The lingering debate on whether it is right for a “man of God” to own a private jet has opened the eyes of many Nigerians to the fact that religious institutions have since metamorphosed into business centres.
Many fans who describe the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti as prophet have seen sense in the lyrics of his song, “Coffin for Head of State” in which he sang
I waka many village anywhere in Africa
Pastor’s house na him dey fine pass
My people them dey stay for poor surroundings
Pastor’s dress na him dey clean pass
E hard for my people for them to buy soap
Pastor na him them give respect pass
And them do bad bad bad bad bad bad things
Through Jesus Christ our Lord
(Amen, Amen, Amen!)…
When Fela who incidentally was the son of an Anglican Priest sang that song, the metamorphosis of religious institutions in Nigeria had only just started. Decades after, religion has undergone a complete turnaround and has become one of the greatest money spinning ventures.
One of the things that first gave way in the old religious order is the identity of churches. Decades ago, signposts of most churches simply bore the name, address of the church as well as days and times of meetings and services. Things have however changed as signposts of churches are hardly complete without the picture of the “Presiding Bishop, General Overseer, Pastor-in-Charge or Most Senior Evangelist” and various other titles, some. Some are gender sensitive, they have the picture of the “man of God” and his wife. When that trend started, only a few people understood that egotism was gradually creeping into the church.
Just as the gap between the rich and the poor got wider by the day, the gulf between the leaders of the church and the followers has continued to grow wider till date.
There is hardly a church where the now popular “Malachi 3: 10” is not read to the congregation every Sunday to encourage worshipers to “bring all the tithe” into the storehouse.
Apart from tithes which are ten percent of all earnings, most churches also speak on the importance of different offerings, vows and seeds which members “sow” with all enthusiasm in expectation of the “bountiful harvests” that would be reaped thereafter. Before offerings are given, it is not uncommon for Pastors to dish out another famous quote from the Bible, “give and it shall be given unto you”. It has been agreed that these are the main sources of the funds that keep most churches running.
Street Journal’s findings have revealed that in cities like Lagos, Ibadan and some others, five minutes walk from anywhere would lead one to a church, yet the positive effect of some of the churches are hardly felt in their host neighbourhoods.
Findings have also revealed that most of the churches springing up may not be genuine after all. A lot of people have become Pastors due to unemployment, yet they all claim to have heard “the call” of God.
Fake Pastors are discovered every week and even some of the big names have been enmeshed in one controversy or the other. They are simply doing business in God’s name.
Almost every church now has a business arm: some churches have founded educational institutions, primary, post primary and tertiary. One thing that has however saddened many Nigerians is the fact that most of the universities run by religious organizations charge fees that cannot be afforded by the average member of such organizations.
Incidentally, while most churches give members a sense of belonging, making them believe ”the church is our church ”, many members often get carried away, forgetting that in the registration documents of the organization, some people’s names appear as trustees. A careful evaluation has also revealed that while seeking registration, most churches list the Head Pastor and his wife as as two top members of the Board of Trustees.
Though the church, being a legal entity has assets, there is hardly any clear delineation between assets that belong to the church and the assets of the owner of the church. In some cases, the church building is erected on a land belonging to the owner of the church.
Many Nigerians have become docile and subservient because of their religious beliefs and religious leaders in many parts of the country are fast taking the place of God. Prophets, Pastors and the like have become “super heroes” and some are on the verge of being worshipped by their congregation.
It is also surprising to find out that people steal in order to donate in support of church projects. Many do so just to get “miracles” or get their healing and “breakthroughs”.
It has also been observed that Pastors no longer seem to trust God for their safety. Many of them move around with chains of bodyguards.
Some years ago, a man who was working at the construction site of a popular church in Ogun State almost lost his life when the rifle of one of the Bishop’s bodyguards discharged accidentally and he got hit by a bullet. All the man got was treatment at the hospital, efforts to get compensation for the permanent disability that resulted did not yield any fruit.
Based on the argument that “God is not a poor God”, a lot of Pastors have adopted ostentatious ways of life. Everything about them depicts class and opulence: they wear the best clothes, the wardrobes of many Pastors are complete with very expensive suits, ties, shoes and the very best collection of wrist watches. And true to the words of Jesus, the poor have not ceased to be in the church. There are members in some of the churches that are struggling to make ends meet.
It took a kiss from Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, an indication that his assailants could not distinguish him from his disciples because he blended well with them. The church today is different; Pastors reign as lords in many places while members of the congregation who have been rendered docile continue to wait for rewards in the after life.