The allegations of serial adultery swirling around Mr Suleman, a self-styled apostle, have provided much drama and comic relief in the recession-fuelled tension that has gripped our dear nation. It is important to note that, till date, the allegations are still unfolding. And until they are conclusively proven one way or the other, decency demands that Mr Suleman should be given the benefit of doubt – at least, to all reasonable extent.
But in the unfolding drama, the joke is not on Mr Suleman. The REAL JOKE is on the entire
Church in Nigeria! For whenever the Lord permits a scandal to hit the Church in Nigeria, the soft underbelly of hypocrisy and foolishness that abound in the church is exposed for all to see! For all to see – except we, Christians ourselves. And that is because we refuse to tell ourselves the difficult home truth.
And the difficult truth is this: our churches are, generally speaking, NOT about Jesus Christ!!! Yes, we gather several times a week in His name. Yes, we collect tithes and offerings running into billions of Naira monthly in HIS name (often from the poorest and most vulnerable people in the society). Yet, in reality, we do not do all these because we love Jesus Christ enough to honour Him with our lives and our lifestyle. We do not do all these because we want the whole world to revere His name as the name that has been exalted above every other name by God (Philippians 2:9-10). This is why when the name of Christ, or His Gospel, is dragged in the mud through the shenanigans of our men of God, many believers are ALWAYS more inclined to stand by their ministers, rather than to stand by the truth. Rather than to stand by Christ, for Christ Himself is The Truth.
The reason we stand so staunchly by our men of God is probably the same reason that we gather unto Christ – for the blessings we can get from Jesus! These men of God are the harbingers of the ‘good news’ that Jesus is ready and willing to deliver us from poverty and make us all rich, make us happy, make us famous, and deliver us from all our enemies (killing them in the process, if necessary!). In a generalised nutshell, this is the heart of the Nigerian version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Our men of God faithfully sell us this fantasy, week after week, as we gather ‘in the name of Christ’. For good measure, the lifestyle of our men of God attests to the health-and-wealth, happy-clappy ‘Gospel’ that they preach. Fast jets. Humongous mansions. Sleek cars. Ambitious projects. Fame. Body guards. The whole works!
This is the dream they sell to us. And we have bought into the dream big time. Today, many, many believers are waiting for their turn for breakthrough, so that they can also be ushered into the big league of the ‘big boys’. And in the process of this pursuit, we have exalted the harbingers of this hope, our men of God, to the highest heavens. They have become our heroes, our idols. To us, they have become men that are infallible, men that MUST not be touched! It is so bad that when the words of Christ in the Bible clash with what our men of God teach us (AS IT OFTEN DOES!!!), we gladly take the words of the men of God over and above the words of God! Thus, the combination of all our men of God have TEN TIMES MORE followers in Nigeria than Jesus Christ. That is, for every ONE follower that Jesus Christ has, our men of God have TEN. Yes, it is that bad! The name of Jesus is just a convenient platform for our aspirations. Our selfish aspirations that are nurtured and sustained by our men of God.
It is for this reason that many, many elements in the church in Nigeria rise up in great angst when ANYTHING threatens the bastion and custodians of our hope – our men of God. You can abuse and insult Jesus all you care, and the church set-up will be mute. But if you dare to go against a man of God, all hell breaks loose instantly!
Fortunately for the rest of the saner society, it is in the breaking loose of this hell that the soft underbelly of hypocrisy and folly of the Church in Nigeria, as mentioned earlier, become exposed to any discerning mind. Let’s look at just one aspect. The aspect of how several elements in the church usually, consistently, and ferociously turn against anybody that dares to bring any allegation against the cabal of our men of God. It does not matter if the allegation is totally true and proven, or not.
Let’s get something straight. The ONLY standard we can use to judge the morality of the men of God is the standard imposed by the Scriptures. These standards are VERY HIGH, and VERY CLEAR, stipulating that the men that hold exalted offices in the church MUST be blameless. They must be blameless so that the integrity of the Gospel, and the name of Jesus Christ, are not compromised by their lifestyle. These standards are very strict and may be seen in passages like1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 5:1-3, etc . The imperative of these standards is that when a man of God becomes embroiled in a scandal, he should do the honourable thing of stepping aside (even if momentarily) from his exalted office, while he exonerates himself. In this way, the sanctity of the office, God’s office, is preserved, and the blow to the Gospel from the scandal is minimised. This is one of the many ways that God safeguards the integrity of the Gospel in any clime.
