by Gabriel Osamwonyi Omozuwa
Let me start by making some honest disclosures about myself. First, I am not an erudite theologian. Second, I doubt if I am a good churchman. Third, I am an avid bible-clasping disciple of Christ with a growing sense of detachment from religious communities. Don’t get me wrong. I love Christ and His church. Fourth, on occasion, I silently wrestle with agnostic proclivities. Well, not anything close to a crisis of faith. Yet, I seek God. He is knowable. Apparently, these make me to defy facile categorization. It’s difficult to label me. I hope someone will not demean my authorial perspective and integrity on this thorny subject because of this.
As a child I enjoyed going to church. Back then, churches were big on moral education. Jesus was projected as the ultimate exemplar of spiritual and moral excellence. Whenever we face a moral dilemma we were told to simply ask ourselves this question: What would Jesus do if He were in our situation? The right answer to this question spells the right thing to do. Quite evidently this lasting moral lesson I received as a child has inspired the title of this piece.
As an attempt to sidestep the pitfalls of sweeping generalization, the title of this piece is couched to tacitly suggest, there is an "ideal type" of Nigerian pastor. However, this ideal type is possibly suffused with some trite notions. Since, it highlights subjective features and impressions. If it is, there is no cause for alarm. Facts are inherent in clichéd perspectives. Inherited ideas are not bad, if they are rooted in observable reality, useful for social reconstruction and non-discriminatory. Perception is still a valid way of gleaning knowledge.
A quick look at Jesus and the Nigerian Pastor is a study in contrast. It elicits paradigm-shattering dissonance. Jesus is the epitome of selflessness. Sacrificial love was the signature of His services to God, humanity, state and society. Similarly, it was the grand motif of his teachings. But the converse is true of the Nigerian Pastor. The governing maxim of his ministerial endeavours is inspired by the capitalist’s checklist: "What is in it for me?" This is making the Nigerian pastor a well-known avatar of greed. Around the globe, those who want to take lessons in the idiocy of profligate highlife are turning their attention to him. To the Nigerian Pastor, self is supreme. God is secondary. Pleasure is the essence of life. People are doormats. Or, they are seen as mere expendable launch pads to the stratosphere of fame and fortune.
If Jesus were a Nigerian Pastor, He would be a servant of God to the people. His wholehearted commitment to alleviating the atrocious living and working conditions of the poor would be a gospel anti-poverty agencies draw inspiration from. His passionate pursuit of the transcendent would not blindfold Him to the appalling material misery of those around Him. He would not widen the socio-economic gap between the haves and the have-nots.
He would not be known for "setting financial targets" for His church members, a practice that has compromised the faith and purity of many. Of what good is it for a young poor lady to sell her body in order to meet "set targets?" Unlike the boastful, wasteful hedonistic Nigerian pastor, He would have embodied Puritan ethics, which is a stimulus for capital accumulation for enterprise building. He would have raised frontline entrepreneurs by freely and gladly sharing the business sense He acquired as a carpenter par excellence.
If Jesus were a Nigerian Pastor, He would not be a tag-along denizen of Aso Rock. He would make the annexation of His ministry to the structures of political power impossible. Certainly, now and then, He would dine and wine with politicians. Whenever there is a legitimate reason, He would likely visit the seats of political power. However, He would maintain a dignified distance from them. So that He can speak truth to power with the unmistakable voice of authority. Painfully, the Nigerian pastor is increasingly becoming voiceless. He is seen in political arenas, but not heard. His shameless backslapping gestures have eroded his moral authority to be a voice of truth to power.
If Jesus were a Nigerian Pastor, He would not teach and encourage fall-down-and-die kind of prayer. He would not promote the baseless fatality that comes with hatred of difference. There is hardly anything that assaults the sublime nature of prayer like making it an expression of homicidal rage. In fact, the God-centric life that Jesus models is hardly enemy-conscious. One truth the Nigerian pastor seems not to grasp is that if prayer is fear-inspired, not God-centred and love-based, it is prone to become a tool of the devil.
If Jesus were a Nigerian Pastor, He would not organise programmes in places that will impede vehicular movement. He knows there is a nexus between the good life and trouble-free movement. Fixing bad roads, fighting poverty, beautifying the environment would have been on His agenda for socio-economic development. Unlike the Nigerian pastor, Jesus would not build a multi-billion naira ultra-modern mega-church in a squalid environment with unmotorable roads. He would do his best to develop the socio-economic infrastructure in His domain of influence for the benefit of all.
If Jesus were a Nigerian Pastor, He would not shutdown churches that are not "commercially viable". His ministries would not be confined to cities. He will gladly pastor in villages like Karangiya in Sokoto, Anong in Cross River. The Nigerian Pastor needs to jettison the illusion that "God dwells only in cities". And its corollary, you can’t have a "thriving church outside Lagos, Abuja, Warri, Port Harcourt, etc."
Well, if to the Nigerian Pastor "ministry" is a gravy train, a means to own a private jet; it will be easier for pigs to fly than for his expectations to come through in a "village church". But the truth is, if the Nigerian Pastor truly likes Jesus, geographical location will not debar the growth and influence of his ministry. Didn’t the "city" go to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist?
Let me assume I am in a position to advise the Nigerian Pastor on how to truly create heaven on earth. Dear Pastor, please model Christ. Endeavour to be selfless. Stop conveying the impression that you are a parasitic opportunist. Build sanctuaries of care for the vulnerable. Pay attention to the real needs of the world. Poverty abounds, join the fight to alleviate it. Step out of your grand soapbox, pickup your workbag and hit the street. Without cameras, please.