Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Pastor, biko, find us something

God calls the judges into his courtroom
He puts all the judges in the dock.
Psalm 82:1 (The Message Translation)

Some time ago, I sat in a church service and listened to the Preacher say ‘When you go to meet a man of God, never ask him for money. No no no no.... Ask him to pray for you.’ He was speaking of the role of a Man of God in the lives of his congregation. He was serious. He would repeat it several times over many months. The words even appeared as an entry in the devotional he published monthly. When you look at this statement in the normal human context and place it against the teaching of the bible, it falls short of being true. If you however bring in the Nigerian situation where every man is quick to glean off some change from persons believed to be in a better situation, you would have to humorously dismiss the statement as harmlessly similar to those warnings issued by frustrated mothers to their young children, ‘If you go there, Gbomo gbomo will thief your prick.’ Corrective, but false.
Hate is a very strong word. It is strong, but it is not hard. The ease with which, and the reasons for which human beings hate are so ridiculous that the average mind would hesitate to call a hate action by its proper name. We have thus formed words like racism, anti-Semitism, tribalism, and more recently, Islamphobia, which a friend of mine argues should be called anti-Islamism. One less known of such words is Theophobia. Theophobia refers to a fear and distrust for God, specifically for the Christian God and for his followers. It is the perpetuation of hate acts towards a person because of his or her Christian beliefs. Christians have from time been fed to lions in Rome, sent to concentration unjustly, and are prosecuted and outlawed, in many countries today. Its founder was even hung on a cross and left to die! I cannot say though, despite all these, that the Church is an altogether blameless and saintly institution. In fact, to argue objectively, one could say that the church as we see it today is self-serving and fraudulent. It is not without its sins. Don’t lose your hair just yet. This is a proper argument. Follow me.

I will give two major points in which I will say a lot to support my view. Thereafter, I will go to the meat of my essay which is a plea to Church leaders, to do something for the people. I am not against the church. I believe in its ability to help people, to better their lives, to take a stand against oppression on behalf of the afflicted. I do not throw blows to knock a man down. My jabs are soft hits; calling a man to realize that he has soiled himself.

My first point is on the issue of taxation. The church has long enjoyed the privilege of being a tax free institution: It is the law in many countries. And this law stemmed firstly from sympathy. At the time, the saying poor as a church rat, was very true. Ministries barely got along financially. They were content to just preach the word. Contentment with godliness was great gain. Soon after, argument was made to support this law by saying that contributions to the churches were already taxed, and so could not be taxed again. Nice argument, but I counter-argue by saying that an income is an income. Parishioners in a way pay for the moral instructions, social support and prayers that they get from their parishes. They wouldn’t make contributions readily if they got nothing for their membership. Their contributions are like paying for the satisfaction of seeing a good movie (if it turns out a disappointment, your loss), or getting a stimulating health seminar, only the fees are made out of free will. I’d thus say that if the health coach is taxed though he receives his income from already taxed funds, then should also the minister be taxed! They both receive incomes for services rendered. Do you refuse? Then let me argue from this other point. After Jesus took up full ministry, he was supported by the members of his ministry as recorded in the scriptures. Yet, did he not pay taxes? Did he not even pay the tax for Simon Peter? Please Sir, he did! Has the church erased the instruction to do like the master? And don’t churches today ask dependants to pay a tithe of their incomes from money that has already been tithed by parents or guardians? Ah! Think about that one. I will invent a new proverb. It is this: ‘If the offering tray would pass by the widow and child, then let it also pass by the preacher.’
If you are a follower of Christianity, you would observe that the Christianity of the Christian book, the bible, differs from the Christianity served off the pulpit. In fact many times, they are in conflict. And this is the reason for denominationalism. But that’s another argument entirely. What I am driving at is the fact that the church has cleverly or insensibly forgone its duty to mankind. The reason for this may be that this complacency is very beneficial to the Leaders of the Church. They withdraw from participation in so-called secular matters. They would not take a stand for the people when they are being oppressed by tyrannical governments; they do not put their weights behind efforts to see that fellow human beings get some measure of decency in their day to day lives. They excuse themselves and are excused by their followers by slogans and quotes like ‘not of the world’; ‘this world is not my own’ or ‘heaven: our goal!’ What happens is that by their complacency they become complicit in tyrannical governments. And this is one reason why they are allowed to enrich themselves; it is the reason why they have the ears of the corrupt men and women in power. If the churches were to take a stand (being the largest community in this country, and with considerable influence too) for the people, then would they be serving their real purpose. You may argue that the purpose of the church is exclusively spiritual; that Secular involvements are merely humanitarian additions to their duties. I say false! Let me assure you that Prophet had a Word; and Levite a psalm when they capered righteously over Traveller in Good Samaritan but it was Samaritan who had neither revelation nor song that was praised in the end. I will also assure you that this parable (the most popular of Jesus’) was given in response to the question ‘what must I do to receive eternal life?’ – Spiritual duties get fulfilled when we extend our efforts to fellow men. The eternal life that is harped about by evangelist and pastor, that is the selling point of the Christian message, is to be gotten by opening blind eyes, by relieving burdens; by setting free captives. All these in the physical, then in the spiritual, just as Jesus did. In this, the church has failed.

