In lieu of a column, this week, I present to you an unedited transcript of Dr. Damages’ interview with Bishop David Oyedepo to mark the Bishop’s 60th birthday. Conducted with an audio recording device, you won’t see this anywhere else.
Dr. Damages: Welcome to the show, my name is Dr. Damages. We are coming to you from the greatest city in the world, New York. We have a special guest today so we won’t waste time on monologue. He is the wealthiest pastor in Africa, if not the whole world. He is the founder of the Living Faith Church Worldwide, otherwise known as the Winners’ Chapel. His church is in more than 34 countries of the world. At the church’s headquarters in Canaanland is an auditorium called Faith Tabernacle. It can seat over 50,000 people. It’s one of the largest of its kind in the world. Please give a warm welcome to Bishop David Oyedepo.
Bishop Oyedepo: Thank you.
Dr. Damages: Happy birthday to you, Bishop.
Bishop Oyedepo: Thank you so much.
Dr. Damages: What an interesting time to be a pastor!
Bishop Oyedepo: Yes. Christians are being persecuted in China, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and they have almost been wiped out in the North East of Nigeria.
Dr. Damages: I was actually referring to what has been going on with pastors in Nigeria.
Bishop Oyedepo: Oh! To be a servant in the vineyard of the lord comes with challenges.
Dr. Damages: Yes. So what is your take on the whole Prophet T.B. Joshua’s hostel collapse?
Bishop Oyedepo: In Mathew 7:1 the holy book warned us: “Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged.”
Dr. Damages: I’m not asking you to Judge, Bishop. I want to know your take on his theory that a strange aircraft brought down his hostel killing over 118 people.
Bishop Oyedepo: In 1 Chronicles 16:22 the Holy Bible warned us, “do not touch my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!”
Dr. Damages: I thought that admonition only applies to ordinary people like me. Does it also apply to other anointed people like you?
Bishop Oyedepo: It’s plain. Do not touch my anointed. It made no exceptions.
Dr. Damages: Is that some sort of eternal immunity for the anointed?
Bishop Oyedepo: Call it what you want. It’s what it is.
Dr. Damages: So, if I get anointed today I’ll automatically get immunity from every impunity?
Bishop Oyedepo: Getting anointed is not like being a reporter. To be a reporter you just wake up, pick up a tape recorder and hit the road. These days you don't even have to be associated with a newspaper. You just set up a blog for free. To be anointed, you have to be called. And then someone who is anointed will place his hands on you.
Dr. Damages: Going by that your description of a reporter, I somehow feel that being a reporter is like being anointed. But I may be wrong. So is that anointed process what grants you unlimited immunity?
Bishop Oyedepo: Again, it is written… I did not write it. If you like, call it whatever you want. You have your poetic license we have our "do not touch" sign.
Dr. Damages: So when the fraternity of the anointed meet, do you not discuss what is happening within the church and how the activities of other anointed people like you impact the church?
Bishop Oyedepo: When you reporters meet, do you discuss what is happening within the media and how the activities of other reporters impact your profession?
Dr. Damages: Yes, we do. In fact, we just had a fierce discussion about the bribe one of your fellow anointed men of God gave our colleagues. One of our colleagues rejected the money and exposed the audio of the anointed man of God offering bribe to reporters. Our man went on to chide the reporters who took the bribe. Why can’t other anointed like you discuss and possibly reprimand a colleague you see as wayward?
Bishop Oyedepo: You know I don’t follow social media. You mean that a man of God bribed reporters?
Dr. Damages: Yes. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to hear your view on the state of the church in Nigeria vis-à-vis the pastors.
Bishop Oyedepo: Are you sure that it wasn’t transport money that he gave the reporters? Sometimes people confuse transport money with bribe.
Dr. Damages: Do you give transport money to reporters?
Bishop Oyedepo: No. Not at all. I hardly meet with reporters. When I do, during special occasions like my birthday, I just pray for them. But how do you know it was not transport money?
Dr. Damages: If it was transport money he would not have demanded to know what the reporters would write as soon as they got the money.
Bishop Oyedepo: Well, if it’s true, it still follows that one bad apple does not spoil all the apples on a tree. The tree of God is big with many branches.
Dr. Damages: Of course. Now, another anointed man of God was involved in arms smuggle scandal. How does that make you feel?
Bishop Oyedepo: That one I know of. I don’t know if I will characterize what happened the way you just did.
Dr. Damages: At least we can confirm that his private jet, one that he acquired to do urgent works of God that could be delayed if he uses commercial airline, was involved.
Bishop Oyedepo: You see, I don’t rent out my jet. The problem is that some of my brothers in the Lord who cannot afford a jet go and buy one because they heard that Bishop Oyedepo bought one. Next, they will be renting it out to make ends meet. I don’t do such a thing. I don’t even let my senior pastors borrow my jet, unless the senior pastor is my wife, my sons or my brother. That’s it.
