In my next life (I hope I have one), I want to be a Pentecostal preacher, ministering to congregations with the same mind-set as today’s Nigerian Pentecostal Christian. Why? Admiration. You cannot but admire the Nigerian Pentecostal preacher, whose words and deeds are rarely, if ever, subjected to scrutiny; and who is regarded as God’s father by staggeringly incurious followers.
God’s father? Oh yes. The modern preacher is believed to be in a position to assign tasks to God and what time the task should be executed. The will of God he allegedly serves is unimportant. You have to admire a man who can bypass God to decree and declare freedom from all earthly afflictions whether or not God wants that to happen yet.
“My pastor says,” to the Nigerian Pentecostal Christian, is a substitute for “the scriptures say.” The Bible, to today’s Nigerian Christian, is a book that is reviewable-like the constitution-by the preacher who, in some (not all) instances, is encouraged by interpretative plurality. In many cases, however, the preacher, in his role as God’s father, simply invents stuff. The more bizarre, the more appealing.
Some months ago, I saw a video of a preacher telling his star-struck congregation that for any Nigerian to rise to prominence, he must visit Lagos or Abeokuta. What he was saying was that without visiting any of those two cities, no Nigerian can be anything of substance. His congregation responded with a loud approval. He did not say what part of the Bible (on which authority he is presumed to speak) says that. It is, in fact, safe to say, the Bible does not.
A few weeks before then, I had seen a video in which one of the biggest names on the circuit, strutting on his Ota pulpit like a peacock in full bloom, tell his followers that the Biblical Job had to suffer because he was not a tithe payer. He made his claim with serious authority and his congregation, as in the first example, yelled its approval. His congregation, I believe, must contain people who read the Bible before doing basic stuff like using the rest-room, brushing their teeth or even deciding on who to wave to when walking on the street. I admit to making that up.
But the preacher’s claim was also made up. Job, according to the Bible, endured shattering misery, including the death of 10 children, loss of his wealth, grave illness, loss of appeal to his wife as well as derision by friends and even little children.
The Bible is not reticent on what brought Job’s misery about. It says that Satan was pissed by Job’s holiness and told God that the only reason Job worshipped Him was because he was so healthy and prosperous. Satan believed that if Job lost his wealth and fell ill, he would ditch God. To prove to Satan that Job would serve Him however great his misery was, God allowed Satan to destroy his wealth, family and public image.
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. (Job 1:8)’.
This is how the Bible records God’s assessment of Job. There is no mention of his refusal to pay tithe, the almighty financial instrument that Pentecostal preachers advertise as the magic cure for all afflictions and without which Christians are frozen out of eternal life. The preacher is known to say non-tithers are hell-bound.
His friend, whose famous playground is on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, is of the same persuasion. The man on the expressway, in addition to tithe addiction, has his own gig, one exclusive to him. It is called “Covenant Partners” and, at launch in 2002, required a parishioner to enlist with a specified amount of money, preferably foreign currency, to benefit from astounding miracles over a 10-year period. At renewal in 2012, following an alleged revelation to the preacher, the munificent period was scaled down to three years.
“When I asked God, He said there will be a new set and it will not be for ten years. Because those people were in covenant with you (the preacher) for ten years, I had no choice but to keep them alive for ten years. You tied my hands. And I remembered all the miracles that happened in the life of my partners and I thank God for all the miracles, I thank God for all my partners and I say, thank you for the past ten years.
Now, the Lord says to me, the new set of partners will be for only three years. He said after three years, we can review,” said the preacher on his church’s website.
Now, I do not know what part of the Bible recommends this type of relationship with God. I also think it is safe to assume that that many of those who follow the pastor are sufficiently literate to have seen it if it exists. The widespread belief that preachers are free to invent precepts shows that the preacher’s word is what is supreme, not the Bible.
That, exactly, is where the danger is, as it means the preacher is right even when wrong-and beyond criticism. Why should adherents of a faith that says, very explicitly, “thou shall not lie” venerate liars?
The veneration, sadly, is gradually breeding followers, who seem ready and willing to fight preachers’ battles, not God’s. The profusion of curses rained on and ill-will borne towards those who criticize preachers provide proof of this. It will get worse.
I suspect that many subscribers of these superstar preachers actually wish to have their pulpit deities wield type of authority enjoyed by fatwa-proclaiming mullahs to shield them from scrutiny, criticism and mockery-all of which, in my view, they richly deserve. A faith that brooks no criticism is one with a serious inferiority complex. It will get worse, I repeat.
Preachers have been nudging their followers, subtly, to acquire fundamentalist traits. In September 2013, staff of Heritage Nursery and Primary School, owned by Living Faith Worldwide, beat up officials of the Ogun State Internal Revenue Board for demanding six years’ outstanding taxes. Two days later, it was the turn of officials of the Ogun State Ministry of Urban and Physical Planning and journalists attached to Ogun State Television, who were beaten up.
The journalists who accompanied ministry officials to serve building inspection notices, also had their cameras damaged. The founder of Living Faith, more recently, defied the Ogun State Government’s directive not to hold worship in his at the start of the COVID-19-induced lockdown.
These infractions were lauded by followers on the social media. Someday, and very soon, we could have brainwashed people to fly planes into buildings in protest against perceived ill-treatment of preachers. Far-fetched? I do not think so. Followers’ reactions to scrutiny of preachers are so craze-eyed and tend to leave them with flecks of spittle flying off the corners of their mouths. Unsafe to bet against killing in a preacher’s name.