Dear Venerable Pastors:
After a lot of inner turmoil concerning the situation in Nigeria, I decide to write you this open letter. Each time I visit Nigeria I experience a deep inner threat as to the direction of the country.
I have deliberately addressed this open letter to the two of you out of more than dozen Nigerian Pentecostal and Charismatic Preachers with Mega Churches both at home and overseas. Three of you including Pastor Tunde Bakare in my view, are the only influential men of God in our country that Nigerians hold in awe and high esteem.
Pastor Bakare is not included in this letter because he is already a proven combatant in the war against oppression, corruption, and injustice that have become the trade mark of the Nigerian ruling class. You’re a target of this letter in order to conscript you as it were, into the people’s army of non-violence to be soldiers in the long running battle of oppression that has decimated Nigeria as well as her citizens.
Fifty three years ago, Nigeria became independent after a century of British rule. October 1, 1960 became a momentous occasion and a beacon of light and hope to millions of Africans and other oppressed people in the world.
Fifty three years after independence, Nigeria remains a symbolic elephant casting off the colonial yoke; and today is being replaced with a new authoritarian yoke of a representative democracy.
Since independence, the antecedents of Nigeria’s crisis has acquired a drama all its own. The historical genesis of the Nigerian crisis is well known to you. Therefore, I don’t intend to bore you with annoying repetition.
Just as the prophets of the eight century BC under the mandate of “thus saith the Lord,” deployed their Gospel of Liberation to fight religious, political, social, and economic injustice and oppression in their hometown and far beyond the boundaries of their land; so also you’re called to take up the mantle of the struggle in today’s contemporary Nigeria.
Like Apostle Paul, who initiated, instigated, encouraged, and fought for the oppressed in the Greco-Roman world, and championed the gospel of freedom, likewise you must NOW respond to the Macedonian call for help!
I’ll like to remind you that to fail to confront when confrontation is required for the freedom of the oppressed represents a spiritual as well as moral failure. To confront or criticize is a form of exercising leadership. It is nothing less than an attempt to influence the course of events human or otherwise. When we confront or criticize someone it is because we want to change the course of the person’s life.
The two of you are highly regarded for your enviable humility. The paradox of being humble is the more humble one is, the more one is awed by the fear in exercising leadership with activism: Who am I to influence the course of human event? By what authority am I entitled to decide what is best for my country or the human race? Who give me the right to dare to believe in my own understanding and then to presume to exert my will upon Nigeria? Who am I to play God? That is the risk.
For whenever we attempt to influence the course of the world, of humanity, we’re thereby playing God. To act is to play God. Yet, we also know that there is no alternative except inaction and impotence. Within this consciousness the apostles of old assumed the responsibility of attempting to be God and not to carelessly play God, but to fulfill God’s will without mistake.
I’m troubled by your deafening silence and inaction to the subjugation, repression, oppression, exploitation, injustice, and impoverishment of the poor by the greedy and corrupt ruling class. I realize that siding with the poor against your friends in government may not be most politically correct thing for you to do. But your inaction is coming at the cost of our God given freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
Many Nigerians remain confused about the ways religion relates to government and the way politics intersects with religion. For this reason, some people actively discourage political participation and most will remain silent.
I believe the church should be involved in political activism with the primary objective to fight tyranny of government whenever and wherever it exists. Some pastors see themselves as religious leaders. They believe the role of the church is to focus on the spiritual needs of their congregation and perform charitable works to aid the needy. To this group of pastors, the social-political activism I’m calling for amounts to dangerous radicalism.
I’m the least qualified to stress to you the importance of discipline of theological reflection: it causes one to constantly aware of God’s hand and leading in every aspect of life. It is expected therefore that you should lead from a posture of being led.
If I may ask, what role if any, do you see for yourselves as religious leaders in a political society with tyrants, oppressors, thieves, and wolves as rulers who are devouring the very sheep you’re called to shepherd and save? The twin expectations of your discipleship are serving the spiritual needs of your congregants while at the same time serving the “outsiders.” This is the meeting point of interaction between religion and public life.
The challenge before you now is to go where you would rather not go – to lead the people to confront the tyranny of the majority in Abuja – Aso Rock and the National Assembly. This is the challenge of “somebody else will take you” by Jesus to Peter:
“In all truth I tell you
When you were young
you put on your belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch your hands
and somebody else will put a belt around you
and take you where you would rather not go.” (John 21:18)
Soon after Peter has been commissioned to be a leader of his sheep, Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful place.
Just like Jesus told Peter that he would be an old man being led by others to place he would rather not go, so also Nigerians are pleading, urging you to be willing to plunge yourselves into the indescribable crisis of political, economic, and social injustice destroying the multitude of the Nigerian poor caused by the ruling class. To be in the forefront leading the poor, confronting a tyrannical government to end its wickedness in high places, I believe will be the high octane attention and expectations of your discipleship.
