Do we really need more churches in Nigeria? I asked banging on my keyboard, just as my oversabi self responded – If we never again build one more church in Nigeria we will be very alright. I had just read a tweet by @Omojuwa that Imo State is building 28 churches with state funds and my blood was boiling. I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all Africa is the most religious continent, and do you know the least religious country? It’s China, our soon to be colonial masters. For the past few years, I’d given up on the idea of Religion and concentrated more on my spirituality as a Christian. I’d come to realize Religion is a tool and depending on who is wielding the power it can be beneficial or disadvantageous. The purpose of organized religion has since changed from prayer, study, and fellowship to being an institutionalized weapon for control as slavery and colonization best exemplifies this. During the colonial era, we were taught interpretations under Religion to exploit us, keep us docile, divide us and we still use those same interpretations to exploit ourselves today in Nigeria and many parts of Africa and that’s what Religion in Africa and specifically what Religion in Nigeria has become.
The Role Pastors Play in Africa (Nigeria)
“Ada, call me. I need you to send money, the Reverend wants to pray for us. He also has a message from your Father,” my mother read from her phone in Engli-Igbo, startled. Who could blame her? I was also startled, her father, my grandfather is dead. Being a religious leader has become one of the more lucrative businesses in Nigeria. In 2016, a survey released by Gazette Review listed the Top 10 Richest pastors in the world and 5 out of those 10 pastors were Nigerian with Bishop David Oyedepo at the top of the list with a $150 Million net worth. It brings about the question, should Nigerian Pastors be this wealthy in a Country with such rampant poverty?
Discussing the wealth of pastors has always been a sensitive topic because as many things the bible is vague on it. This vagueness is the reason it can be used as a tool. Depending on who’s wielding the power, interpretation varies, like on the ethics of pastors being so wealthy. However, what cannot be argued is we all need to hold our Religious leaders to a high standard – What does your Church or Mosque do for your community? They tell you to give and it will be given back to you abi? What are they giving to the poor, even the ones in your place of worship? How do they make everyday life better? They should have more responsibility in the movement for the betterment of the community but generally, have fallen short in standing up for what is right.
During Colonial rule, religious leaders were able to exploit the people because they couldn’t read or interpret for themselves. Today it is based on the perception that your religious leaders are more spiritual than you the congregation, so the Holy Spirit reveals interpretations to them it won’t to you. As per say their own holy spirit strong pass your own. That belief is the basis for which exploitation is ripe, evident by the commodification of miracles, visions, prayers, holy water, bible, spit, yes spit! Ironically Politicians mirror the behaviors of our religious leaders in Nigeria, using religion to exploit its people, whether by using the Quran to keep Child abuse laws or using God as a cushion for incompetence – Nigerians should pray for their President, God will make Nigeria better as long as its people pray. Really? Every time this happens you can usually be certain of the deafening silence from our religious leaders and I wonder why.
Does Religion in Nigeria reflect our realities?
Messages of Obedience and Meekness were important to teach in the colonial era to deter people from challenging the authority of God and Man because they made up the authority. Messages of Miracles were important because they needed Africans to buy into Christianity and power of their God. Messages of giving were important because they needed us to slave for their upkeep and to also pay taxes to them, so we learned them and passed them down for generations without no reason of ours. We are still stuck on those European interpretations of what it means to be Christian, down to still using images of white Jesus with blue eyes in our churches. How are these passages interpreted to deal with the realities of today’s Africa? For Example, we need more people challenging the status quo, so why aren’t we learning more about Jesus being crucified because he actively and unapologetically challenged authority? Not just that he only died for our sins. Why is the pursuit of an afterlife pounded into us like it’s the only escape we have from the hell we see around us? Why aren’t we learning more about Jesus’s giving nature? Yes, we get it, it’s a miracle he turned five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed everyone but why did he stretch the only food he and his disciples had to eat – it was compassion. Where are those attributes in today’s religion in Nigeria? Picking and choosing only passages we like from our holy books has always been a pinnacle in Religion, but can we at least do it for the betterment of the average citizen also?
Don’t get me wrong Christians, this is not a problem for Christianity alone, I only speak more on it because it is the religion I know. I mean we can’t deny how Islam in Nigeria is used to oppress women, the poor, and used to incite violence in Nigeria. How religious divisions; Islam vs Christianity, heck even Christian vs Christian has cost lives. In the words of Chinua Achebe on Religion in Nigeria, “the white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” We continue to let tools of our oppression divide us, instead of tapping into the strength in our diversity.
In conclusion, my people, Shine your eyes.