LOUD WHISPERS: When The Devil Buys A Seat

On Sunday August 6th, St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu community, Anambra State was the scene of an unspeakable tragedy. Just as the early morning mass was about to start the ‘Prayer of the faithful’, the service was brought to a halt by an attack from gunmen which left twelve worshippers dead and several more wounded. Since then, a number of accounts, both official and hearsay have emerged. There have also been some ‘investigations’ by people familiar with the Ozubulu community and its recent challenges. The narrative that has emerged so far is that the tragedy that took place was instigated by two citizens of Ozubulu who live outside of the country. The tale is one straight out of a Nollywood movie. It is a story about drugs, money, deadly violence, turf, betrayal and power. There is even an ‘exotic’ location thrown in – South Africa. There is a full cast of characters in the story with lead actors, supporting actors, side-kicks, directors and producers, with a Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and no end to the production in sight.

One of the many concerns about the Ozubulu tragedy is the desecration of the sanctity of a place of worship. A church is meant to be a sanctuary, a sacred place where you are safe in the hands of God. For the period of time you are there, you are meant to lay all your worldly worries at the feet of God Almighty. As you step out of the church after the service, you are expected to be full of resolve, refreshed and recommitted to doing God’s work. A church is holy ground and one of the worst things that you could do as a human being is bring blood into the house of God. The same inviolable principle applies to places of worship in other faiths. So why was a holy place drenched in blood at Ozubulu?

I believe that one of the main reasons why this happened is because the church is no longer considered a holy space, a place immune from violation and safe from desecration. A church is now seen as nothing special, no different from a social club, sporting ground, owambe party, political rally or gathering of shareholders attending an Annual General Meeting. A lot has been said and written in Nigeria about the worrying trends in our churches and the huge gap that exists between the elites who own and run the churches, particularly the Pentecostal ones, and the majority of their congregation who are poor but still manage to subsidise the lifestyles of the church leaders. The older orthodox churches have decided to join in on the action, afterall the business of organized religion relies on a very straightforward ‘bums on seats’ strategy. More souls won equals more money to sustain the ministry and spread the word. Every business has to aim for success, whether it is faith based or secular. What is deeply troubling is the lack of caution and discernment that has created a level operational field for all manner of scoundrels to literally take over the house of God. One of the few times in the bible we saw Jesus Christ get visibly angry was when he overturned the tables of the people who were conducting business in the temple. As he drove out the money changers and merchants from the temple premises he declared, ‘Take these things hence; make not my father’s house a house of merchandise’ (John 2 15-17). Need we ask the question, what would Jesus Christ think of the churches built in his name using drug and blood money, or money being raised to buy and maintain private jets and build universities that the congregants cannot afford to send their children to? Again, there is nothing wrong in faith based entities using sound business models for sustainability and growth. However, according to a statement that has been making the rounds about the Ozubulu crisis, ‘If Satan helps you build a church you should expect that he will show up one day to attend a service’. Sadly, that is what has happened at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu.

It is not possible for recipients of charitable donations to screen every penny to determine the ‘cleanliness’ of its source just as the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese stated in response to questions about the mysterious nature of the benefactors. However, in light of the recent disturbing trends happening in places of worship, some circumspection is called for in the way and manner in which donations are solicited. Ozubulu is a small community. It is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone’s business. The people there know what their children at home and abroad are up to. Even if they choose to look the other way, they know. And this includes the clergy. Edifices such as churches and cathedrals used to be built over many years, with the clergy and community toiling together to finish the project. Now it seems there is a competition to see how many rich people can build houses for God in their community.

