As I settled down in the off-white plastic chair in the sparsely furnished church, I looked around and took in my surroundings. The hall barely held a hundred chairs, with only about half of that number holding behinds. There was nothing ostentatious about the serious looking pastor. The choir (always a focal point in any church I visited) was all of a keyboardist and 2 singers, all looking as serious as their Pastor. The thought crossed my mind that the receptionist at my hotel had directed me to this particular church as a sort of punishment for the tone I used when complaining about the lack of hot water in my room. Of all the churches in Port Harcourt, why had I ended up here, today that I decided to go to church in the Garden City for the first time?
I directed my attention back to the Pastor. Probably in his mid-forties, he had a businesslike manner about him. Very little time was wasted on pre-sermon frivolities and I was already looking forward to getting back to my room when I heard him say: “if you came here today because you want to be rich, I am sorry to inform you that you missed your road.” That got my attention. What heresy is this? Why else would I be in church if not to receive my miracles (Nigerian euphemism for unexplainable wealth)? He continued: “If you came here to learn how to make money, I am sorry to inform you that you are in the wrong place. In this church, we have one mission only, and that is to lead you to heaven. We do not teach Business Method here. There are other places you go to learn that”! I was amazed! How could a Pastor talk like this? I guessed that was why the church was only half full despite the fact that the number of chairs were not enough for my regular church’s children class. Needless to say, it was one of the most unforgettable sermons I ever heard preach. This was almost 10 years ago.
This week, a video of a popular Pastor went viral. Even for him who seemed to always be on a hunt for the most ridiculous thing he could say to grab the headlines, this was a new low. I never thought I could be shocked by anything he had to say again after the last time I heard him regaling his long-suffering congregation with the most ridiculous fable I had ever heard. He had received a call from one of his ‘sons’ who was about to be deported from Germany because he didn’t have the proper papers to be in the country. He then instructed the fellow to go into a toilet in the airport and continue praying with him on the phone. He was to lock the door. After praying for about five minutes, he told him to unlock the toilet door and step outside. The deportee did as instructed and almost got run over by a car in Paris! Don’t bother going to read it all over. What you thought you read the first time is correct. In fact, as I speak to you, the Police are still guarding the toilet in the airport in Germany, waiting for this guy to finish his business and come out. If you thought this story was ridiculous, then you should have seen the people jumping up and down and screaming “praise the Lord”!
I wont go into the various other salacious tales concerning him with which we are regularly bombarded as they are generally between consenting adults. He who is without sin is free to bring out his catapult. My concern is with the video I mentioned earlier. In it, the Pastor, wearing what looked like a suit made of two halves of two different suits went into what I can only describe, charitably, as the most absurd motivational speech ever. First I had to decipher the suit. I was sure there was a deeper meaning behind it than just ‘ojukokoro’ (greed) which could have left him undecided about what to wear and he then solved the problem by wearing both. Or maybe he was sending a sublime message about the duality of human nature: yin and yang; good and evil; light and darkness! Or he was simply losing his marbles. While I confess I did not listen to his entire sermon (thank God), the less than two minute long video clip I saw was quite clear enough. It was sublime in its ridiculousness!
“I bought a jet. In COVID. The third one. I have three. In Covid! I was praying for COVID not to end because I was resting. While people were complaining, my wife asked me. She said: can life be this sweet? Am I talking to somebody here?” And the congregation cheered. He went on to talk about how he read somewhere that he had a machine that prints money and he just wanted to confirm that yes it was true. He made a couple of other dry jokes about it and ended with the coup de grace: “When you speak in tongues, you are printing money”! Now, everyone is free to believe in whatever they want and whomever they want but some things just lend themselves to disparagement. What childish excitement will make you declare that you were praying for a pandemic that has killed over 2.4million people around the world and almost two thousand documented deaths in Nigeria not to end because you are ‘resting’? While I am not concerned about the mercantilism that people like him have brought into the church and how the measure of godliness or grace has been reduced to material possessions, Im sure he could have found some other way of showing off how good his ‘God’ has been to him without belittling the terrible memories most of the world have of the COVID experience. I find it near impossible to believe that not even one member of his mesmerised congregation has a friend, family member, work colleague or neighbour that has died, recovered or is still being treated for COVID. Yet he his happy to flaunt his third Jet, which he acquired in the middle of the pandemic in their faces while they are barely coping. I guess he serves a God different from theirs!
It is very saddening to see how far we have fallen in Nigeria. The worldly political leadership is corrupt and uninspiring and those who lay claim to a heavenly mandate to lead seem to be in a mad rush to outdo them in debauchery. Yet we cannot blame the faith nor the scriptures. Neither does the fault lie in our stars. All we need is a mirror and we will see who is responsible for where we are. The Bible tells us clearly in the Book of Titus 1: 7-8 who those who should lead the church are but we ignore the clear words: “7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,…”
Well, I guess the fellow here can always say the Bible was talking about Bishops and not Apostles!
– Bakare is a public commentator