FIGHTING CORRUPTION IS NOT THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS
“They put to him (Jesus Christ) this question, ‘Master…, is it permissible for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But he was aware of their cunning and said, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose portrait (image) and title are on it?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He said to them: Well then, pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.” (Luke 20:20-25).
e have premised our article with the above biblical citation on the relationship between the church and the state. This is to help us make our humble contribution to the debate generated by the recent statement accredited to Nigeria’s Vice President Rev. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in which it was reported in the media that the VP slammed Christian Leaders for ‘Focusing on Islamization Agenda Instead of Corruption and Unity of the country.’
The Vice President made the remark in Lagos on Saturday, October 28, 2017 at the Greater Nigeria Pastors Conference, with the theme, ‘Towards a Better Nigeria.’ According to the media report, the Vice President said that the leadership of the church have failed in their approach to national issues, “by placing too much emphasis on ‘Islamic Agenda as if they were looking for demon.” For him, this is a great mistake on the part of Christian leaders. Thus, he asked, “Why can’t we have Christian agenda based … on the process of uniting Nigeria …?”
On the attitude of Christian leaders to the issue of government policy on fighting corruption, the VP has this to say:
“When there was rampant corruption that crippled Nigeria to what it is today, how many Christian leaders stood up to complain?”
Furthermore, the VP said, ‘Christian leaders should as a necessity, stop emphasizing that religious extremists were killing Christians or southerners.’
On this VP’s verbal attack on the church leaders, two things stand out conspicuously. In the first place, by asking church leaders to henceforth preach the unity of Nigeria and the government policy of fighting corruption, the VP, is invariably, advising them to put aside their primary mission of preaching salvation in Jesus Christ. He is tasking the church leaders to assume the function of the state instead of their calling as pastors of soul (teachers of Christian faith and moral), and spiritual leaders of Christian communities.
In other words, the VP by his statement is trying to recruit church leaders into the propaganda machinery and “occult” publicity outlet of government policies and agenda. This is another way of trying to cage and stifle Christianity in Nigeria. It is what happens when a civil authority assumes the function of dictating and deciding for the church leaders what to preach and what not to preach in their churches and society in general.
Therefore, the advice of VP, if left unchallenged, could become a two-edged sword that could signal the eventual demise of Christianity in Nigeria. But God forbid!
For on one hand, such an advice could become a subtle way of making Christianity in Nigeria an impotent religion in the public domain, especially, among the faithful. It will canonize Christianity as a government organ and propaganda outlet. This, obviously, will lead to a natural death of the religion in Nigeria.
Moreover, the VP’s advice, on the other hand, if allowed to stand, could mean that henceforth, Christian leaders should stop tasking the government towards creating an enabling environment for religious tolerance and good governance in the country. It would mean that there will never be religious freedom in Nigeria, that Christians and people of other faiths other than Muslims should never dream of having an enabling environment to practice their religion in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, without molestation or menace of Islamic terrorist groups in the country – Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militants.
This is the most worrisome aspects of the VP’s talk at the Lagos Conference. It would appear that the VP wanted Christian leaders to stop condemning and speaking against the murderous activities of Islamic terrorist groups in Nigeria – Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen militants. Thus, his charge that the church leaders should stop complaining, “that religious extremists were killing Christians or southerners.” He wanted church leaders in that regard, to focus on its own ‘internal problem of division among Christians instead of ‘Islamization agenda’ in the country.’
Since my last article on the infamous Python Dance II Military killings in the South East some few weeks ago, I decided to take a break from commenting on Nigerian social issues. Does this sound like an expression of a disillusioned adult? Certainly NO! It only confirms the already known fact in many quarters today that the present class of leaders and elites championing the affairs of Nigeria have woefully failed the nation and millions of its citizens.
In a country where the government would order the military to invade a particular ethnic-group and region, target a residential house of an individual because of what it had termed as ‘hate-speech’, massacre the youth there at will, and till date, nobody of note has condemned it, what is left of that country is nothing but hopelessness and deceit. The most painful thing is that the Python Dance II killings happened on the 50th anniversary of the Biafran pogroms and the Nigerian-Biafra War (1967-1970). And till today, those at the corridors of power are pretending as if everything is well with the Nigerian state.