There is also another trend with the less affluent sector of the church. Last week there was a list that was being circulated online, allegedly from True Vine Power House given to a  couple who wanted to get married in the church. The list included specific fees for the officiating ministers, food for the clergy and church workers and – don’t laugh – a suit for the Pastor and his wife! It is customary to give officiating Ministers a cash gift, but it is supposed to be voluntary and not mandatory. Providing refreshments is also usually done, but this list was clear about the brand preferences of the church – they wanted Five Alive juice and canned Maltina. The Pastor of this church does not have the kind of empire that can enable him buy a private jet. So perhaps we should not begrudge him a new suit every week, depending on how many weddings he conducts. This is what the house of God has been reduced to. A place where people have to pay for services which should be rendered as part of God’s work, a place where modest contributions within the means of parishioners is not enough, a place where congregants are coerced or manipulated into parting with huge sums of money to sustain a lifestyle they do not live themselves. A place where dubious characters make the largest donations and receive the highest honours, over and above the poor and lowly who toil day and night. This is why the church has become just like any other site of social engagement and interaction. And this is why gunmen had the audacity and heartlessness to barge in to the house of God and open fire on defenceless worshippers.

There was a protest at the Great Faith Ministries International Church in Detroit, Michigan in September 2016, led by a group called New Era Detroit. They were protesting the lack of accountability of wealthy black pastors who own luxurious homes and drive Rolls Royces, yet they have their churches in some of the poorest communities in the country. To add insult to injury, they had the audacity to ask for U$1,000 donations at a church service. If you did not have that much you could give U$300 and there was an ATM machine if you needed cash! This was too much for some of the congregants so there was a protest right there in the church. We have a few of those churches around here too, but we have not heard any loud protests against brazen hustling for church donations. When we ask what happened to the Gospel according to Mathew 6.3, ‘But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth’, we are reminded these are different times. Giving anonymously does not translate into Knighthoods in the church, votes at elections or coveted chieftaincy titles.

Another thing that I found alarming, reading all the commentaries on the Ozubulu incident, is that most of the analysis focused on the emerging sociology of the Igbo culture where money has become the god that people worship. Any drop-out who manages to make a fortune from any kind of business is received with open arms and the money they throw around is respected with no questions asked. I believe this pathologising of Igbo people and their culture (either by themselves or others) has to stop. The blind worship of money is not unique to the Igbo community. Criminal enterprise is an equal opportunity employer, and even though it might use an ethnic division of labour every now and then, criminals are to be found all across the country – kidnappers, armed robbers, terrorists, ritual killers, fraudsters, looters of treasuries, riggers of elections, sexual predators, drug barons, no community has a monopoly over criminal activity. This is not an Igbo problem, it is not even a uniquely Nigerian one. We all have a role to play and we all have questions to answer when something like this happens. Let the true servants of God step up. Let our security agencies do their job without fear or favour. The devil will always show up wearing Prada and bearing irresistible gifts. We only make it easier when we allow him a customized seat in our places of worship.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

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21 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: When The Devil Buys A Seat

  1. Femi Diipo August 14, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    ‘If Satan helps you build a church you should expect that he will show up one day to attend a service’. This is the summary of it all, and unless we all decidedly usher him out, I’m afraid he’s here in our churches to stay, and some day he’d become the clergy.

    Reply
  2. Dom Dom August 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    As much as there’s no excuse or reason that can justify this violent act and killing in the house of God, this article is the underlying truth of religion generally these days. For so long we can keep deluding ourselves about the merchandise nature the church had taken on, but sometimes reality we catch up in its sad ways. It’s time for us all to act against this modern trend and bring some level of sanctity into places we call holy

    Reply
  3. Samuel August 14, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Hmmm!!! What a world we are in, and all i think of is vanity. We will all die someday, i just wish people could have selfless love and not the selfish kind.

    Reply
  4. DSEED August 15, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    The world has turn to something else, only God can deliver the world. All these happening are signs of the end time. Individually we just have to be more careful. Devil can’t take a seat without ones consent.

    Reply
  5. lolade Olayiwola August 16, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Greatly written. The church and even mosques have been polluted. That church menace was really sad.

    Reply
  6. Foluke Adams August 16, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I have heard a lot about this site and I am happy that I am here. This is a call to action. We are neglected the old path as christians, just like social media has taken over the hearts of people. Showmanship has taken over the church

    Reply
  7. Bisi Alawode August 16, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    May the lord have mercy o. When the priests have allowed the word of God to sway off their lips because of what they will eat. God will cleanse his church from the top.

    Reply
  8. Nneka August 16, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    My mama, You have said it. That’s what is celebrated in my place. Thieves will come and build churches and priests won’t be able to question the source. They will instantly make their fathers leaders in the church and their mothers leaders too.