There are one or two other points by which I may tell you how that the church shirks its real duties and has taken up the role of a greedy, negligent guardian. But I would refrain. To solve a problem is not to pile blame. I promised that I would raise a plea after the above points. And this is what I will now do. The duty of struggle for freedom lies with each one of us individually. This struggle can only be effectual when we are brave enough to examine a matter, probe for soft spots and knock off raw edges. The after effect of such action is that we have truth staring us in the face, in its pure, undiluted form. With truth we can advance on the enemy. We can conquer corruption. If the church is an institution ordained of God, whose foundation cannot be scathed by the very gates of hell, then must it be ready to pick itself up and take a stand. It must become that pillar and foundation of truth and mercy; a tower set against the ill-doings of society. This challenge to take a stand against evil is not thrown to the Church, because the Church is faceless. Who is The Church? The plea is thrown to its leaders who have a taken backseat in pursuing justice. It is thrown to its members who have against teachings of their childhoods, taken up dogma and creed instead of the role a shepherd who comforts anxious lambs. We cannot continue to place insentient or bad church leaders on a pedestal and praise them ends on, when our consciences bleed and cry. I believe we know what is right, but it is cheaper to be popular. I think it is time to say NO! We ought now, to fight for ourselves and for our futures. It has become the time for us challenge the status quo, and say Pastor, biko, find us something!


  1. You know why I like your posts, Ebuwa? 'Cause you ask the hard questions many people try to avoid. And even tho' I have my reservations about some of your answers, I'm glad you raise the questions in the first place. Keep 'em coming!

    I agree about the widespread dissonance between Scripture and practice by church leaders, and while I can think of a couple reasons not to tax churches, I must confess I haven't heard many compelling arguments from church leaders themselves, which leaves me wondering if it's not a case of doing the right thing for wrong reasons (which might make it a wrong thing).

    That said, I doubt tax is the most important service of church leaders in a country where the money is often squandered anyway. My grouse would be more at the frequent silence on the issues we face. If the Gospel is true, as I believe it to be, then it must be applied to our daily lives. And corruption and oppresion are part of those daily lives. Given that Scripture has tons to say on both subjects, among others, I find it distressing that our leaders do not. If anything, by action (or inaction), they perpetuate these evils.

    The way forward? Like you say, maybe us. C. S. Lewis said something once to the effect that even when our shepherds wander off, we sheep may, by remaining huddled together and bleating, bring them back. The sheep don't have to scatter because the shepherds do. Not when we still have The Shepherd himself very much around.

    My two kobo. (Or twenty naira, if you take inflation into account.)

  2. I agree churches should b taxed. But let's not leave out all other religious bodies, I'm sure if u suggest taxing evry mosque, d issues wil quietly die down n d churshes wil b free from d debate again. Of mr. Author we won't generalise. There are churches dat are actually actively helpin d poor. Eg my 3 churches mfm,cod,ccc. They help members wit microloans and go as far as puttin food on table, literally. There are many other churches dat do so too.
    As for speakin up against tyranny, don't think it make any differnce. Ddnt som pastors wail against abacha, did it help. Wht christains can do is get into politics n not b corrupt. It'l help.


  3. I believe the idea is for us to challenge pastors and Muslim leaders (not just of large churches or mosques, who may really only account for so little of the population) to be more involved in our secular lives in accordance with their scriptures. Now, I'm a sceptic myself in the question of what the nature of God is or whether the spiritual realm actually exists, but I believe the primary focus of religion is a better life both on heaven and earth. Hence, if the religious leaders focus on just one aspect i.e. heaven, then the followers are being cheated, and should demand their secular support.

  4. *in heaven or earth.

    I guess I need to start previewing my comments before posting...lol.