A friend of mine told me of his recent experience in one of the more popular hip and happening Churches in Abuja. Members had been told to come to Church with their Cheque books for some kind of special prayers. On the appointed date, there was hardly any spare sitting space in the church as Church member had turned up along with some other friends who they had shared the news with. The thinking of all was that the Man of God would pray and bless the Cheques and symbolically this would translate into better cash flows and successes in business, much like blessing a biro before an exam.
My friend was himself ecstatic. He is part of the management of an ICT firm in Abuja. Coincidentally, his CEO is also a member of the church. The CEO who wasn’t going to make it caused the company accountant to hand over all company cheques to my friend to take along to the special prayer including that of the CEO. So effectively, my friend had about nine bulky cheque books with him ready to be blessed for increased earnings.
That day, the sermon took longer than usual. The topic centered on generosity. Why brethren should be generous. Why brethren should sow seeds. Why brethren should bless the Lord (through his servant the Man of God) with gifts and all that. Those were stories the congregation had heard before. They all itched for the cheque blessing part, the reason why most of them showed up.
When it finally came, my friend said it was over in less than two minutes. Very simply, the Man of God told every body to raise their booklets in their hands and in prayer he asked God to bless this cheques bla bla bla and that was it. Like some kind of insignificant thing. My friend said the brevity and shallowness of the prayer deflated the enthusiasm he had come with and indeed that of most people in the congregation.
Then came the big one, the main act actually by the Pastors scripts. The Church was carrying out X Y Z projects and was requesting for financial assistance. The appeal was laced in these lines, “No need to pledge. We know your cheque books are here, just write us a cheque. God will bless you abundantly”. My friend said he had never felt more irritated and while those who the joke was on started scribbling down and tearing out cheque slips, he gathered the booklets he had on him and found the closest exit from the Church.
Beyond the laughter we shared while he narrated this story, an irritation was also steered up in me, one which has given me the temerity to steer the hornets nest today by challenging these money mongering, superstar men of God who have become demigods and saviours to many hapless people in this country.
I have once asked if churches paid tax to the Federal Inland Revenue. If they don’t, they ought to because they are very potent money spinning institutions and such windfalls should not go untaxed. In fact, Churches should be made to declare their accounts at the end of the year. So lucrative has this business become that a banker friend of mine told me once of the many loan requests they receive accompanied with Ivy League standard business plans by persons who want to set up Churches.
It is important I make it clear ab initio that I am not against the practice of any religion in any form the practitioners deem fit. But when the practice involves the organized, systematically executed and continuous reap off of a religiously gullible people in a population where 50% of the people according to the UNDP are poor, then it raises a deep moral question. One that right thinking people must begin to talk about and challenge.
In agreement to Karl Marx’s opinion of Religion being the opium of the Masses, Nigerians have under the pressures of a failing economy and a directionless leadership ran to the Churches for succour. The Penticostal outpouring of the early eighties and Nineties seems just apt for a people who were trying to hold unto something to sustain their hopes and belief in life. That religious revival however gave rise to a new set of Chief Executives going by various names such as general overseer, supreme shepherd, founding bishop and the like.
These individuals who driven either by a foresight of the boom that lay ahead had set up their own churches suddenly turned into kingpins as their congregations transformed from mushroom gatherings into business empires and very large conglomerates. Gradually but steadily, a new class of bourgeoisie emerged, this time around in the vineyard of God and thus unquestionably divine.
We watched as the focus shifted from an intercession to save our nation from final collapse to a grandiose scramble for the same old ‘root of all evils’, money. Pastors who had tasted the pleasures and comfort of the elite class by virtue of their headship of various churches and the unhindered assess it gave them to the common wealth of their congregation sustained their position by spreading a new gospel of prosperity, devising new methods of expanding their followership and squeezing out more money from them.
We have today therefore, mega rich, celebrity, Super star, stage con-artists parading in the name of Men of God. They move in long convoys. They establish Universities and colleges which most of their members can not afford to send their kids to. They dress in cloths bought off boutiques were Hollywood celebrities shop. They speak with cultivated accents. They own conglomerates. They cruise round the world. Only recently while the nation and indeed the world moaned under the weight of the Global Melt down with many losing their jobs and Government cutting down on spending, one of them chose it as the best time to announce the purchase of his personal jet bought at an amount that could make a dead man shiver in the grave.
Now, like I have once asked, would we be right in always attacking our civil leaders of corruption and deception when our religious leaders are as good? Would it be wise for us to continue to fall prey to these self-serving individuals who claim to be speaking for the Supreme Being when clearly it is evident that they are just toying with our sensibilities for their personal benefits?
The Cheque in Church episode is nothing but a big scam and should be rightly described as that. So also their many other tactics and gimmicks through which they get us to part with some more money. We can not continue to treat them all like sacred cows just because the Bible said we should not ‘touch’ an ‘anointed’. The ‘anointing’ has surely become an all comers affairs so it behooves on us to unmask them. Like it is said in pidgin English, our mumu don do.