FREEPRESS – Our governments regard churches as charitable organisations and exempt them from paying taxes but our wealthy pastors plunder their followers and spend their spoils on self-indulgent existence. In my view, the time has come to end these tax-exempt privileges and to force religious houses to open up their books to scrutiny. Let judgment start from the house of God. They can run their businesses according to existing corporate laws, and members who donate to such ventures as private universities should become shareholders. This will lead to transparency and accountability.
My friends and I who criticise religion do not want to offend religious people. We want to show how religion harms our society, and how our people are being abused and exploited in the name of religion. But there is no nice way to say to someone that their worldview is based on superstitions and therefore necessarily flawed. No matter how politely it is said there is bound to be someone who takes offence. There are many believers who have never heard alternative views and as such are unaware they are being abused and exploited. We write for these people. If our message sounds nonsensical to you then by all means ignore them.
The truth is that Jesus will not recognise the church in Nigeria in the form it exists today. It is a house filled with hypocrisy, greed, fraud, lies, pretensions, paedophilia, adultery, fornication, consumerism, and everything else that He preached against. Thieves are offered the front seats in church; recognition is accorded based on the size of one’s tithes and offerings; pastors now specify the exact amount of offerings they want, and members run over themselves to be the first to make the payments and “claim” their blessings; the left hand is encouraged to see what the right hand gives so that the left hand feels “powered up” to out-donate the right hand; pastors are racing to acquire private jets and private universities, and to out-do one another in accumulating worldly possessions; their members come to church to show off their cars and clothes; the pastors have peddled the notion, to their own advantage, that prosperity and well-being are determined by how faithfully members pay their tithes and offerings; the amount of material possessions that one has is now perceived to be an indicator of one’s spiritual well-being; pastor Adeboye was reported to have told his followers last month, “Let me tell you the truth, the only reason we still take offerings is to get you out of poverty. When you give offerings you’re sending money to heaven”; Catholic priests have earned a notoriety for sexually assaulting young boys under their care; and so on. Two examples will suffice:
The news broke out about three years ago that Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo of COZA Ministries had been sleeping with a church member. The member had published a detailed account of the affair which circulated widely, to which the pastor had promised a “robust reply” shortly. It has been three years now and there has been no response, never mind a robust one. He has not even offered his church members an explanation or an apology. No one is perfect – we have all done things that we regret or are ashamed of. And we usually cannot reverse the hurt or damage that our actions have caused but accepting responsibility is an important step in acknowledging our wrong-doing, demonstrating remorse and showing that we have learnt from our mistakes. Pastor Fatoyinbo abused his position of trust when he promised his victim “I am gonna show you a level of Grace you never knew existed.” Their sexual encounters were ostensibly consensual but it is often the case that a power differential exists in these kinds of relationships, rather like the sort between a boss and an employee in an office. Pastors have god-like statures and a cult-like following which can overwhelm some of their naive members. They minister to individuals who entrust them with their secrets especially at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Pastors who abuse their positions of trust should be held accountable just as happens to secular leaders. The church has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to hold its own accountable. But it is a wonder to me that people still attend COZA church and seek pastoral care from someone who says one thing but does the opposite, someone who is uninterested in leading by example, and someone who cannot be trusted to fulfil their pledge. Pastor Fatoyinbo has a duty to tell the people he leads the truth. He needs to publish his robust reply now.
“We need N1 billion from ten people. If you are one of them, please see my personal Secretary after we finish today. We also need N100 million from those who can afford it, if you are in that category. Please see my personal Secretary as well.” That was pastor Adeboye soliciting funds from his members in 2013 to build a church auditorium of mammoth dimensions (approximately 3km in length). To give a sense of perspective, $1 exchanged for approximately N150 at that time. This is the type of behaviour that breeds corruption in the church. I do not know how many people who have worked hard and honestly for their money would be willing to make those kinds of outrageous donations for a building that will yield them no returns. Readers will recall that the former CBN governor and current emir of Kano state, in what was perceived to be a veiled reference to pastor Adeboye, explained that some vested interest shielded the rogue banker, Erastus Akingbola (who allegedly siphoned N200 billion from the bank he ran) from prosecution. Pastor Adeboye projects an aura of humility and modesty. To be fair to him, he only owns one private jet, a Gulfstream airliner which allegedly cost him $65 million. He is rich enough to own more than one. But this is whilst many of his tithing members, whose donations pay for his “humble” and “modest” lifestyle, can barely feed themselves and their families. The irony is that the man he claims to emulate rode on a donkey and owned nothing.
