When The Church Can No Longer Hide You From Harsh Truths
Inappropriate conduct by so-called men of God in Nigeria is not a novel occurrence. Any newspaper likely bought in traffic from boys whose flip flops resound against the warm tar from the morning sun will surely have a headline or a title for a subsection that reads something like “Pastor Caught with Two Year Old.” And yet, people still go to church and come back home to eat rice on Sundays.
On Sundays, you also hear the usual complaints about what somebody’s pastor said. He excused rape, domestic abuse. She encourages servitude and slavery in the name of marital bliss, also slut shames women she doesn't consider respectable.
Yet, we still go to church.
When confronted with this weird notion that one continues to go and feed off institutions that take your spirits far away from peace, almost like you have to put your guard up to ensure that you do not let the toxic in along with the few good messages, one wonders why the need to even bother.
Year in, year out, masses of people continue to fund harmful messages and purveyors of these messages. Because “no church is perfect” and “it is between me and my god.”
Obviously, it is between the Nigerian, the pastor and their gods. And for one thing, the pastor knows this.
Any Nigerian can tell you what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a previously powerless individual who has been given a little power. Put a gateman in charge of who gets to see oga and watch him milk the position to suit his never-ending needs. Visit a public office and you may never know that a secretary has been given the task to ensure visitors are well received with already provided supplies. And a gathering where adult women are in charge of the food, best believe there are storage containers waiting to carry already apportioned leftovers to their respective houses.
In a society where a government is uninterested in the people it governs, the church and its pastors have been given power no one individual should possess. The pastor becomes the representative for the gateman, the secretary, the adult woman. It is a dog-eat-dog situation and the pastors wield the leashes of every kind for every species of dog. The woman may be able to scold children who cry for plates of food, the secretary may talk rudely to unemployed job seekers, the gateman may shut the door on someone seeking a connection, but the pastor brings them all under one roof for one purpose: to cajole each one into a state of euphoria, a state that is very beneficial to rethinking one’s financial state of affairs.
Do not neglect the fellowship of the brethren.
I want to say that luckily, I am a woman. But I get the figure of speech. A gathering of like-minded individuals is more powerful and more refreshing than an isolated guru. Man is not an island after all. But where, when and how do you draw the line between mutual fellowship and cult-like regurgitations of dogma?
“Religious rituals often develop out of mystical experimentation,” Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Eat Pray Love.
Some brave scout goes looking for a new path to the divine, has a transcendent experience and returns home a prophet. He or she brings back to the community tales of heaven and maps of how to get there. Then others repeat the words, the works, the prayers, or the acts of this prophet, in order to cross over, too. Sometimes this is successful — sometimes the same familiar combination of syllables and devotional practices repeated generation after generation might carry many people to the other side. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though. Inevitably even the most original new ideas will eventually harden into dogma or stop working for everybody.
A lot of things have stopped working for a lot of us. We persevere, though, in expired habits and decayed rituals because we are afraid to become unaccepted when one of our cravings to be validated and accepted is massively being fulfilled.
Man is a creature of habit, and it is the reason why many people will still go back to church on Sunday and continue to report on the unacceptable utterances of pastors who fear accountability. We will be on social media platforms after doing our duty to feed the mouths of these pastors so that we can be physically acceptable in the church and emotionally acceptable online.
When it is not a coping tactic to prevent harm directed towards oneself, just going back to ground zero and building up a new discipline for a spiritual practice that actually serves you from the ground up can be daunting. It’s why certain harmful practices are hard to let go of and the allure of someone else doing all the work and being an authority for yourself is so tempting.
But for all of this exposé on Nigerian pastors, what we need is a healthier, better routine to replace this defunct one where we ignore bad behaviour because “it’s between you and God.”
Calling out bad behaviour is necessary. There’s rarely ever any justice and it is crucial we get to the stage where “touch not my anointed” is not an immunity for criminals that happen to be in the pastoral industry. But where do you go when your pseudo-church-government is no longer enough to shield you from the harsh truths and cruelties of reality and humanity? I hope we will at least be brave enough to go deep into ourselves to find out.