    No discernment, no rebuke because of money. May God have mercy on us and that’s why these young boys just do anything to get themselves named in the community and women will start throwing their girls at them.

    Reply
  9. Elaine Nwosu August 16, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I am disturbed for my community more than I am for the church, we need brain. We need to set the pace that money isn’t everything. We need conferences for these boys to know that adding value is beyond spraying money at parties. Everybody wants to rap, sing, do social media jagons because they want quick money. Sites like this, they won’t want to visit because the values are too much for them.

    Let every mother here, speak to their sons and daughters. Show them this write up, let them read, let them see that value is more than money and there are people who still have this money and respect seasonal values.

    Reply
  10. Funmi Cole August 16, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    God bless you ma. You nailed it. @elaine. You have really poured your heart out and sincerely, this isn’t about your people alone it’s everywhere now. The menace is just unbearable.

    Reply
  11. Maureen Adams August 16, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Hmmm. I will always say this, the problem of our country is from the household of God. These pastors have commercialised worship to the extent that they have left out what should be and shouldn’t be. It’s a shame on us.

    Reply
  12. Oluwatosino August 16, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Hmmmmmmm, This is just the bitter truth about our churches.
    Sadly, The devil has been given a customized seat in our place of worship that is why our place of worship is no more safe for us.
    May God have mercy ijn

    Reply
  13. Lola Adeoye August 16, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Give this and give that, people will give pastor will be getting fatter while the worshippers will be getting slimmer. Pastor will be looking on fleek and looking fresh while congregants will be looking thinner and praying for sudden miracles, signs and wonders. O ma she o

    Reply
  14. Mofe Lukman August 16, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    God bless you ma. This is more than the church. I am a muslim and I can tell you that a whole lot happens in the mosque too. See these ritualists now, there are so called alfas that make charms for them to kidnap people and kill them. Just imagine? Because of what? blood money.

    This society is rotten and when people are supposed to flourish with growth in the right word, they won’t allow it. May God help us and we give ourselves brain too, because he won’t do what we should do for us.

    Reply
  15. folakemi Herbet August 16, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    This is the generation where they respect a Davido more than an Abike Dabiri or an Olamide more that the writer of this great article. This generation is perverse. I know there are churches with the sound doctrines but guess what they will call them, Fanatics. All they want is swagger and ginger.

    Reply
  16. Oluwatosino August 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    @Elaine I totally agree with you. Let mothers talk to their children. Life is not about money. Money is not everything. Your Integrity matters, Money will come but you have to get it right. Blood money won’t last, it’s just for awhile.
    Pastors, Ministers, Reverends, Venerables, Pope, Imams… They should please watch out. Don’t entertain all money brought to your church. Watch out. Don’t give the devil a customized seat in your church. May God help us ijn…

    Reply
  17. Akpes August 17, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Hmmmmmn i love this piece maam, i must confess you are a specialist when it comes to being realistic. Most churches now function like a business centre where several transactions take place.

    Reply
  18. Julie August 17, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    If God was a man most pastors would have died by His judgement.

    Reply
  19. Branny August 17, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    @ Julie I totally agree with you.

    Reply
  20. Kes August 17, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    But seriously I don’t understand what churches are turning into this days. A church is supposed to be a place where unbelievers will run to and be saved, but it’s now the other way round, in that pastors and leaders in various churches have refuse to carry out their duties effecively. All they do is extort church members and rub them of their right as if they are the only ones that can talk to God. Fiddlesticks!

    Reply
  21. Princess August 17, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Haaaaahoookakahakoha i laugh in Hebrew language. Father abi pastor wants suit just because he wants to join two people together? Wonders shall never end. What would have become of the churches if the Apostles were extorting the brethren after Jesus’s resurrection? The Apostles never begged from anyone yet people laid their goods, money and all at their feet (Act 4:37) because of their accuracy and precision in preaching the Gospel of Christ and with signs and wonders following. As a pastor if you stand for the truth of God’s word you will inherit the earth psalms 2:8.

    Reply

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