IKE EWEAMA'S REFLECTIONS

Ike EweamaTuesday, March 17, 2009
fr_ike@ocdiocese.org
South Carolina

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$28M PRIVATE JET: PADDING POCKETS OF PASTORS

he article on Pastor Adeboye spending N4bn buying a jet is acutely painful for me. I am one of those who respect him greatly. I am also one who has seen many friends give a large portion of their hard-earned money to the Redeem Church while they struggle daily to pay their bills. In America here where I live, many of them do not have papers to get better jobs yet they are so faithful to their tithing and giving towards God's work.


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Pastor E. A. Adeboye

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It is totally incomprehensible and somewhat scandalous to me that the GO spends $28m to buy a Jet while a Redeem pastor friend of mine is having a hard time paying for where he and his congregation worship. I really hate to see preachers of the Gospel who preach in the name of Jesus, the one who came "not to be served but to serve" maintain what appears to be such an opulent lifestyle while they portray the face of thrift. Why can this money not be used to help the community where many congregations struggle daily to make ends meet under very challenging circumstances? The only reason one may give for this mind boggling insensitivity to the suffering of the members of the congregation is that the GO needs the Jet for evangelism. How did Christ and the Apostles do it? $28m would have been enough to pay off the mortgage of small struggling Redeem congregations all over the world. No wonder, the great Mahatma Gandhi was quoted as saying to visiting Christians, "I like your Christ, I do not like you Christians. You Christians are so unlike your Christ."

It is a pretty controversial thing, as a priest and a friend to many Redeem members, to be critical of their general overseer - though I do think that God calls us, as Christians, to bring each other to account. When I read the article "Redeemed Church acquires N4bn aircraft" and hear of other pastors getting rich off of the tithes people are giving to God I am completely sickened. Once again we find ourselves in a dilemma where we give tools to people who hate Christ to look at the church leaders as being greedy and working not for the extension of the Kingdom of God but for the extension of their own personal kingdoms. I do not think that the priests of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or the Imams of Islam etc will ever think of private jets not in a Nation like Nigeria with one of the lowest per capita income in the world. What a place we find ourselves as Christians? The funniest thing is that when I brought this up to another friend who attends one of the Redeem churches, the response I got was, "Be careful pastor how you criticize the work of Daddy GO or you will incur the wrath of his followers."

My intention is not to criticize but to vent my anguish at this injustice. We all know of slick, opulent-living operators of Churches in American with private jets like Benny Hinn, Frederick K.C. Price, Creflo Dollar, Jan and Paul Rouch, K.A. Paul, Joyce Meyer, Paula and Randy White, Mike Murdock, Kenny Copeland, Rod Parsley. I did not think that in my lifetime such unthinkable waste could come into the Nigerian Church. I guess Pastors Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God and David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church joined them and are setting the unenviable standard for upcoming "overseers" to follow. But we all know of the one Pastor who they all purport to be following who said that he," had no place to lay his head."(Matthew 8:20)

I know some Redeem members will not accept my evaluation of their GO's action. I will make my statement very clear. I think that the Church whether Redeem or Winners ought to stand up, speak with a clear and unequivocal voice and bring these church leaders into account. This is an injustice to the masses of poor people who throng these churches and these people should not be protected by cozy, non-confrontational, pacifist Christians who are afraid to speak out against such injustices. I am not oblivious in any way about the consequences of speaking out in most of these churches. My problem is that these churches preach, fasting and austerity of life yet the pastors live in opulence. The bible states clearly, "Is not this the kind of fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice to share your food with the hungry" (Is. 58:6, 7). $28m is enough to create Redeem owned cottage industries that will give employment to millions of its unemployed poor graduates.

I think because of so much pressure to be successful in today's Nigeria and measure with politicians, church work has become a viable business. A friend told me that 419ers even invest money on pastors for certain percentages when the money starts flowing. I strongly feel that people who want to accumulate personal wealth should steer clear of the church. I want to believe that when people give money to the church, they can be assured that the money they are investing into the Kingdom of God is not padding the pockets of the Church leaders.

