Akinola: Nigerians are not over-religious, we are under-religious
Most Rev. Peter Jasper Akinola is the former Primate, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). In this interview with Charles Coffie Gyamfi, Akinola disagreed with proponents who say Nigeria is over-religious.
Some Nigerians have lately been pushing the theory that Nigeria is over-religious. They said Nigerians are becoming too dependent on God, thereby abdicating their duties. What is your view on this?
Before I answer your question, let me correct some of the points I consider to be erroneous in the assumption you have expressed. You said Nigerians are too religious or appear to be over-religious. You can’t be over-religious, if it is properly understood. If anything at all, we are under- religious in this country. What appears as being over-religious is due to the manner we organise our religious programmes and the mammoth crowds we see at some religious events. That is why we are assuming that we are over-religious.
But we are not deeply religious enough in this country. Our religiousness is very shallow. When you are deeply religious, you will be pious. You will be godly-centred and will obey God’s rules and regulations. So, if Nigeria were over-religious, it would have become a much better society than what we have now. There would be no stealing, no killing, no assassination, no lying, no falsehood, no fraudulent practices, no election rigging and no miscarriage of justice. If we were too religious, truly, we would be a decent society. But we are not religious; we only have an appearance of religiousness. We are not at all religious in this country.
But if we are not over-religious, then what are we? What is the correct word to use in this case?
I am not sure I have the correct word for it. All I can say is that the Lord Jesus Christ says in the scriptures: “The popular way, wide and broad lead to destruction, but the way that leads to life is narrow and only few find it.” So, the mammoth crowds at religious events are not necessarily going the way of God.
There are some preachers out there who have the charisma to attract large crowds. But many of them also hire crowds to give the impression that they are doing something religious. I want to say this loud and clear that if people are truly religious, if people are genuinely thinking of God, if people truly think of God in all that they do as a result of their faith, Nigeria would have become a much better society than what we have now. What we are doing in the country is called deception. It’s so bad that Christ asked in the scriptures: “When the Son of Man shall come, will he meet faith on earth?” The real faith is fast disappearing. What we have now is egocentricity, flamboyance and self-centred preachers, whose intention is to amass wealth, gain popularity, name and fame.So, what all their congregations focus on is who (preacher) is leading them and not necessarily God.
But these mammoth crowds that usually attend these religious programmes abandon their duties in the process. Is it not negatively affecting the country economically?
Yes, of course. As they say, truth is bitter. Where the truth is spoken, very few people want to listen to it. But where there is manipulation and falsehood is much more popular and attracts crowd, and that is the way it is.The scripture is really clear about work ethics. We are told in the scriptures that, “He who does not work, should not eat.” It is plain enough. Whoever in the name of religion chooses not to work, does not know God or is not serving the God that we know. He/she may be serving a self-made God in the corner of his/her room. Whoever says he knows God is enjoined to not only work, but to also earn a good living and earn extra, through which he can provide for those in need. Genuine Christianity emphasises hard work.
If you go back to the very beginning of man in the Bible, God was clear in His word to Adam and Eve. He said: “From their sweat they will eat. They will have to toil to eat.” So, from the beginning to the end of the scriptures, the emphasis is clear that anybody who claims to know God and His written Word must work. But if you don’t work, you are simply deceiving yourself.
So, how do you categorise those who use working hours to go to church?
We have the indolent, and they usually exist in every society. But in this country, their number is on the increase. Those in this category will tell you they have no work to do. And I have been saying to the youths in this country for the past 10 years that if they want to work, there is always something to do. Let them go and learn some skills. Many graduates in this country are not employed because they lack skills, and their degrees have no content.
In the last few months, we have been waging war against sex-for-grades in our higher institutions. This buttresses the fact that many of these young people possess degrees with no content, meaning or value. They purchased these degrees by selling their bodies. There is no justification whatsoever in the Bible that can make people say, ‘I will not work because I want to go to church, or I will not work because I want to go to mosque, or I will not work because I am going for religious outing.’ It is not practicable. One must work; one must earn a living. Indeed, we are enjoined not to be dependent on others. The Bible goes as far as saying, “Do not be dependent on others, do not be a burden unto others.” Work and earn a living, because that way, you will earn everyone’s respect. That is the Bible’s position.