Thus, I am impelled today to write the present article for one major reason: The VP’s verbal ‘attack’ of the church leaders for speaking against the Islamization agenda in the country, unfortunately, is coming from the same source that criminalized ‘hate-speech’ before embarking on the infamous Python Dance II Military invasion of the South East.
I am afraid, that if care is not taking, the same authorities who are now attacking the church leaders for speaking against the Islamization agenda may be up for something sinister. In the build-up to the Python Dance II Military deployment in the South East, the Nigerian leadership through the office of the VP came up with the ‘conspiracy theory’ of ‘hate-speech.’ This gave them the express ticket to launch the infamous Python Dance II Military clampdown on the members of IPOB pro-Biafran youth movement in the South East and murdered them with recklessness and impunity.
My fear is that with this new development, our Christian religious leaders may not be safe again in Nigeria! However, lets’ hope nobody will accuse them of ‘hate-speech’ tomorrow and so begin to visit them with another type of “Python Dance Military clampdown.”
The Separation of Power between the Church and State
‘Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’ (Luke 20:25).
Going through the VP’s verbal attack of the church leaders, the above biblical passage on the separation of power between the church and state readily comes to mind.
The question is, ‘when Christ looks at us today, what image does he want to see in us, the image of Caesar or that of God?’ Obviously, when Christ looks at us or any other created being or things in the world, ‘he wants to see the image of God in us and NOT that of Caesar.’ The emphasis therefore, is on the image of God, which Christ did not see in that denarius since it contains only the portrait of Caesar – worldly power, wealth and human deceit.
The mission of Jesus Christ and his church is NOT in that image of Caesar in the denarius but in God and things of God for which Christ came into the world to reveal to us. This is the point many people are missing today when they want to drag the church and its pastors to politics or make the church promoter of government agenda and policies such as the most tortured ‘fight against corruption or unity of Nigeria.’
Although, it is a good idea to ask citizens to be part of the government effort to sanitize its financial sector through the anti-corruption graft and promote unity of the nation. However, it is altogether a different thing, when those in corridors of power want to compel the church and its leaders to assume that state function as ecclesial mission in the country. This is the bone of contention. Such state directive and perception of the church-state relationship is ill conceived, and therefore, leaves much to be desired. It is also where all those who are slamming Christian leaders for ‘focusing on Islamization agenda instead of corruption or preaching of unity of Nigeria’, absolutely, got it wrong. The fact is that none of these constitutes the mission of the church.
The church exists to preach the gospel of love of God and neighbor to all and sundry. The church does not exist to preach and promote government agenda. Moreover, Christian leaders owe their obligation to preach and teach, NOT to the state or government, but to God revealed in Jesus Christ. The content of evangelization, Christian preaching and teaching is the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ and salvation, which came to us through the mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
The state role in this regard, is to provide an enabling environment, a level playing-ground for the church and other religions operating in the country to do their work of evangelization in peace and tranquility, without violence or encroachment on the rights of the other. To evangelize, the church needs an enabling environment, a free society, where rights of every individual are respected and protected under the law. This is why the church has the obligation to remind the state or the government of the necessity of creating such enabling environment in Nigeria for peace to reign in the land.
In other words, the criteria of the church’s mission does not originate from the state but from God. Thus, the mission of the church cannot be put in the same category with that of the state or any culture for that matter. The gospel and church’s mission are above all cultures and human authorities.
All these mean that fighting corruption and promoting the nation’s unity are the functions of the state and NOT of the church. The state fights corruption and promotes unity in the nation through a workable political structure and system, strong functioning stable political institutions and rule of law and order. The state has the responsibility of promoting religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence among different ethnic-nationalities and religious bodies that make up the country through inclusive leadership. Any sign of favoritism by the government towards one ethnic or religious group destroys the very foundation of the nation-state itself.
The Alleged Islamization Agenda of Nigeria Is Real
To prove the veracity of above assertion, lets us begin with a brief overview of the history of Islamization of North Africa that resulted in the demise of the early vibrant Christian churches in that part of the continent.
The question is, ‘how come it that those vibrant churches of North Africa were not able to withstand the militant Islam and invading Arab onslaught?’ Was the indiscretion of some Christian politicians and leaders part of the problem? Was the demise of Christianity in North Africa as result of accomplice and complacence of many Christians at the corridors of power at the time? If so, what lessons can Nigerian Christians in that position today learn from North Africa decadent Christianity experience?
