Federal Republic of Religion

They were called the “A-men” people when they first surfaced in my father’s farmstead in the mid 80s. We were used to hearing Christians say “Aamin” to every line of prayer.  Our village was a majorly Muslim community. But there were orthodox Christians with their small church building. Once, we sneaked in there fascinated by the enchanting songs and the expressive dance. The drumbeats, the soulful songs and the measured dance steps were as alluring as the delights of paradise. We thought Christianity was just about those sounds and symbols. Then these new people came. Two struggling young bachelors sauntered  into our stead, primarily propelled by the exigencies of life and living. They came and altered the routine we associated with Christianity. They were our village primary school teachers whose new church spoke not the language of the villagers. This new church strangely spoke English and scanty Yoruba. The shout of heavily accented “Amen!” particularly marked out the members. That “A-men!” soon became their sobriquet. For a long time, they remained few but they were unrelenting.

Those two teachers were friendly with everyone and discriminated against no one. They were generous and very affable in their dealings with all. They loved their hosts and they were loved. But their brand of Christianity was strange. And, it was clear even in those early days that these people were very unusual. They never got angry no matter the degree of provocation. They gave freely, even in their obvious need. They were gentlemen as defined by the creators of that English word. Those two represented my first contact with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Years later, when I got  to know the person leading this men, I looked back and understood where their distinction came from. Whenever their General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, speaks, his deep voice gives the depth of the divine. He carries on simply living the words in Thomas Tallis’ (1505-1585) hymn: “I want to be like Jesus/So lowly and so meek;/ For no one marked an angry word/ That ever heard Him speak”.

He confounds with his simplicity. “His appearance is straitlaced: he always wears a pinstriped suit, a gleaming white shirt and a bow tie.” That is a description of him by frontline American news magazine, Newsweek, which in 2009 named him one of the 50 most powerful persons in the world. If anyone doubted the judgement of that magazine, the events of the last one month should convince such people that in this world, a Daddy truly reigns. First, he was in Ekiti where he calmly ruffled feathers and then asked ‘someone’ to “shout Halleluyah!” He did the unusual, endorsing Ayodele Fayose’s therapy for the Fulani herdsmen’s atrocious afflictions across the nation. His position was popular in beleaguered places. But it must have jolted some men of power. You remember one powerful politician promptly attacked the message and the messenger. You also remember that the attacker’s ruling political party, within 24 hours, ate their leader’s words — red hot. Then came the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria with its governance code. The noise that followed was as loud as the June 12 annulment cries. Just when the council thought it had scored a big win with the RCCG reshuffling its own ruling council, the government that owns the FRC went prostrating. It yanked off its agent and burnt the scroll upon which the offending code was written. It is when such things as the above happen that you know “everyone (truly) needs a Daddy.”

There is something celestial in a man before whom kings bow and presidents kneel. The wise won’t be frontal in taking such people on. Newsweek, in x-raying Adeboye and his aura and the quality of the crowd he commands, reminded its readers of the 2008 scene of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, United States, “in church, head bowed, palms turned up toward heaven, standing silently as Thomas Muthee, a Pentecostal preacher from Kenya, prayed for her freedom from witchcraft.” Even the most agnostic knows this inversed the natural order of sociopolitical relations. Adeboye is powerful because he is credible. He is called ‘Daddy’ because he is loved. A loved man is not a commoner. A credible man cannot be a common victim of power. There will be fireworks — and we saw it.

Religion is sensitive. It is ruled by passion in its most intense form. It is the singular experience that takes the whole of the believer — body, soul, everything. Comparative religion scholar, Francisco Demetro, says it is man’s response to the final reality behind all things. The one who experiences that “final reality” empties his everything into it. It sucks in the believer, leaving him utterly helpless, changed inside out. This is what you see across the religions. The unpretentious believer is dissolved in the transcendent solution bucket of the immanent. A multitude of such transformed beings won’t give in to any ‘unruly’ code. They will bring down the Bastille of any insolent government agency conceited in its earthly powers. To the ardently religious, earthly codes are constructs of the devil. They cannot regulate the heavenly. They cannot stand. They must fall. If you doubt them, ask Obaze who thought he had a job to do and would do it no matter whose toe was smashed.

Should a government agency determine the appointment and tenure of leaders of faiths? The answer won’t come now as long as the congregation is pleased with the conduct of the leader. But outside the worship house, the debate will rage for as long as we continue to see business and cool cash in everything we do. Many feel Obaze and his FRC should have stopped at asking for audited accounts of not-for-profit organisations where religious bodies belong under our laws. If you collect from the public, you should account to the public. It is logical and it is in order. It even sounds democratic and stabilising. An outside check will likely save these organisations from internal crises associated with monies and how they are spent. But Obaze went further. With his swagger stick, he strolled into the Republic of Religion. He wanted to be INEC — choosing and dethroning presidents and governors of churches and mosques and monasteries and shrines. He got mortally fractured as INEC bosses routinely get.

Religion is powerful. Its radiation mocks the nuclear. Its lava is hot, ever ready to erupt and rupture societal peace. Even me, as I write this, I look unto heaven, eyes unto God, praying: let me not use the wrong words. Obaze used the wrong words and picked the wrong figures. Then the candle of his resolve flickered. But Obaze’s misadventure notwithstanding, shouldn’t we do something positive and firm about the excesses in religion? It may be true that religion has become part of the problems it is meant to solve.  I will be surprised if religious organisations do not have their fair share of the afflictions of the society in which they operate. We hear stories of politics, intriguing schemings and unbelievable drama about money and its associated evils in places of worship. My people say when mashed locust beans threatens to go bad, you rescue it with salt. Salt treatment cures crushed pepper too from going rancid. But, how do you save salt itself when misfortune assails it? It is the tragedy of religion today everywhere. And I am not talking only of Christianity. Some time ago, I witnessed some Muslim eggheads querying why community central mosques experience construction in perpetuity. Building committees become standing committees. You see everlasting construction, everlasting contributions. Projects and the select few who supervise them pass from generation to generation. Things that religion preaches against are what its ‘adherents’ do. We have lost count of the number of political parties we have; so is the number of worship houses. Every failed businessman diversifies into religion and is soon counting his blessings. That is the tragic reality of religion as we have it today. But I fear, if society is too morally weak to rescue religion from itself, it will one day unravel the society. And when that happens, we will reconfirm if truly, “the devil is a liar.”