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Of God and miracle men

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Now that former President Olusegun Obasanjo has spoken, I suggest the rest of us who are truly disgusted with the activities of the religious entrepreneurs, the self-styled men and women of God, should find the courage to lay the cane across their back too. We, too, can speak truth to the men and women of God, who are not, truth be told, speaking the biblical truth, and have turned prosperity gospel into a money-making venture. Here is part of what Obasanjo said at a lecture at the Victory Life Bible Church in Abeokuta last week: “Our present-day money changers and merchants must be chased out of the church. To preach that one can acquire wealth without labour is not only deceitful, but also a call to corruption.”

There is no reason to pretend about this. We have all become hostages to the peripatetic miracle-working men and women of God who have turned the bible into their entrepreneurial miracle tool. The temple of holiness is so blatantly desecrated by people who claim to serve God and are in his service to lead the stray sheep back to the fold. Is God offended by this consuming and shameless commercialisation of religion?

Don’t ask. After all, there is nothing really new about this. The manipulation of religions for political, social and economic reasons has a long history. These men and women have managed quite successfully over the years to take food from the mouth of the poor and become fabulously rich from the sweat of the poor. The poor live on promises of a better and brighter tomorrow, as in heaven. These men and women sell this promise like sleek snake oil merchants. It does not matter to those who are conditioned to wait for their day tomorrow that their pastors are living life to the hilt. Now. The exploitation of the poor is, in itself, the biggest social business there is in the world. Politicians and the men and women of God are the worst exploiters of the poor and the needy.

This, then, is not about honesty or integrity or the proper Christian way of life and living. This is not about saving the soul from damnation. This is not about keeping Satan outside the residential fence. This is not about the strategy for moderating God’s anger and escaping hell fire.

No, sir. This is about a quick fix to our life of economic, social and political struggles. We live by their promise because, well, being men and women of God, they hear from the almighty himself. The late President Thomas Jefferson once referred to such people as “bands of mountebanks posing as pastors of Jesus.”

Obasanjo said these modern money changers should be chased out of the church. It won’t be easy. They are the founders and the owners of their churches. The law would not allow us to chase them out and deny them the right to own their property. They and their followers are in the business together. They would not chase out their pastors, by whatever title they are called, either.

What to do?
I am afraid this would be at best a moral religious war in which no prisoners are taken. A moral war is difficult to win because there are no bullets to graze the conscience of those against whom the war is waged. It seems to me that Obasanjo’s real worry about the men and women of God who have managed to turn the narrow path to moral rectitude into a super highway for moral turpitude, is this (in his own words):

“We must be careful in believing and celebrating every testimony of miraculous blessing….” Here again, the brick walls loom. Pastors speak to and plead with God on behalf of those who have problems. When God responds and solves their problems, they go to the house of God to (a) give testimony of the miracle in their lives (b) appreciate God for it and (c) canonise their pastor as the new true man of God.

Nothing is likely to change this scenario for good reasons. The beneficiaries of God’s miracles cannot fail to appreciate God and acknowledge their pastor in the sudden and welcome change in their circumstances. I think it would smack of ingratitude. I would imagine that, that would cost them the right to ask again through their pastor the next time they need divine help. The church in turn celebrates such people as evidence that God, prodded by the pastor to show favours, is, you got it, good. They are held up as poster children of the miracle-working God, hence their celebration by the pastor and his church.

And so, when the armed robber carries out a successful operation, he shows gratitude to God through his pastor who had most probably prayed for him before the operation by donating part of the loot to the church; when the contractor signs a multi-billion Naira contract and escapes with the mobilisation fee, he donates some money to the church to mollify divine umbrage; when a state governor raids the state treasury, he tosses part of it to the church to quiet his throbbing conscience.

It is not the business of the church to question the source of a man’s sudden wealth. If the young man in Ajegunle makes a hit and moves to a mansion at Lekki, it is a miracle. And since the devil is not yet credited with miracles, we should know where that came from. God, of course. To ask the beneficiary of a miracle to explain his source of sudden wealth would amount to questioning God’s right to work miracles in the lives of men and women brought before him by their pastors in whatever way he chooses. This being the age of miracles, it is dangerous to be too inquisitive, even. We do not understand the phenomenon of miracles. But we do know that nothing succeeds like a miracle.

Are we as helpless as I am trying to suggest here? I am afraid so. You see, this is really a complicated matter. The days of the miracle-working pastors are not yet numbered. Sure, we are right to be angry that in their greed to make it at our expense and the expense of the almighty himself, they are unable to draw the line between what is ethical and what is unethical. But don’t forget they too are Nigerians. They too are struggling to make it and make it big so they can be properly recognised by the society.

Some of the pastors themselves are the first evidence that God works miracles. Check the backgrounds of some of them and you would be shocked at their dirty past. Some of them were armed robbers. But by the miracle of God, they saw the light, repented and became bible-wielding anointed men and women of God. There can be no greater miracle than that transformation. Makes it easy for these former criminals to take from the current criminals. They believe, in their warped sense of reasoning, that when a criminal gives part of his loot to the church or the pastor, his crime against the society and his sin against God are instantly forgiven. The repentant criminal is treated as incontrovertible evidence that God constantly calls sinners to repentance.

Our dilemma is that we are forced to seek miracles because of our social and economic difficulties. We want a quick fix. Politicians and the men and women of God are in the business of fixing our problems. Of the two groups, we tend to lean on the pastor much more because he promises a quicker fix from the almighty himself. That makes his option even more attractive than that of the babalawo and other traditional medicine men who are also in the big business of a quick fix too. When the times are this parlous, the cost of goats and chickens to appease the gods becomes prohibitive. The bible is cheaper. So, we flock to the pastor.



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