In other words, one of the most painful aspects of history of Islamization agenda that resulted in the demise of vibrant churches of North Africa in the past centuries of Christianity is the imprudent role played by some prominent Christian leaders and politicians of that era that should have known better. Today, we may be repeating the same mistake without knowing! While some Christian leaders and politicians of that era in North Africa ignored the warning of the impending doom and chose complacency, some others became outright collaborators and accomplices of the Muslim invaders and destruction of Christianity in the fatherland.
The Alexandrian Church in Egypt used to be the most developed in the whole Christendom, active and cultured church. The first translation of the Bible into Greek language (Septuagint) happened in the City of Alexandria, Egypt. In addition, the City of Alexandria in Egypt hosted most of the early Councils of the Church, which defined and promulgated Christian dogmas and articles of faith.
The Church of Alexandria gave Christianity its first faculty of theology and culture of monasticism. It produced great theologians such as Origen, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, etc. St. Anthony Abbot is from this church. Unfortunately, what is left of that church today does not compare to an inch of its glorious past.
With the Arab Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640 AD, that ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Christianity in Africa was reduced to minority Coptic Church we see there today. The vibrant Church of Egypt could not withstand oppression under Islamic rule. Even the Coptic Church which survived the persecution exist today as a ‘protected’ minority religious community to which it has to pay tax to the Islamic government in order to continue to function.
The sorry story is that Christian leaders and politicians in Egypt then, had hailed the Arab Muslim invasion of their country, collaborated with the invaders, describing it as a divine punishment to Rome and Constantinople Ecclesiastical Sees for punishing heretics and for the high taxes imposed on the citizens by the Roman Emperor.
Furthermore, when the Islamic invasion began, the elites and politicians in the Egyptian cities were the first to drift to Islamization agenda, and therefore became ready-made collaborators with the invaders. The clergy and bishops in the City of Alexandria and other urban areas left Egypt entirely and flew to Constantinople. They never returned.
However, what saved the remnant Coptic Church we see in Egypt today, were the dogged resistance and persistence of simple monks, natives and village Christians living in remote areas far removed from the influences of reneged Christian leaders and politicians in the cities. These simple village Christians and monks in rural areas faced the challenge, stood up to the invaders and defended their faith and land. They were martyred in millions. But today, in their honor, the Coptic Church in Egypt, has a different liturgical Calendar, which begins to count the year from the time the Martyrdom of these simple Egyptian Christians took place.
The Church of Carthage in the Maghreb Africa was not so much lucky as its counterpart in Alexandria, Egypt. The Church of Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine, among others, which gave the Western Church its first school of theology in Carthage, could not survive the Islamic occupation when Carthage itself fell to the Arabs in 697 AD.
It may be asked: ‘why did the Church of Carthage in the North Africa Maghreb not survive while the Egyptian one did?’ There are many reasons for this. We can only mention a few.
First, unlike the Church of Egypt, which evangelized its interior regions, many Berbers – indigenous African ethnic-groups in the Maghreb Church of Carthage had remained untouched by the Gospel and so when the Arabs came, they accepted Islam without hesitation. The Church of Carthage never looked towards the Sahara but only towards Rome, and the Donatists (heretics) were caught-up in the sterile opposition against the Church at the center, Carthage.
Secondly, unlike the Church of Egypt that was truly an inculturated church, there was the failure to indigenize in the Church of Carthage. The lack of a large number of Berbers in the church seems to indicate that the leaders saw no need to use the Berber (African) language in the celebration of liturgy.
Finally, the lost of leadership must have been the decisive factor. Not only did the bishops leave the country, but most of the priests and monks also did when the Arab Muslims invaded the area. They all belonged to the cultural upper class. When they fled, there was nobody to care for the scattered flock. In the course of time, the few native Christians of Berber ethnic group that remained were all absorbed by their Islamic surroundings.
There is also the case of the ancient Christian Church of Nubia at the heartland of Africa. The interesting thing about the Christian Kingdom of Nubia is that it flourished only when the Crescent Arab Muslim world was already ruling over Northern Africa between 700 and 1200. These Christian Nubians lived almost in complete isolation, till they succumbed to Turkish aggression.