African countries rely a lot on external aid and charity. People like Bill Gates invest a chunk of their wealth to fund researches to help combat diseases in Africa. Our governments regard churches as charitable organisations and exempt them from paying taxes but our wealthy pastors plunder their followers and spend their spoils on self-indulgent existence. In my view, the time has come to end these tax-exempt privileges and to force religious houses to open up their books to scrutiny. Let judgment start from the house of God. They can run their businesses according to existing corporate laws, and members who donate to such ventures as private universities should become shareholders. This will lead to transparency and accountability.
The Nigerian church does not represent the poor. In fact, Pentecostal pastors of the prosperity-preaching kind actively dissociate themselves from poverty and poor people. You do not hear them talk about the poor state of education or healthcare system in Nigeria. You do not see them stand up for human rights or lead protests against policies that punish the masses but reward thieves. Rather than speak truth to power they collude with corrupt politicians to defraud the masses and profit themselves. It would be interesting to know what Jesus thinks of these pastors whose conduct is quite frankly indistinguishable from those of the Pharisees and Sadducees that He described as “brood of vipers” in His days.
Religion cannot reform the world. There appears to be a correlation between religion, poverty and corruption because the countries which top the corruption index are consistently those that have high religiosity and high poverty levels. There is a church on practically every Nigerian street yet our country sits at the top of the list of the most corrupt countries in the world. Religions teach that man is depraved and cannot help himself but this philosophy ignores the inherent goodness in man. All the advancements that have occurred in science, technology, medicine, architecture, archaeology, music, the arts, have happened because of man’s goodness and desire to better his world. These innovations have happened in spite of religion, not because of it. The Catholic Church murdered many scientists and philosophers because they challenged it’s core beliefs about our universe. Religions are inherently divisive – they are good at uniting their members but outsiders are treated with suspicion and disdain. And as the doctrinal differences between the different sects of a particular religion widen, so do the internal divisions increase e.g. Catholics and Pentecostals, Jehovah witnesses and Deeper Lifers, Shiites and Sunnis, hardly see eye to eye. The gods described in the Abrahamic holy books (Torah, Bible and Quran) are not worthy of emulation – they are vengeful and unforgiving; they murdered innocent children and carried out genocides of entire tribes of people; they endorsed slavery, misogyny and homophobia; they act hypocritically e.g. they tell humans to forgive their enemies but these gods won’t forgive theirs (the devil). Religion does not make people good – believers are guilty of every single sin that their holy books accuse non-believers of.
The principles that underpin all religions are founded not on evidence, but on superstitions – virgin births, resurrections, miracle healing, animals that speak with perfect human diction, the belief in the existence of spirits, witches and gods. There is as much evidence for these as there is evidence that Santa Claus exists. These concepts are the products of the imaginations of uncivilised, primitive men and are not fit for the consumption of modern man. Groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban have provided us with snapshots of what happens when 21st century men regress to the mindset of the medieval men who authored their holy books.
Consider the progress that humanity would make if all the time and money spent on spreading superstitions are invested in medical research and improving the conditions of our existence. It could mean that the little child on life support machine right now battling the complications of malaria could be at school learning or playing on the fields. Superstitions cannot reform the world, nor can religion – because the latter is founded upon the former. Religion provides the perfect platform for unscrupulous men to capitalise on the fear peddled in scriptures to exploit billions of gullible people around the world. Religion is the opium of the masses – it thrives in impoverished societies because it peddles false hope. There is no magical man in the sky waiting for the right moment to send down deliverance. Donating your life-savings to pastors and churches will not immune you from illnesses, unemployment, road traffic accidents and other tragedies, but it will make the pastors stupendously rich and support their ostentatious and affluent lifestyles.