But in Nigeria, when a scandal erupts against a man of God, it is usually the person that brings up the issue that bears the brunt of the anger of the church. Not the man of God – even AFTER he has been proven to be culpable, and he refuses to repent. At times, the ferocity with which representatives of the church attack some victims of ministerial abuse is both shameful and despicable. Several instances readily come to mind from the recent past.
When Ms Ese Walter emerged from the shadows to talk about her sexual encounter with Mr Biodun Fatoyinbo, a pastor of a mega-church in Abuja, she went through pure hell in the hands of the church supporters of the pastor. She was hounded, ridiculed and threatened with hell and brimstone for daring to touch the Lord’s anointed. She was variously described as a satanic agent from the pits of hell that had come to destabilise the church of Christ. The attack on her was as horrendous as it was unrelenting.
Let’s be clear. Ms Walter was NOT an angel herself in that episode! Neither did she claim to have been raped by Mr Fatoyinbo. She was very upfront in disclosing her culpability in the matter. So, in essence, the adulterous relationship was a consensual sexual escapade between two adults. From that perspective, the playing ground is a bit level. But what tilts the balance HEAVILY against Mr Fatoyinbo is the exalted office of God that he holds. That office comes with a high level of responsibility – if the world is to believe that Jesus truly transforms sinners into saints. And Mr Fatoyinbo violated the sacred trust of that office. So, in that sense, he abused the privileges of his office in that sexual episode – THIS IS THE PLAIN TRUTH. And from that high ground of morality, dictated by the pastoral office, Mr Fatoyinbo abused Ms Walter! Period. She was a victim of abuse – in that narrow sense of the word. And within that framework of morality, Ms Walter’s lifestyle is NOT the primary consideration. Her background does not absolve Mr Fatoyinbo of the guilt of abuse of power and position.
Yet, Ms Walter was the one that the hypocritical Church in Nigeria turned against the most! Till date, Mr Fatoyinbo is yet to come up with the ROBUST REPLY he promised to give in defence of his innocence in the scandal. We are now in the fourth year of waiting for that ROBUST REPLY!!! Many believe the ROBUST REPLY did not materialise because of Ms Walter’s threat to provide detailed evidence of their sexual romp if he continued to deny the allegation. During that period, one or two other women came up with similar claims against the ‘man of God’, one of them also promising to furnish evidence if Mr Fatoyinbo denied the encounter. He could not!!! Yet, today, his church is flourishing in leaps and bounds. Money is rolling in for him, and his membership rank is swelling. On the other hand, recent reports indicate that Ms Walter has now abandoned the Christian faith all together. Very sad.
A similar example occurred in the Nigerian community in the UK a few years ago. A pastor of a 3,000-member church was accused of sexually molesting a young boy, and another young man in a homosexual assault. In a great show of shame, a huge section of the pastor’s church rose in ATTACK against the young boy and his family! They were accused of trying to hinder the ‘great’ work of God that the randy pastor was doing! On Facebook, they started a group with the hashtag #IStandWithPastor. The group was used to hurl a barrage of insults and abuse at the boy’s family. Prayer meetings and vigils were held so that God would punish the boy’s family, and vindicate the ‘man of God’. All these were going on at a time that the police had already established a WATERTIGHT case against the pastor! In court, the pastor later admitted the charges and was jailed. Please imagine the damage that this horrible church did to that young boy and his family, who were INNOCENT VICTIMS of abuse (the boy was under 16). Please imagine what that episode did to the cause of Christ in the UK, and to the Body of Christ in the country.
It is in a similar way that a section of the Nigerian church community has turned against Ms Stephanie Otobo. Even before the details of her allegations against Mr Suleman have unfolded fully, there has been widespread claim in the church community that the adultery case was fabricated by the Hausa/Fulani community in retaliation against Mr Suleman’s principled stance against the persecution of Christians!!! (A key component of this ‘principled stance’ is his recent call that his aides should kill any Fulani herdsmen they see around his premises!)
