The preachers and the anti-graft war
by Dan Agbese
The media widely reported last week that the acting president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, berated preachers, a.k.a men and women of God, for failing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the government in its anti-graft war by preaching against corruption. The Nation newspaper of August 12 quoted him as having said that “Very rarely do you hear our preachers talk about corruption from the pulpits. If a nation is not righteous, nothing will help it.”
The vice-president is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He too is thus a preacher. It should be naturally painful to him to see his fellow preachers become so worldly that instead of preaching against venality, greed, moral depravity and, of course, corruption, they choose to preach the gospel of prosperity. Seen as men and women who bear the moral burden of a nation’s righteousness, we expect them to use their pulpits to lay the cane across the back of men and women who refuse to distinguish between private and public fund. They deliberately abandoned the narrow path that leads to salvation and chose to either fly in private jets or cruise in the latest expensive jeeps on our expensively-constructed but poorly maintained super highways. Because they can sensibly choose between the path and the super high way. I always thought that the super highways are better signs of progress and civilisation than the foot paths of my Ikpeba village. Living well here on earth is sensible.
On the face of it, the lavish life style of the preachers is anathema to their calling. It must be offensive to all those who believe that men and women in the service of God should not live like men and women in the service of Mammon. But I see them as living evidence of their transformative work as prosperity preachers. If a man preaches prosperity, it follows in the natural order of things that he should be a good and shining example of what he preaches. It seems pretty unlikely to me that a preacher who shuffles along the pavement with holes in his shoes and a worn out hand-me-down jacket worn over a white shirt that no longer remembers its original colour, would convince anyone he can make them rich in the mighty name of Jesus. I would imagine people saying to him, sotto voce, lest they offend him who sent him: preacher, show you can by your look. It is only in the juju shrines that people trust the poor juju man to make his poor client rich and the rich richer.
The acting president is right to be disappointed with the prosperity preachers. That gospel stains the moral authority of religion. But let us not be too hard on them. This is the 21st century, not the medieval century. They may not be doing what the vice-president expects them to do but they know only too well that the prosperity gospel is the new path to individual transformation. The rich fund their lavish life style. The poor are encouraged to drop their widow’s mite in the collection plates.
The big man knows that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall long, long ago. Mere religiosity has replaced religion. We are witnesses to the current blatant commercialisation of religion. Bands of prayer warriors charge fat fees so they can take your case to God on your behalf. Politicians cultivate the preachers and fund places of worship so they can put in a good word for them with God. I do not think a man would find the moral courage to rail against a man, no matter how crooked he is, for him he is putting in a good word with God.
Prosperity preaching has invariably established itself as the evidential potency of religion and prayers. The times are hard. If your representative in public office cannot help you with your marriage or the naming ceremony of your child, you turn to the preacher. If your graduate son or daughter is still pounding the pavement in search of jobs he or she can see but cannot get, you turn to the preacher. If your enemy sends you illness with the help of a juju man, you turn to the preacher. If your wife cannot find the fruit of the womb, you turn to the preacher. And, of course, more importantly, if you have some difficulty with getting paid for the government contract you executed so poorly, you turn to the preacher. The preacher is the new short cut to everything in a nation whose citizens suffer the dehumanization of lack and deprivation. Their tribes can only increase.
It is one good reason why we have more places of worship in this country than any other country in Africa. Our prosperity preachers are everywhere – Europe, Asia, the Americas. They are part of our exports. Try and replace them with poverty preachers or preachers who rail against politicians and prepare for thousands of deportees back home.
You see, the times have changed. Christianity made its mark by marketing poverty as the unquestionable ticket to heaven. It urged its adherents to pile up their treasures in heaven safe from moths, termites, thieves and armed robbers. It railed against the rich and dangled the frightening prospects of their roasting slowly in hell before them. Did the Nazarene not say it would be easier for the camel to saunter through the eye of the needle than for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God?
It all sounds so hollow now. Nothing has ever stopped people from getting rich. The church itself saw no contradictions in preaching against wealth and taking from the wealthy. It was easy to market poverty, heaven and hell in medieval times. I had always thought that poverty was a tough virtue to market. Poverty is no longer an option as the way to go. No one wants the uncertainty of piling up their treasures in heaven when they can move from Ajegunle to Banana Island in Lagos, thanks to the miracle-working preacher. The preachers cannot preach against corruption because they too are in it. It would be immoral for those who benefit from the same system to preach against it.
The problems we face in our vain struggle for moral re-generation cannot be remedied by he preachers railing against corruption. The problem is much more complex. I would not blame the preachers for what is happening to us. At least, they alone must not take the blame. Think of all the people facing charges of corruption in our law courts. They are all men and women who wear their religiosity on their sleeves. I can think of no babalawo adherents among them. The classical role of religion as the moral guardian of the society is on the wane. But at least the prosperity gospel renews the individual’s hope in the transformative wisdom of living now and let your soul take care of itself in the hereafter.
Source: Daily Trust