Over the past six months, we experienced several embarrassing incidents related to our Christian places of worship. It is fast becoming an epidemic now. In my own place, two girls became pregnant in the choir. Prior to that, the youth leader had impregnated someone. His punishment was a seat at the back of the church but he regained his position after he eventually married the girl he impregnated. The two girls, the one less than 18 had just completed her WAEC and had been looking for help with school fees. According to her, the fellow who impregnated her made a promise to her to send her to school even after she gives birth.
We cannot at the time of writing this if she ever approached the church authorities for assistance with her school fees before she fell into the arms of that wolf. The second girl’s case is a bit odd because unlike the first girl, you would take her for a much-matured woman who would probably understand the wiles of men and would likely have the experience to deflect them. However, what is curious in both cases is that both men have bolted: both have their phones switched off. Prior to the Biodun Fatoyinbo, some tongues could not help but wag.
Because we know both girls as fellow church members, we understand what every member of our church feels today. We are appalled and let down by the behaviour of first, the choir leader and then these two girls. We hung our heads in shame. Then while grappling with these unfortunate incidents in the house of God, the Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo scandal broke. According to his traducer, he had raped her twice when she was 17 – and that was about nine years ago. Now, as mother of three and married to a big Nigerian singer, she had come forth to try to expose him and maybe mitigate these embarrassing cases of sex in the church. The Apostle Suleiman saga, and how it unfortunately dragged us all in the mire of public opprobrium is still fresh in our memory. We all know how it all ended, what with all the sundry allegations that it was a set up and an attempt by the state to stain the reputation of the seeming activist pastor.
We are convinced that there’s something in nearly all of these cases related to the structural and thematic deficiencies in our places of worship, which helps those in the leadership positions of the church to prey on its weakest links. These deficiencies seem to promote this weakness. Let me explain: in my church and in many of these big and mushroom churches, there is an army of young persons. Some are seeking admissions to higher institutions of learning. Some want to do this locally and internationally. A few are employed while the vast army is unemployed in spite of their fine degrees. On Sundays, there are two services – the one is a study of the Bible while the second is the main service proper. After that, the pastor likely announces three weekly activities – Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, and includes an all-night prayer and fasting programme. All these focus on the physical development of the church without requisite focus on the development of church manpower to meet the challenges of living in this challenging millennium.
It was not a difficult thing to come to the thematic and structural deficiency conclusion of the church. It was like this: we ran into some international opening somewhere that we considered that some sections of our church within the stipulated age range should take advantage. But we were shocked that none of the young church members we interviewed to apply for these positions could write one clean sentence. Not one of them. Second, most have no volunteer experience whatever – most come to church to expect that if they spend their productive years working for God, aka the pastor, God will reward them with miracle jobs, opportunities, etc.
Most have no interest in their immediate environments, and most are not adequately equipped to make meaningful contributions to the social, economic and political development of their immediate environments. Most have been brainwashed that getting involved in the affairs of their environment is a worldly enterprise and leads straightaway to hell. Therefore, they join the church work force – choir, evangelism and ushering – where a lot of sex takes place as with everything else.
In the Fatoyinbo case, the person was just 17, at an age where she was probably a choir member, an usher or an active young person in the evangelism department, with the pastor as role model. In the Apostle Suleiman, the woman in question was said to have hero-worshipped the Apostle.
Churches can redress their thematic and structural deficiencies by adjusting their programmes to fit with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. How can they do this? They can start youth centres that take the attention of young persons from the pastor, and which equips them to the extent that nobody can deceive them with fake and empty promises. Churches can link their programmes with any of those UN goals – livable cities, gender equality, affordable and clean energy, quality education, decent work and economic growth, zero hunger, end to poverty, climate mitigation – etc.
We can imagine that both girls above were working on one of these areas –that is, instead of spending all that time in the choir, running after souls and ushering new members – that they could actually up all night researching on action plans on reducing inequalities or on industry and innovation or on climate action. Of course there may be sexual activity at these centres, but the sex in itself cannot be a means to an end the way it is and does not malign the name of God and HIS institutions the way it is today in our churches.
These pastors and the men who rape or cut short the lives of their vulnerable members are able to do so because they promote the structures and themes that directly and indirectly weaken the development of their members and society.
––Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, deputy executive director, Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative, Abuja