Dr. Damages: You’ve been married for 32 years to one woman. You’ve called your meeting a divine selection. Can a marriage that is divinely selected fail? And if it does, who is to be blamed? The man or the woman? Or could God be blamed?
Bishop Oyedepo: It depends on who the man or the woman is and why the marriage failed. If a man, for instance, cooks his hair with poisonous chemicals just to make it look foreign, it is a sign that he is compensating, or should I say, overcompensating for something. If he says that masturbation is not a sin, definitely, he must be into some kinky stuff. Having said that, it cannot be God’s fault if a marriage fails. Failure does not nullify divineness.
Dr. Damages: What if the marriage is that of an anointed man of God?
Bishop Oyedepo: Again, I will refer you to Mathew 7:1: Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged.
Dr. Damages: Sixty years of life. That’s 8 years more than the life expectancy of a Nigerian male. Where do you see the Bishop David Oyedepo’s brand in another 60 years?
Bishop Oyedepo: I don’t know what you mean by Bishop David Oyedepo’s brand.
Dr. Damages: I mean, the Winners’ Chapel church and all the businesses around it, including the universities, the printing press, the bakery, the micro-finance bank, everything.
Bishop Oyedepo: The work of God will continue until our Lord returns.
Dr. Damages: Sixty-years from now, the Winners’ Chapel church will not have you to provide leadership.
Bishop Oyedepo: (smiles) You never know. It’s God who decides.
Dr. Damages: I’m sure you’ve seen those who get to reach the age of 100, how they already look like ghosts. Looking at them, I don’t think you want to reach 120 years.
Bishop Oyedepo: Abraham died at 175; Jacob at 114; Job was 140 years when he died. So, you can never say.
Dr. Damages: Ok. But let us assume that your empire does not have you around. Do you have a succession plan?
Bishop Oyedepo: I have my brother there. He’s heading one of our important branches - the one in Abuja. I have my two sons. They are both pastors at our strategic branches - one is in London and the other is in South Africa. My wife is there, too. So, without me, the work of God will go on.
Dr. Damages: Why is it that only your family members are at strategic places in the church? Is it possible that the next head of your church, the person who will inherit your private jet and all the perks of being the Bishop, will not be related to David Oyedepo?
Bishop Oyedepo: You see, God works in mysterious ways. Who are we to question God? The truth is that all my pastors are related to me. They are all my sons and daughters. That’s why they affectionately call me, Papa. They may not serve in London or Abuja or New York, but they serve the Lord nevertheless.
Dr. Damages: Your mentor, Archbishop Benson Idahosa, died on March 12, 1998. Since his death, his church has dwindled. It is not what it used to be when he was alive. And the same thing could be said about other indigenous churches - once the founder dies, it begins to crumble. What does Winners’ Chapel have in place to stop such a fate?
Bishop Oyedepo: That is not our portion.
Dr. Damages: No, I don’t wish it on you. But we both know that if wishes were horses, everyone would ride. So, we have to be practical here. What have you put in place to avoid that fate?
Bishop Oyedepo: I hope you don’t expect me to tell you what we have in place?
Dr. Damages: Why not?
Bishop Oyedepo: It’s a trade secret.
Dr. Damages: Idahosa’s church and university are being managed by his son and wife. Is your succession plan different?
Bishop Oyedepo: I said I am not going to reveal our trade secrets.
Dr. Damages: Ok. That’s fair. When all those who knew Idahosa and saw him preach die off, do you think that his church will still be standing?
Bishop Oyedepo: I don’t know what line of questioning is this. What are you getting at?
Dr. Damages: Can you name any indigenous church that has outlived those who saw the founder preach?
Bishop Oyedepo: Even if Idahosa’s church migrates and is embedded into another church 60 years after his death, his university will still be there. That’s why he established it.
Dr. Damages: Talking about universities, you own two or three universities?
Bishop Oyedepo: Two. The third one is under construction in Calabar.
Dr. Damages: In defense of the high tuition in your universities, you recently said that an average Nigerian spends N1 million naira in loved one’s funeral. Where did you get that figure? Was it from any social science research done by any of your universities?
Bishop Oyedepo: It is a well-known fact.
Dr. Damages: Is it the Nigerian earning minimum wage of N16,000.00 a month that spends N1 million in a funeral or the top 1%? Even if you count another 10% or so in the middle-class who make N75,000.00 to N100,000.00 a month who do not have the means but try to copy the rich, they often borrow, mortgage land and property to give their loved ones such a funeral. They do so hoping to pay back from money realized from such funeral. It may not be the best use of resources but that doesn’t translate into a statement of fact that an average Nigerian spends N1 million in a funeral. They do not give their loved ones a funeral every semester or every year, the way parents pay million-naira school fees at your universities. So, why don’t you come out straight and say that your school is just for the rich and it doesn’t matter that your poor church members who contributed to the building of the university cannot afford to send their children to the university that they “sowed the seed” of its building.