As you well know, the way of the Christian leader is not upward mobility the mantra of the world, rather the downward mobility which ends on the cross. The Christian leadership I’m calling you to embrace is not a leadership of power and control, but of powerlessness and humility. By powerlessness and humility I do not mean a weak leadership position that renders Christian leaders as passive victims. It is not Christian leadership without spine who let people make decisions for them. It is a Christian leadership that is “radically poor, journeying with nothing except a staff – “no bread, no haversack, no money, no spare tunic” (Mark 6:8). The “radically poor,” leadership allows you to be led and suffer with the poor.
I understand that there is the temptation for you to be relevant to your congregation and to influence the new converts to the Lord as in what you can offer in terms of their needs and their desires, etc. You don’t need to be relevant leaders only to your congregants. I believe now is the time for you to adopt a radically counter-culture tactic: to be like Jesus you must give your power away, divest yourselves of human privilege and status, and practice the downward mobility of Christ.
It is now – this is it – the opportunity for you to radically redefine the meaning of your spiritual leadership. It’s time to put off the yolk of Mega Churches and ally yourselves with the oppressed poor of this nation so that you can make impact and be more relevant to the 99.9% poverty stricken Nigerians.
You are positioned and privileged to be the Christian leaders of the future (and the future is now) who are called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but your own vulnerable selves. That’s the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.
If you’re sick, you need a competent doctor, if you are poor, you need a competent politician, if there are technical problems, you need competent engineers, if there are wars, you need competent negotiators. Is Nigeria a sick nation? Yes you bet! Are Nigerians poor, no doubt. Do we have competent politicians from the president to governors to federal, state, and local government legislators? Absolutely not!
God and ministers have been used for centuries to fill the gaps of incompetence. It happened in the Bible. It was replicated in the United States. And of course it was duplicated in South Africa and elsewhere.
Needless to remind you, Nigerians are hurting, they are sick spiritually and physically, they are hungry, they are homeless, they are jobless, they are useless, they are hopeless, they are helpless, they are pulverized by extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, and disuse. These Nigerians are extended families of your congregations – mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, uncles, nephews, and nieces.
You will find God’s charge to Prophet Isaiah instructive and compelling to mobilize, organize, and lead the masses like Martin Luther King Jr. and other clergy men of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Reverend Leon Sullivan (Lion of Philadelphia), Bishop Tutu, Albert Luthuli (author of the bestselling book Let My People Go) and other preachers too many to mention.
Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish history and one of the most powerful models in the Bible was known in his days for his uncompromising convictions, and clear vision that drove him to continue speaking out despite the unfaithfulness of his people. His convictions teach us about avoiding ungodly compromise. Isaiah furnishes a beautiful case study of a leader who led from vision that brought about national reforms.
Listen to God’s mandate to Isaiah:
“Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people (the wicked, corrupt Nigerian rulers) … To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed (Nigerians) go free.” …”If you take the yoke from your mist, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday … And you shall be called the Repairer of (Nigeria) the Breach, And restorer of Streets to Dwell in.”
Evangelization is good. Planting churches all over the world is desirable. But God delights not merely in his people going without some daily staples, but in loosing the “burden of wickedness” and undoing “heavy burdens” of the oppressors in government.
God is calling on you to fight the destructive agenda and oppressive attitudes of the ruling class. Ethics supply the foundation of our values. Values supply the power that drives leadership. Moses led without compromise because his life was controlled by his popularity with God, not popularity with people.
It’s time for you to leave the theological elite world of popularity to experience and tell the Biblical story of Jesus and his compassionate and loving kindness to the poor and the oppressed by leading the protest and agitation against the oppressors of God’s children.
Nigerians remain shackled in many ways to the past and face a difficult and unpredictable future. They are living a suffocating existence. Here is my suggestion on what you could do to help free Nigerians from oppression, injustice, and poverty:
Form a non-violence and Civil Rights organization of Christian leaders patterned after the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded in 1957 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Baptist ministers. The organization will fight on behalf of the poor using the non-violent method – civil disobedience – the idea of not cooperating with evil system:
(a) Organize a poor people’s campaign to address issues of economic justice – economic bill of rights for poor Nigerians.
(b) Set up mobilization committees to end unemployment and corruption, to fight for decent housing for the poor, voting reforms, education reforms, judicial reforms, police reforms, and infrastructures.
(c) March on Abuja for jobs, social welfare, and social security for senior citizens, and provision of 21st century hospitals.
As leaders of the proposed organization, you should maintain policy of not publicly endorsing any political party or candidate. This would allow you to look objectively at the parties and be the conscience of all – not the servant or master of any of the parties. The parties have not served Nigerians well.
The record of non-violence/civil disobedience has been very impressive. Successful precedents of non-violence include Mohandas K. Ghandi’s challenge to the might of British Empire and Dr. King’s objection to White America racism. They used and relied solely on the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury and courage.
Just like Ghandi and King had been influenced by Jesus’ teaching on non-resistance to evil force so also as Christian leaders you should follow their examples and make Nigeria a better country. Revolt against injustice is not only honourable, but it is imperative.
One of the greatest remedies for our own suffering is serving others. Servant-leadership becomes a solution for both the one serving and the one being served.
Venerable Pastors, consider this: your righteousness on this matter will answer for you in time to come!
Article was first published in SaharaReporters December 17, 2013