ON THE ONDO FAITH TRAVESTY
Many church goers are increasingly being manipulated by their so-called pastors
A total of 77 persons, including 26 children, were recently rescued by police officers from the basement of a church in Ondo State. Josiah Peters, assistant pastor of where the persons were discovered, said the decision to keep people in the church was in obedience to an instruction from God. “We were having seven days meeting on God’s instruction, that we should lock the gate and be with him for seven days,” he said. More distressing is that the highly indoctrinated worshippers reportedly refused to leave the vicinity of the police station where their pastor is being detained.
The Ondo incident raises questions as to whether there is a mental health aspect to some of the abuses being committed in the name of religion all over the country. The vice grip of ignorance is undeniable. The power of superstition transferred from our primordial cultures is equally a lingering curse. But there is also the more insidious criminal exploitation of these weaknesses by a new crop of crude faith merchants of all hues. In the process, vulnerable people are being stripped of cash, sexual favours and subjected to degrading and dehumanising treatment as qualifications for salvation.
Mass imprisonment of vulnerable citizens including children under the dubious pretense that they are on their way to heaven is an exploitation of faith to deny innocent citizens their freedom under whatever guise. This is a criminal infraction that deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. The route to preventing more of this scope of infraction in the name of religion is basically one of increased public enlightenment. But the strategy needs to be carefully nuanced to straddle the delicate balance between discouraging criminal abuse and infringing on the rights of citizens to hold beliefs and worship freely. Yet we must stress that worship is different from willful mass submission to captivity based on foolish manipulation of faith.
The Ondo State police command has its case clearly cut out in this matter. Child abuse on such a massive scale is criminal to that industrial scale as well. There is an additional aspect that seems to have escaped our scrutiny as a public. All sorts of architectural monstrosities have been allowed as church buildings. We doubt that the authorities have ever worried about the appropriateness of these structures for purely religious purposes. An expansive basement that can take as many as 77 people underground is somewhat suspect.
However, we understand that the government may not have known about the basement. For years, building professionals have tried without success, to convince the National Assembly to pass the Bill for a National Building Code that will regulate the nation’s construction sector. The absence of a building code is the reason states government charge fees for the conversion of buildings, including residential, to suit what the applicant wants. This is called ‘Change of House Use’. If we have a code in place, then it will be illegal to worship in a building not designed for use as a church. As it is, only the owners of the building, and the church leaders knew about the basement or catacombs.
In all, critical stakeholders must help to escort our society away from a mindset that accepts criminality in the name of religion. While men of God should do the duty of showing their congregations the right way to salvation, the state must remain vigilant in protecting the citizens from infractions and abuses of the rights of innocent people. Ultimately, the ends of a responsible state and those of organised religion coincide in the realms of order and respect for the sanctity of the human person as God’s most magnificent gift and benefaction.