the 'beloved of the Lord.' After successful heists, they testify to God's faithfulness and everyone shouts halleluyah. They move to the front of the line to those who get to see the G.O. when he comes visiting his minions.

To be sure, Nigeria does not have a monopoly on pulpit predators. But the lack of laws or law-enforcement, exacerbates the problem. Whereas in other countries where men of the cloth have degenerated into lawlessness, state authorities have stepped in to call them to order. To wit, Sunday Adelaja in the Ukraine, Matthew Ashimolowo in the UK, and Timothy Omotoso in South Africa; there is no such law enforcement in Nigeria. Further, a society racked by the twin forces of poverty and insecurity, is too weak to fight the divine devourers.

Perhaps, the only recourse may to be pray that God save Nigeria from those who prey on His people and call His name, Money.