One of the rivalry kings of the three regions of Christian Nubia was so imprudent to invite the Turkish Mamluks from Egypt in 1250 for military assistance against the other rivalry Christian kings and regions in Nubia. The kings of the remaining regions followed the same route and invited rivalry Arab Muslim warriors, also from Egypt. The Turkish Mamluks defeated all of them and took over the whole of Nubia. Thus, a greater part of the blame for the fall of Christianity in Nubia goes to the Nubian Christians and kings themselves.
The loss of political sovereignty and the destruction of most church buildings were a heavy blow to the ‘royal’ Nubian Church. It was further, weakened by a process of Arab settlement that encouraged inter-marriage of Arabs and Christian Nubian women. By virtue of matrilineal laws of Nubian society, much land fell into Muslim hands.
In all of these instances, experts in missiology would tell us that the Islamic approach to Africa has been ambivalent. Some call it, ‘dialects of inculturation and disinculturation.’ The Muslim invaders accommodated some practices in the African traditions. But as they gained ground in Africa, they began to react against some of those practices they had earlier tolerated. In this way, Islam was able to succeed in many places in Africa.
Moreover, Islam succeeded in Africa because, as a religion, it was never treated by African governments as a foreign religion. The propagation of the religion, in large extent, has been done by African Muslims. In some cases, it was done through government machinery of a Muslim-dominated regime. The foreign missionaries and Arab Muslim Organizations and nations assisted in the background.
The Nigerian Reality
Considering all these, it will amount to negation of history for any informed Christian today in Nigeria to say that the country is not under Islamization agenda.
What of the recent case of SUKKUK Bond. Because in the midst of debate on the SUKKUK Bond, President Buhari, attended the meeting of the so-called D – 8 countries in Turkey, whose sole aim is the propagation and promotion of Islam in the world. The D – 8 countries are Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. All these countries have one thing in common, Islam. What is Nigeria doing there?
Again, Nigeria is now a member of every International Islamic Organization, which is its fulfilment of the resolutions of OIC and IAO (Islam in Africa Organization), whose sole aim is a vigorous pursuit of adoption of Sharia for all governments in Africa. Yet, some people are saying that there is no Islamization agenda.
On this point, we must appreciate the courage exhibited by the national President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Olasupo Ayokunle in his reply to Vice President Osinbajo on this issue.
According to Rev. Ayokunle, it is absolutely, wrong to dismiss Islamization plot “of Africa and Nigeria in particular.” This is because, the government of Nigeria has been collaborating with OIC and Islam in Africa Organization (IAO):
“The OIC met in London in 1983 with a follow up meeting in Nigeria in 1989 and with a communique to Islamize Africa with Nigeria capturing a great attention. You can read this in Wikipedia or browse for OIC’s Conference in London, 1983 and Abuja Declaration of 1989. Nigeria was later made an observer member of the body (OIC) through Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. Later under Abacha, a Muslim again, we were made full member in total violation of the constitution that the nation is secular and our government should not be religiously partisan. Thereafter, different administrations in Nigeria started drawing us into joining different Islamic organizations in keeping with the resolutions of OIC and Islam in Africa Organization.”
Furthermore, Rev. Ayokunle corrected the wrong impression created in some quarters, which accuses church leaders of anti-Islam. According to the CAN President:
“We are not opposed to Islamic Evangelism by Muslims if it has no violence in it as we Christians are also been evangelizing the nation through peaceful means of preaching (celebration of the Word of God and Sacraments in our churches), revivals and gospel rallies. But we are opposed to our government shifting attention to Islamic resolutions of Islamization by making Nigeria, a non-Islamic Republic a member of Islamic Organizations. It is a tacit support for Islamization.” (Rev. Olasupo Ayokunle, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Moreover, we should not forget that 12 Northern states adopted Sharia Legal system immediately Obasanjo, a Christian from the South West was declared President of Nigeria in 1999. The North, till date, follows a different legal system based on Islamic Law in spite of the fact that Nigeria is defined as a secular state in the Constitution. Moreover, none Muslim minority ethnic groups and Christians living in the North are denied certificate of occupancy to build places of Worship. They live as foreigners in their fatherland.
