My brain is all confudled after all the technical difficulties over the last few days. And the $900 car repair bill. And the fact that my husband has been traveling and I have too many children and I’d really just like to go veg somewhere for a week without being interrupted multiple times an hour. So this post is going to be really unfancy, but I think it’s important.
I mentioned recently that a small group of Nigerian Christians found the blog and reached out to me not long ago. And they are awesome. Real keepers. Some of our discussions have centered on the state of the church in Nigeria and their relationship with it. And what they share, while more extreme than what we usually find here in the West, is sadly familiar. There’s serious work to be done.
First, a little background. In addition to being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Its population is divided mainly Christian and Muslim with Christians holding more power and wealth than Muslims. This disparity is at the root of the violence which has been in the news lately. Muslims have access to fewer resources than Christians and feel that they are being mistreated which is breeding violence and resentment.
Much of the problem comes out of geography. The parts of the country with the most resources are largely populated by Christians and Christians hold most important positions of power. However, that power has not been handled responsibly. Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world which means that resources which could be put to use for the benefit of the people are siphoned off by those in power for their own use. People in the Christian parts of the country can at least improve their lot by catering to the moneyed elite who are busy feeding off the government and the country’s natural resources. People in the Muslim parts of the country don’t even have that possibility available to them.
At the end of the day, Nigeria will not know peace until its government begins to serve its people. All of its people. Which is something the Christian church could be a vocal proponent of. Heck, they could just stand around reading out the writings of the Old Testament prophets and make their point. Given how religious Nigeria is, a church which spoke prophetically in favor of the needs of the poor over the desires of the rich could be a highly effective change agent. But this is not what is happening.
I’ve just cut and paste portions of several conversations I’ve had with my Nigerian friends about the state of the church below. The dynamics they describe are familiar, although sometimes extreme. They show what happens when the errors of men find their way into church teachings. These errors are often viewed as minor or even desirable to those who are living in a place with a lot of stability and enough abundance to avoid serious suffering. But the fruit they bear in more challenging situations ought to alert us to the fact that we’ve embraced teachings which come from man and not God.
Corruption in the church
I am (ruefully) amused at your description of the American church. I think in many ways, the Nigeria church is about the same – but the challenge is that the American society is one where there is a significant amount of balance (which may not be very obvious from the inside) because of many dissenting voices and influences. Everyone, to a large extent is accountable – or appears to be – to someone.
Nigeria is different. Corruption is blatant and there is a significant amount of poverty among the populace, making them perfect fodder for the religious elite – the ‘pastors’
‘Pastor’ or the more emetic ‘daddy’ is the title given to every guy who starts a ‘church’. Largely, the product peddled is hope and the power that comes through ‘Faith’ and the Blood of Jesus. With these combined tablets, you can cure your poverty, sin, sicknesses, chase demons – and do anything…and rise above your neighbour.
Because their belief systems do not match up to reality, the result is a duality; double standards where there is ‘holy speak’ on Sundays and among the ‘brethren’ and gross corruption and hideous godlessness Monday through Saturday.
In Nigeria, what is important is getting wealthy. ‘No one’ cares how you do it.
The result is such a complex system of religious rot in a highly religious society. Armed robbers have been known to pray before robbery and even pay their tithes and offerings. Some pastors bless the guns of some armed robbers. I have heard someone say ‘you are stupid in Jesus name’, seen gross exploitation of people in the name of tithe and first fruit, seen musical instruments for the ‘church’ prioritized over people’s lives and it goes on and on…
Authoritarianism in the church
Sadly, the way the society is structured, there is a great emphasis on (pseudo) community; so the older ones respect elders and do not speak out if they have a different view point. If the ‘man of God’ says something, you obey and if he does something wrong, you say nothing because the bible says ‘touch not my anointed’…
No matter how much you try to explain the context or show that we are on equal footing before God, it seems so difficult for people to understand and/or accept because of what has been soldered into their psyche over time.
It has become a norm, the order of the day…that you dare not say a thing against the so called man of God or disagree with him on whatsoever he taught or he teaches. This is one problem of on an African man, when an elderly person has spoken you have no opinion.
People seem to believe their pastor more than giving attention to the reading of the scriptures. An average African man believes in Christ for Salvation but he’s quickly introduce into a kind of Authoritarian-ship of man. Trusting Christ for Salvation isn’t enough here unless you have someone that is control of your life…
The sad part of it is “you must submit to someone, he must be your covering, you must give your tithe to him and blah blah blah….” I’ve only met few Christians that I can engage on the things of the Kingdom..the rest seem to love the Church things more than the Kingdom.
The Suffering Caused by Bad Theology
Life is tough and God teaches you via processes and experiences. So it is not everytime prayers get answered the way we like and it is not everyone Jesus healed because he had to align with what the Spirit wanted to do, not just do miracles when he felt like it. So many people try to faith their way through pain and poverty, try to use the blood of Jesus to get through tough circumstances like it is an amulet, exaggerate ‘spiritual’ activity over pragmatic activity, ignoring the clear overlaps that we have when we deal with these spheres…and they get their fingers badly burnt. They lose jobs, they lose people, they cant pay bills, they run out of cash…and through it all, they fail to see that sometimes, hardship doesnt come about because of sin, or lack of faith…
The world is broken and God works with the current reality we have to improve us.
The way we practise Church…it is totally erroneous… left the first denomination I was attending because I couldn’t stomach what were been done in the name of Jesus. Was at home for several month before joining another one that I thought would be different but, it was/is more complex than before. Its kind of total extinction from your family, the world and friends. [The “extinction” referred to here is the fruit of legalism which claims salvation through greater purity and a willingness to sacrifice your relationship with the world. – R]
The Future of the Nigerian Church
The younger generation are a jaded populace; tired of the farce and failures of the older generation who are religious and totally corrupt. So, they gravitate towards their models, musicians and politicians, who have little regard for morality.
One of the major challenge that Africans are actually facing doesn’t lie in not knowing the truth but in not practicing what we profess to believed in. This has become like a mountain.
Trying to Make a Difference
Like you, I don’t belong to any religious establishment. The divisions were made by man and not Christ, though some are more vicious or open than others, but I just ignore the division and try to get to know what individuals believe by discussing with them about their faith, their lives, the rationale for the things they do. People tend to hide behind their vocation or denominations, but often, it is hard to hide for very long when you discuss at length with someone. Their honest or lack of authenticity will finally come through
Here in Nigeria, singing country music, playing rock or beening a media person are more like a taboo…. If John were to be in a denomination, he wouldn’t have done many thing he did because he would have been tagged rebellious or worldly….
I believe in God’s promise concerning Africa, we are praying for that. Trusting the Lord that if needs be that He will send us Christians persecution in Nigeria and Africa at large so that we may awake to Christ and seek Him in Spirit and truth.
I realize how much God wants to do through a veeery flawed me in changing people’s mindsets about life, about satisfaction, about God, about nature, about money…
Please, keep us in your prayers. There is a whole lot of things to be done here in Nigeria….