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Why I wished Nigerian Christianity R.I.P. (6)

Why we need a prophetic church. In his prescient book, A Prophetic Church (1996) written at the height of military rapaciousness in Nigeria, Father George…

Why we need a prophetic church.

In his prescient book, A Prophetic Church (1996) written at the height of military rapaciousness in Nigeria, Father George Ehusani tried to arouse the consciences of Nigerian Christian leaders to the widespread situation of injustice, corruption, oppression, and misery in the l“and. He issued a rallying cry for organized religion to return to the timeless and unchanging values of the Christian gospel. He was convinced that only a return of Christianity to its original purity could provide the needed inspiration for confronting the socio-political and economic evils of the day. For this reason, Father Ehusani proclaimed: ‘Nigeria needs a prophetic church that will act as the conscience of the nation, a prophetic church that will courageously highlight the evils of society which constitute the obstacle on the way of peace and prosperity. Nigeria needs a prophetic church that will be forthright and consistent in denouncing individual evil and evil structures in our society… Nigeria needs a prophetic church that will stand alongside the oppressed, the impoverished, the marginalized, those denied their just rights and those discriminated against.’

More than twenty years after its first publication, rather than diminish in stature and value, Father Ehusani’s book has grown to become a historic reference point and a nostalgic reminder of the failure of Nigerian Christianity to reclaim the values and ethos of ‘old time religion.’ It is not difficult today to see how much Christianity has derailed from its original goals. In a country so richly endowed with abundant human and natural resources, many people are still dying by instalments due to abject poverty, hunger, disease and starvation. Christian church leaders who should be at the forefront of championing the cause of social justice seem to be silent as a bunch of rapacious elite continues to impoverish the people. Whereas fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that Christian pastors take a stand on the side of the victims of injustice and oppression, some of today’s pastors have rather taken sides with the oppressors.

According to Ehusani, ‘Millions of Nigerians are living each day not knowing whence the next meal will come.’ Yet, ‘side by side with this state of near-destitution of the majority, is the affluence and conspicuous consumption of a few super-rich Nigerians whose wealth and privilege have multiplied to about the same degree as the misery of the masses.’ With young people getting jobless and disillusioned, children dying by instalments and old people resorting to helplessness and hopelessness, he argued that, ‘Nigeria needs a Christian faith that challenges the status quo and those who are satisfied with it. We need a Church that is committed to the interest of the poor, oppressed and marginalised people, and of those who struggle for justice.’ In another place, he said: ‘The Christian religion must help the poor in their quest for life, for bread, and for dignity.’ This is the challenge before Nigerian Christianity today. St James the Apostles was very clear in his writing about what the basis of true religion is. He wrote: ‘Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world’ (James 1:27). Today’s pastors need to hear this over and over again.

Conclusion

It seems true today that we have surrendered the bulk of our religion to the dishonourable and the criminally minded. The dregs of our faith now dominate the political and social spaces and have created a negative image for God and for our religion. These are the people we now celebrate. Consequently, the purification of Christianity in Nigeria must start from our pulpits and run down to our congregations. Christianity in Nigeria is drowning. We need to save Nigerian Christianity first from drowning, so that Nigerian Christianity can then save us. For this reason, we must start the journey of liberation by first emancipating our minds and souls from the hypnosis of what has become a Christ-less Christianity. 

In such a time of religious deceit, we cannot afford the luxury of silence. The burden of emancipation rests on the shoulders of all honest, committed and God-fearing religious leaders and citizens. We must quickly wake up from moral lethargy and forestall the further depletion of our moral and spiritual capital by enemies of God and enemies of progress. The aberrations being peddled around today in the name of Christianity should make us all ashamed of ourselves. Thus, we all have a duty to retrieve our Christian religion from the hands of spiritual contractors, religious marauders, and charlatans, who would stop at nothing until they sell Jesus for a pot of porridge. Nigeria today stands in dire need of a religion that is socially responsive to the plight of the poor, one that stands on the fulcrum of justice and equity, not a religion locked in the cocoons of comfort and privilege.

Those who see this as a battle for denominational supremacy are fundamentally mistaken. It is about the reformation of the whole body of Christianity in Nigeria and no Christian denomination is exempt. Hence, I will continue to protest against the kind of Christianity that is built on corrupt enrichment, oppression of the poor, spiritual enslavement and the mad rush for riches. Jesus came to liberate us from these vices. As St Paul says, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1). Thus, in the midst of the moral pollution and spiritual corruption around us, we Christians must be that flicker of light that dispels darkness. We must reclaim our divine mandate to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The star shines the brightest when the night is darkest. We must therefore summon fresh energies to live as Jesus lived and to love as he loved.

Religions should align with the poor and advocate for structural changes towards justice, inclusion and fairness to all. This has strong practical implications for the prophetic ministry of the church. Jesus had a preferential option for the poor in his ministry. He said he did not come for the healthy, but for those who are sick. This is a way of indicating the constituents of his ministry: the sick, the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed, and the dejected. And he showed clearly during his ministry that he came for such people. At the start of his ministry in his hometown in Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and clarified his apostolic mission (cf. Luke 4:18-22). Nigerian preachers have to, like Jesus, stand for equity, justice, and right by promoting the common good, advocating for efficient public services that work for the benefit of all citizens. Consequently, all our church structures and institutional practices must be amenable and align-able to the mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people. Anything in our structures that hampers the effective spread of the Gospel should be reviewed, no matter how long it has endured or how cemented the tradition is.

Finally, if Nigeria is to get better, Christianity as it is practised today must be brought down! I am not saying that religion should be abolished. I am saying that the Nigerian version of Christianity that has earned a trademark for hate, vilification, exploitation, and erroneous doctrines must now be told off. After more than three decades of wreaking havoc, of utterly failed prophecies, and of misrepresenting authentic religion, it seems time to carry the Nigerian brand of Christianity to the graveyard and there to whisper requiescat in pace (R.I.P). Let us hope that from the ashes of its self-immolation, a pure, refined, reformed, and rebranded version of Christianity, as true worship of God and love of neighbour, will emerge.

Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.

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