But some people say that if not because of this over-religiousness, Nigeria wouldn’t have been ethically or socially safe…
Are we really ethically safe in this country? Are we even living in accordance with the ethics of our religion, work ethics, ethics of co-existence and so on? We are zero in all these aspects in this country. Morally, we are grounded. A country where people kill with impunity, where people defraud with impunity and where justice is for the select few, how can we call that ethically sound? Look at the judiciary, ICPC and EFCC. Who do they bring to book? Only those who are opposed to them. One political party chairman said not long ago, I think last year: ‘Come to our party and your sins will be forgiven.” Who was he talking to? He was addressing the morally bankrupt, who have looted and stolen the commonwealth, and this is the practice in this country.
People commit atrocities with impunity and you are talking of being ethically right. God is holy and righteous. He is a God of justice. So, if you know Him, these elements should reflect in your lifestyle. You cannot claim to know God and be doing things that are unethical.
This is why some are saying it is the false pastors who are not preaching the genuine, undiluted word of God that have failed the country, as they are not playing their roles, which is why crime rate is increasing…
There may be some truth in this. Yes, many preachers organise programmes for their own selfish interest, to become popular, to get fame, to make money and to buy a jet. But the people too cannot be exonerated, because the language of the Bible is very plain and simple to understand. So, if your pastor is misleading you, you ought to be able to know the truth to tell him/her that he/she is wrong. But people are so lazy, and they swallow whatever rubbish is thrown at them.
So, as you blame the pastors, you must also blame the people who are following them sheepishly. Pastors have no monopoly of God’s Holy Spirit. A Christian must know his left from his right. When a pastor or a preacher is preaching blasphemy or preaching that which is not agreeable to the Word of God, or preaching something that is not biblical, you ought to say this is not right. And you either stop going to that church or you call the preacher’s attention to your observation.
But we don’t do that. Whatever anybody says is taken as the gospel truth. But it is even worse in the Western world. For instance, take a look at the whole business of same sex union and gay agenda. There are pastors and bishops using the Bible to justify all these things. Even before now, in South Africa, pastors used the Bible to justify apartheid. They used religion to justify apartheid. People can easily manipulate things, and the gullible always fall victim.
My advice to Nigerians, especially Nigerian Christians, is to pick their Bible and study the Word of God on their own, without the undue influence of so-called prosperity preachers. You can read the Bible and understand it on your own. Yes, there are still genuine pastors who are preaching the undiluted Word of God. Find them, and they will teach you what you don’t understand in the Bible.
As I travel all over the country, people often come to see me. And sometimes, they tell me they don’t go to church anymore because they don’t like what their pastor is doing and I explain things to them. If I know the pastor, I call him and tell him: “You have lost a soul, a member of your flock because of what you are doing. Remember, you will account to God for the loss of this one soul. Please, do whatever you can to make sure this soul is brought back to the fold.”
How can the Church bring about change?
We must also tell fake pastors that have been discovered to be self-centred, pastors who are working for themselves and not God and using God’s name for self-aggrandisement that one day, they will give account of their deeds to Him. We must also let them know that whatever they get here ends here, and in the end, they stand to face God’s judgment. But if they repent now, God is merciful and gracious and will forgive them.
They can turn a new leaf and preach the authentic Word of God, lead people in the way of God, and not in the way of amassing wealth for themselves. They must repent, change and stop this madness of looking for popularity or becoming famous, as it will not take anybody anywhere. If anything at all, it will take them to hell. We are not asked to become popular, famous or wealthy. We are asked to be faithful. What God is looking for in us is faithfulness to Him and to do His work faithfully and diligently. Anything after this borders on fraud.