One needs to attend one of the Church services of these opulent pastors in Nigeria to notice that these services have become milking machines and the congregation is the cash cow. I could just imagine how much money Jesus would have made if he had milked his mega multitudes at the Sermon on the Mount or his feeding of 5,000 plus. It certainly would have been a great day to sell a scroll or two.

I am definitely troubled by the wealth accumulation habits of some of the "spiritual" leaders in Nigeria. I hear stories of lavish weddings of the children of these Church leaders. It seems no one holds these pastors accountable for how they spend member's money. Many of these parishioners live meagerly (many in debt especially here in America). I have known people who patronize these churches because they think that is where they will get rich quick because the pastor preaches prosperity. My message for you is that God does indeed love a cheerful giver but be sure you are never to give to God with the same sort of attitude as you might play the stock market. Please let your giving be done out of faithfulness to churches work. If you are giving to get, I am afraid you will find yourself disappointed.

I also have to say that I know many faithful Christians who attend these churches. It is not my intent to make them feel offended or defensive. I do think that they ought to take a close look at what is happening around them. I pray that God could turn this situation around and that these Church leaders could humble themselves and receive correction even from the secular world. I am thinking of Warren Buffet who is the no 2 on the list of the richest people in the world, who still lives in the same house that he bought for $37,500 in 1958. My personal anguish stems from the fact that many of these pastors have taken from people and have coerced them into giving so that they can live on earth in pleasure and luxury. I don't understand how anyone can be without a guilty conscience when they live in their mansion and buy private Jets by financial sacrifices that others have made.

A number of people I know in the States here faithfully attended these churches with their families. I have been impressed with their knowledge of Scripture gained as a result of the sermons and Bible studies and their quest for holiness. I have never witnessed any appreciable improvement in the financial lives of their families as a result of their attendance at these churches, let alone seeing them approach a standard of living commensurate with that of their leaders.

The lifestyle of these pastors and their families discredit their message. The theology of many of these churches, promotes a message that God want us all to be rich. Believing this misguided theology makes these leaders blind to the reality of life and equally blind to the needs of others. Jesus' example of an austere life should be our goal. Unfortunately, this "name it and claim it" gospel reflects more the values of our current narcissistic society than it does the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This attitude demonstrates the clash of faith and materialism, the use of charity money and the apparent lack of oversight either by members of the congregation or legal authorities in the actions of religious institutions and leaders.

In my reading of the piece by Tunde Fagbenle, "Pastor Adeboye: Buying a plane to see God", what disturbed me the most was that the writer's friend like many Christians seem to associate wealth with God's blessing. When one considers that millions of people around the world, not to mention our own impoverished cities, live in abject poverty, the idea that wealth equals God's love is perverse. Let us not forget that Christ was poor. True Christianity calls for a radical sense of solidarity and love for those who lack material goods. It would be interesting to see the response of the defenders of Pastors Adeboye and Oyedepo to Christ's challenge to "go, sell everything you have and give to the poor" (Mark 10:21). For those Christians who associate wealth with God's blessing, they might want to remember Jesus' teaching: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25).

Jesus never lived above the means of his disciples and modern day ministers should not live so lavishly above their congregations and staff. Sometimes the lifestyle which they claim God blessed them with is in reality a by product of what happens when all the money stays at the top and the wealth that God blesses the church with is not properly distributed.

It is my belief that many Church leaders are on the horns of a moral dilemma. I cannot understand how they can preach to the poor, while they surround themselves with the world's riches in much the same way as the Pharisees did during the time of Jesus. They claim to promulgate the teachings of Christ, yet they lead a life of privilege, all seemingly provided to them by their congregation peopled by many members who are living way below poverty line by any standard. Church members should wake up from their slumber and demand accountability from leaders. Private Jet is not necessary for evangelism.

Ike Eweama PhD, DMin and his bride Dr Uzo Eweama OD are owners of UniVentures LLC

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