We have to get the politics of religion right if we are ever going to get the religion of politics right. 

 

Over two decades ago, at the library of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I came across an essay called “Jesus as a Businessman.” What I read in the essay shocked me. Until then, I didn’t know that it was possible for normal people to think such unusual thoughts. Before that day, I believed I was the only crazy one. I feared my mind was going to send me to hell. But after reading that essay, I knew I was not alone. And even if I went to hell, I would have company.

 

So I photocopied the essay and carried it on me for a very long time. Every now and then, I reread it just to marvel at the audacity of the writer. I watched as the photocopy ink faded off the papers but the thoughts the essay put in me did not fade. Until recently, I did not know who wrote the essay neither did I know the book it was extracted from. 

 

The other day, I found out that the essay was just an introduction and the first chapter of Bruce Barton’s 1925 book called “The Man Nobody Knows: A Discovery of the Real Jesus Christ.” 

 

In the book, advert executive, Bruce Barton, retells the story of Jesus Christ. Barton emphasizes some aspects of Jesus’ life that portrays him as an epitome of a modern day business man. The author asserts that Jesus used today’s marketing tools and advertizing strategies to build a formidable business empire. For example, Barton highlights the way Jesus picked his workers and the way he appointed his successor as proofs of great managerial skills. He contends that Jesus’ message was streamlined and spiced up with everyday real life stories. Barton insists that Jesus’ odd lifestyle was attention grabbing. Critics of Bruce Barton’s bestselling book accused him of “strained anachronistic exegesis” and of turning Jesus into the image of his advertizing world. 

 

I presume that Bishop David Oyedepo has read that book. And so has Pastor Enoch A. Adeboye, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Pastor Chris Okotie, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Prophet T. B. Joshua and all the other pastors who brandish the prosperity preaching brand across Africa. If they haven’t read it, they must have read a book written by someone who read Barton’s book- like George Barna’s 1988 book, “Marketing the Church: What They Never Taught You About Church Growth.”

 

It all came together for me in the last few weeks. After my interview with Pastor Tunde Bakare and Rev. Nimi Wariboko, I was very close to an epiphany. And last Sunday, in twitter exchanges with two Nigerians over Bishop David Oyedepo’s declaration that he did not build Convent University with church members’ tithes, offerings or donations, it clicked.

 

We have to get the politics of religion right if we are ever going to get the religion of politics right. 

 

The obvious reason for the above statement is that our sense of ethics, or what remains of it, comes from our religious base. We have all but abandoned the ethics of our traditional African ways of life. So if the religious ethics fail, everything else will fail. The other reason is that the majority of our people take their cue from these religious leaders than all the media in the country. More people watch Bishop David Oyedepo each week than all the people who watch NTA news. 

 

So let us begin with Bishop Oyedepo’s defense against those who criticized his lifestyle and how he runs his church. “The last time the church paid my salary was December 1987,” he said. “Nobody heard it, not even the ministers in the church until 1997 and church members didn’t hear this until 2007.” 

 

On reading that, the first question that crossed my mind was, so how has Oyedepo been surviving without a salary? There were other questions like, why did it take ten years before the ministers knew? Let me leave out the evil questions like, doesn’t accountability and transparency require that the church members should know? And are we supposed to be impressed by the revelation?

 

Before we even get to the answers to the questions above, let us look at other things Bishop Oyedepo revealed. He said, “In January of 1988, my wife asked me of money for feeding and I told her I had given my salary to God. And that was the last time she ever had to ask for feeding money ‘til date.”

 

To crown it all, Oyedepo told his audience that, “Covenant University was built within seven months without any collection of any one naira tithes or offerings or donations of any kind from anywhere.” It was a direct response to those accusing him of building the university with contributions of members while setting tuition beyond the reach of an average church member.

 

Based on my interview with Pastor Tunde Bakare and Rev. Nimi Wariboko, my best guess is that the likes of Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastor Enoch A. Adeboye, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Pastor Chris Okotie, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Prophet T. B. Joshua and others have been surviving on Pentecostal opaqueness. It works because nobody around them asks any questions. People who should hold them accountable are busy worshiping them.

 

What is salary? Isn’t it that ugly thing you demand as an entitlement for the work you do? It gives a good public image to say the church does not pay you any salary when in fact the church takes care of most of your needs. These pastors also have at their disposal the ministries. In many cases, while churches may not pay these pastors, ministries do pay them. Most often, the churches do not own the ministries. Traditionally, it is the general overseers and their cronies who legally own the ministries. 

 

The average church members do not know there are demarcations between the ministries and the church. Those who are aware of such do not understand the demarcations. The ministries may handle tasks like printing the pastor’s books and selling the holy water. The ministries may own the churches’ fleets of vehicles, chains of schools and universities. Many church members would be surprised to find out that the private jet they gave as a gift to the pastor was not registered under the church’s name. If not registered directly as the property of the pastor it is registered as a property of one of the ministries owned by the pastor.

 

Now the average reaction of a church member is to say that it is not his or her business what the pastor is doing with the offerings and the tithes and the donations. They argue that what they give in time, money and materials, they give to God and not to the pastor. So, they can afford to look away. They consider their contributions to God as something spiritual that do not follow the dictates of temporal matters.

 

Such posturing sounds noble. Grand. Superior. But upon close examination, it appears hollow. It is more of an excuse not to be involved, not to accept any responsibility and not to demand accountability. Without acknowledging it, that nonchalant attitude sets the stage for the inevitable scandals that will ultimately cripple the same institutions members are trying to build with their resources.

 

The real question to ask as a follower of Jesus is, if Jesus were to attend the same church as you, would he tolerate all the gamesmanship going on there? Would the man who chased the money changers out of the temple close his eyes to all the iniquities going on in your church? Doesn’t being a Christian make you a mandatory reporter? A reporter who must not just report an abuse but is required by the law of conscience to stop it? If you see abuse and you don’t stop it, doesn’t that make you as guilty as the abuser? Doesn’t that make you an accomplice and an enabler?

 

We have to get the politics of religion right if we are ever going to get the religion of politics right.

 

If you cannot ask what Jesus would do on matters happening right inside your church, what are the chances that you will ask what Jesus would do on matters outside your church? Those who do not care where tithes from their pockets go, cannot care about where Nigeria's oil wealth, picked up from the ground, is going? It is attitudes like these that lead to the thinking, “I voted for Goodluck Jonathan but not for the PDP.”

 

Our church goers are willing to sow a seed without going back to water the seed and tend it as it grows. Yet, they are surprised at what happens to the seed - like the Winners Chapel flock who are surprised that the seed they thought they sowed towards the building of Convent University did not grow. They are surprised that actually Bishop Oyedepo built the university all by himself without a dime from anybody. Consequently, what they thought was ‘ours’ is really Oyedepo’s. 

 

Bishop David Oyedepo and other pastors like him are people nobody knows- not even their church members. They abhor transparency and accountability. They apply the principles of modern business in running their Christian empires. The structure of their empires is simple. At the head is a church under which are chains of subsidiary companies called ministries but are legally known as charities. The church itself operates like any other franchise - Starbucks, McDonald’s, or Tantalizers. Everything is about product and profit. These General Overseers/CEOs set up rubber stamp board of directors who sign off on whatever the CEO wants. Meticulously, they prepare their children to succeed them and continue the family business. 

 

Bruce Barton may have written the book about Jesus as a businessman but it is the Oyedepos who are living it. Oyedepo and his co travelers have successfully forced Jesus into the image of their world instead of turning themselves into Jesus’ image. They are the epitome of Jesus as a businessman.

 

Correct me if I’m right.

 

 

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