Bishop Oyedepo: I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I did not borrow money from anyone to build the universities. I did not ask for contributions. This fallacy that some poor people contributed money for me to build my universities is just that - a fallacy. My God is not a poor God. He answers the prayers of his faithful servants. It may be a mysterious concept for those of you who are of the world. But don’t let your blindness make you imply what does not apply.
Dr. Damages: People say whatever they like about Catholic Church but nobody questions the importance of Catholic Charities. In some cities around the world they are the reason the homeless have somewhere to put their heads at night; they are the reason the mentally ill do not walk along the streets naked; they are the reason disabled citizens are not risking their lives on traffic, begging. When is Winners’ Chapel, the most successful church in Africa, going to establish a charity of such magnitude to curb our society of a major social challenge?
Bishop Oyedepo: You are asking too much of us. We are only one church and we do what we can.
Dr. Damages: You’ve written over 70 books many of which are bestsellers. Did you explore in any of your books something like the social justice doctrines around the right of citizens to human dignity, right to work, common good, charity and social justice? The Catholic Church pursued such and by doing so contributed to the liberation of Latin America from the grip of dictators and unfair society?
Bishop Oyedepo: I don’t mix politics with preaching. I preach about paradise and prosperity.
Dr. Damages: How can one attain paradise in a place with precarious politics and social order?
Bishop Oyedepo: Your attitude determines your latitude. I teach my followers a way to attain greater longitude and latitude, irrespective of your aptitude or the altitude facing you.
Dr. Damages: Wow! Nice rhyme. I feel so humbletude.
Bishop Oyedepo: Thank you, but that’s the work of the Lord, not me.
Dr. Damages: Praise the Lord. Ok, let’s move on. The church leaders of the Martin Luther King days formed the Southern Leadership Conference. Its aim was to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches. Is the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) anything like that in Nigeria today? If not, why not?
Bishop Oyedepo: Like I said, I don’t mix politics with preaching.
Dr. Damages: But politicians frequent churches like yours. In fact, church leaders are seen out and about with politicians. Some are seen literally leading political leaders to Jerusalem. Does this journey to Jerusalem also happen spiritually or are pastors being used to get votes?
Bishop Oyedepo: Politicians are also our constituents. They are also our sheep, some are our lost sheep. We, as shepherds, need to tend to them, too.
Dr. Damages: In tending to your sheep, you sometimes lose your cool, like when you slapped that lady in your church. Have you done anything thing like that again?
Bishop Oyedepo: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Dr. Damages: The video has been seen by over a million people on youtube. Yet, your lawyer said in court that you didn’t slap anybody. And you seem to be saying the same thing? Aren’t you ashamed of that?
Bishop Oyedepo: That matter is behind us. If you don’t have any more relevant questions to ask we should call it a day.
Dr. Damages: South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, recently said that God is not a Christian. Do all people of all faiths have equal chance to make it to heaven?
Bishop Oyedepo: If they do, why did I call my church Winners’? There must be winners and losers. I choose to be a winner. And winners make it to heaven. I will leave it at that.
Dr. Damages: Hmm, that’s food for thought, Bishop. Quite insightful. Until now, I have never thought about why you live in heaven and most of your congregation live in hell. Thank you. I’ll now choose to be a winner.
Bishop Oyedepo: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Dr. Damages: That’s fine, pastor, sorry, Bishop. Don’t worry about it. Even Bernie Maddof didn’t know what I was talking about when I mentioned that. Ok, one final question. This interview was supposed to be held in London but you abruptly changed the venue. What’s the reason behind the change?
Bishop Oyedepo: Why is that your problem? Isn’t your goal as a journalist just to get an opportunity to interview me? You should be satisfied with that and give the praises to whom it’s due.
Dr. Damages: Of course, I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you. It’s just that I’m worried that some people are saying that you have been barred from getting into the UK because of some questionable activities of your churches there.
Bishop Oyedepo: I think you have run out of sensible questions.
Dr. Damages: I think you’re right, pastor.
Bishop Oyedepo: It’s been nice talking to you.
Dr. Damages: I guess that’s a good place for us to stop. Thank you, Bishop Oyedepo, for coming on our show. And happy birthday. May 200 years equal one year. And please make note that I’ll like to interview you again when you’re celebrating your 120 years. And, hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to talk about tithes, the different kinds of people who bring tithes to the church, and if the church is a place that dirty money is laundered as some people say.
Bishop Oyedepo: Thank you. Let’s hope you’re alive then.
Dr. Damages: Yes, let’s hope so, and hope that Jesus has not come back yet. (To the audience) Give it up for Bishop Oyedepo, everyone!