As always, the attack on Ms Otobo has been relentless. There have been threats of all forms of spiritual attack on her. In addition, the few sensible Christians that have advocated a let’s-wait-and-see posture on social media have been berated for supporting the enemy! As this article is being written, more sordid allegations are still emerging on Mr Suleman, in his relationship with other women. A part of these allegations includes the gifts of a house and a car to an actress, both gifts are said to be worth about N200 million Naira (almost half a million Dollars). All these are still unfolding.
Now, let’s get to brass tacks. IT IS TIME that the Church in Nigeria should stop burying its head in the sand, and face the reality that Christianity is NOT about us or about ANY MAN OF GOD!!! We really need to stop putting ourselves in embarrassing situations that make a COMPLETE MOCKERY of our status as THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. Christianity is about Jesus Christ, and about Christ ALONE. His interests, and the interest of truth, should ALWAYS come first in our relationship with the world around us. When victims of abuse are hounded and silenced, as we do now, it will have the effect of SILENCING THE HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF OTHER VICTIMS OF ABUSE THAT ARE DYING IN SILENCE. Most of them are suffering in quiet shame, knowing the ferocious backlash they will face if they dare ‘touch the anointed’ in the Nigerian church. This is why the randy antics of a lot of our men of God remain hidden till today. We have BULLIED AND SCARED their victims into silence. And in that silence of fear, our hypocrisy is festering – instead of being exposed and healed by the Lord!
The radical change that is needed will NOT come from the entire Church in Nigeria. Nor will it come from the teeming masses of believers that have been BRAINWASHED into idolising our men of God, exalting them to pedestal of untouchables. Rather, it will come from the individual believers that are jealous for the integrity of the name of Christ, and His wonderful Gospel of reconciliation for all mankind. These are the men and women that ought to rise in HUMILITY and in BOLDNESS to contend for the truth of the Gospel in Nigeria. These are the ones that ought to let the nation know who the true Jesus Christ is – that Jesus is radically different from how He is being portrayed by the multitudes of charlatans in our midst. That over 90% of the people we call ‘men of God’ are NOT preachers of the true Gospel of Christ. A lot of them are fake extortionists. But unless those who know the truth are BOLD enough to say the truth OPENLY, we make ourselves accomplices of their evil deeds. If we maintain a FOOLISH SILENCE, the charlatans will become the recognised face of Christianity in the nation. And in this way, do we think the Gospel can transform the nation?
The defence of the Gospel (Philippians 1:17) is a COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY of ALL true believers. A responsibility as well as an obligation imposed on us by our sacred brotherhood with Christ. Any Christian community that does not rise in the defence of the TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL will soon lose the Gospel influence in that community. And in the aftermath, the Gospel itself will disappear from that community. Christianity does NOT thrive in environments where the name of Christ is not honoured ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE among the community of believers.
If you are too fearful to SPEAK UP for the Kingdom, you will soon lose the Kingdom. For the Kingdom is not for the fearful (Revelation 21:8). In speaking for the Kingdom, persecution may come, alienation may come, martyrdom may even come! But isn’t this what we have been called into? Like the Apostles of Christ, are we not eager and glad to SUFFER for His name’s sake (Acts 5:41)? It is moments of truth like these that separate the wheat from the chaff in Christianity. The true worshippers from the miracle-hunters.
ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE, the issues raised in this article constitute A PRAYER CHALLENGE! Where are God’s intercessors in the land? Let us pray that the Lord will arise and defend His interest in the Church in Nigeria. Let us pray that the Lord will expose all impostors that are merchandising the name of Christ in Nigeria. Let us pray that the name of Christ will be truly magnified in our nation. Let us pray for true holiness among the genuine men of God in our midst. Let us pray for revival of GENUINE CHRISTIANITY in our nation. Today, over 90% of what we call Christianity in Nigeria has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GOD! We cannot continue like this! Otherwise, we will allow the ominous clouds of the wicked to gather over our nation. Intercessors, PLEASE ARISE! True believers in Christ, PLEASE ARISE! This is indeed A PRAYER CHALLENGE!
Please stand up and be counted for Christ in Nigeria. A day is coming when Jesus will be ashamed of all the men that are ashamed of Him today (Mark 8:38). Men that hide their heads below the parapet so that they can continue to enjoy the praise and goodwill of men in the church system. Please, stand out from that ignoble crowd. Stand up and be counted for Jesus Christ. STAND UP and SPEAK UP for the Gospel in Nigeria. For our King is coming back soon. Let us join hands to prepare His way. Amen.