Furthermore, most of the time, lives of Christians living in the North means nothing to their Muslim neighbors, especially, the radical youths. Christians are killed at will at any least provocation and nobody would dare to arrest or bring to justice their murderers. For instance, just last year or so, angry Muslim youths in Kano decapitated a 74 year old Bridget Agbahime, an Igbo Christian trader who had resided in the city for over 40 years, over allegation that she blasphemed when she asked one Muslim lad not to do the ritual absolution in front of her shop. Till today, her killers are walking freely in the streets of Kano.
Recently, we have had to grapple with the case of the New School Curriculum approved by the federal government. This New School Curriculum had removed the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge in schools but retained, in fact, doubled the teaching of Islamic and Arabic Religious Knowledge. If not for the alarm raised by CAN and other concerned individuals, the federal government could have gone ahead to implement such discriminating school curriculum in a multi-religious country like Nigeria.
Except for the recently appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the three arms of government of present regime is 99 percent headed by Northern Muslims from a particular ethnic-group. All the Service Chiefs and General Commanding Officers of the Military, Police, other Security Agencies, Customs, Immigrations, etc., are all Northern Muslims of the same dominating ethnic-group. Federal Parastatals and Companies are also headed by individuals from the same favored zone and almost all are Muslims. The lopsidedness in the ministerial and other national parastatal appointments of the present federal government leaves no one in doubt of its body language of Islamization agenda and ethnic-hate.
What of the controversial Cattle Rearing Grazing Bill? A bill which the federal government and Northern Muslims in the National House of Assembly sponsored in order to legalize the activities of the dreaded Fulani herdsmen militia who roam around freely with AK47 in all nook and corner of the country, maiming, killing framers and destroying their farmlands. In spite of all the known and documented atrocities committed by these Fulani herdsmen killers, none of them has been arrested or brought to book.
Again, in recent time, there are cases of under-aged Christian girls abducted by errant Muslim youths and housed in the Palaces of some Muslim Emirs in the North. The abducted Christian girl, once she entered Emir’s Palace, is hypnotized and a forced marriage arranged for her with a Muslim man without the consent and knowledge of her parents. Till today none of the Muslim abductors or Emirs in whose palaces this heinous crime takes place, has been arrested or brought to justice.
I know that instead of taking a hard-look on the things that are worrying many citizens today about the future of this country, some individuals, especially, bought-over media houses and social media warriors sponsored by those in the corridors of power, may call these observations ‘hate-speech.’ But time will tell whether they are doing a good service to the nation, their pay-masters and themselves, really. Because experience has shown that history has never been on the side of traitors, tyrants and praise-singers of status quo.
Again, what all this implies is that the alleged Islamization plot of Nigeria is real and the federal government, unfortunately, has been aiding it tacitly from time immemorial. Faced with this reality, nobody in his right thinking should expect Christian religious leaders to remain silent.
Christian religious leaders have an obligation to speak out against the plot to “kill Christianity” in Nigeria. They should speak out and condemn the situation where Muslim extremists are on daily basis killing and maiming Christians as well as destroying their farms and places of Worship without any conceited effort on the part of the Nigerian government to arrest and bring to justice those who are committing these heinous crimes against Christians and humanity.
Christian religious leaders have an obligation to caution the government over the danger of tacit aiding of religious extremism in the country. This is the most worrisome aspect of the whole thing: ‘The federal government tacit silence of complicity over the ongoing Fulani herdsmen militants and Boko Haram attacks on Christians, their farmland and places of Worship in the Southern states, Middle Belt region, Southern Kaduna and in those other areas inhabited by Christian minorities in some parts of the North.’
In all, church leaders are entitled to remind the government of the obligation of the state towards protecting the lives and property of citizens, the fundamental human right of worship of every citizen irrespective of creed, ethnicity, philosophy or political persuasion. Church leaders have obligation to caution the government of the dangers involved when those in corridors of power abuse their duties and many other obligations of the state to the citizens, especially, in matters of religious freedom and inclusive governance of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.
More importantly, when the separation of power between the church and state is under threat as is evident in Nigeria today, church leaders must raise their voice and call the civil authority to order – to respect the nation’s constitution as well as the people’s fundamental right of worship in freedom and truth.
Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I together can't handle.
(Blessed Cyprian Iwene Tansi of Aguleri (Nigeria).
Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic priest. He lives in Rome, where he is professor of missiology (mission theology) in the Pontifical University.