By BEN LAWRENCE
One great teacher of journalism of blessed memory taught us about 40 years ago to be careful when we trod the track of the 3Rs. Professor Flyod Arpan (alias Papa Flyod) of Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America, listed the three dangerous Rs as rumour, race and religion.
He was a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, ASNE, that came to that conclusion after the turbulent civil rights riots that ripped America apart in the late 1960s. He taught international communication. Rumour, in the case of Nigeria in the mid-1960s, fanned the embers of the crisis that led to the 30-month civil war. A rumour inadvertently broadcast by a foreign radio station sparked revenge killings in the North in 1966. The story was laced with dangerous religious bias.
So as I proceed on this path of demystifying the prosperity apostles of our time and their abuse of the Christian faith during this holy period in Christendom, believing that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ will guide me, I will not spare the rod for these petty rascals.
My father left a Catholic seminary where he was training to be a priest in 1912. He never stopped being a Catholic, what with his proficiency in Latin, Greek and other literary subjects. His peers said he wrote and spoke excellent English, French, the three major Nigerian languages and Bini. He was a learned interpreter par excellence in the service then of His Imperial Majesty, the King of Great Britain.
Taiwo, my elder brother, and my elder nephew, Clement Igiebor, served as altar boys at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Benin, for more than a decade, following priests to even places where cars could not access. My relatives – uncles, aunties, cousins – used to be die-hard Catholic. The corrupting influence of the magicians in cassock and pinstriped suits must have swayed some away from the flock. Yet we are largely a Catholic clan.
I am not operating from that pedestal of a Catholic here, even though unassailable, but taking a cursory look at how the “word” has been prostituted by those masquerading as pastors.
Whenever I watch these American and Nigerian televangelists, some with awful provincial accents and bad English, my mind wanders to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where I saw first-hand four decades ago the make-believe world called film making. True, the business is acting, which makes motion-picture stones unreal and unrealistic.
Frankly, these televangelists entertain me as Frank Sinatra and Sydney Poitier would in their many parts on motion-picture screens. They turn their assemblies to debating forums and not houses of worship. They are always in contest against one another. What comes out as evidence of their dishonesty is their lack of humility, especially as they misquote the Holy Bible. They quote the Bible as if it was dropped from the sky in one act, written in English. They fail to know that the church existed before the book they flaunt at their followers and that the Bible contains scripts compiled by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that started with resurrection of Jesus Christ, led by the man chosen by him, Simon Peter. There was no book called Holy Bible in the early centuries of the church. Church elders preached salvation through righteousness and belief in Almighty God, who warned us not to worship any other god but Him, our creator, and to treat our neighbours as we would do to ourselves. And also to believe in the risen Christ as our saviour whose blood on the cross washed away our sins. They won souls then with outpouring of the Holy Spirit through miracles.
The risen Christ appeared in bodily form (flesh and blood) to more than those mentioned in the gospels. In some early Hebrew accounts, he even appeared to Pontius Pilate, who begged for forgiveness of his sins. He ate with his apostles after resurrection to prove that he was in His body. But these fringe Christians in their gold rush, at times, give completely different accounts of those events to justify their Pentecostalism.
Prophet Mohammed recognised the virgin birth of Jesus and held Holy Mary in high esteem. He recognised that Christ was crucified but because of the divine nature no human could have been able to hurt him. Christ, the Quran teaches, transformed before his executioners could have their way. He had been spiritually sprung out of that place by divine hands and replaced with a look-alike. The Catholics believe he died and rose on the third day as he foretold his apostles. Concluding parts of the Quran preaches redemption in belief in Christ on the last day. True Muslims wonder whether the likes of Osama bin Laden ever read the Quran. They take the Hadith as advisory. But because of man-made poverty in Nigeria, some have exploited the Bible, the King James Version, which does not even have many of the Deuterocanonical and Apocrypha books, for evil. They are now even re-writing the King James Version to suit prosperity gospel.
One was pushed to take this step to stem the tide of falsehood these pastors preach on prosperity because one of them, Matthew Ashimolowo, said on a BBC interview that Jesus preached material prosperity. He said there were many chapters of the Bible that taught prosperity, citing the case of the lot cast for Christ’s seamless undergarment. To him, Christ was a rich man and that was why those soldiers fought for the expensive undergarment, the carpenter’s son in a crowd of fishermen? He forgot the stories in the gospels which made Christ to conclude that it would be easier for the head of a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Ashimolowo forgot the story of the rich man who was in Hades and Lazarus, the poor man, who was in the bosom of Abraham. Ashimolowo teaches economics, investment and speculation more to his followers than the scripture.
Oral Roberts, their leader, openly called for the liquidation of Osama bin Laden and others. The great American people regarded his faux pas as sacrilegious, to his utter surprise and dismay. Pope John Paul II was shot. On his recovery, he went to the prison to meet his assailant and forgive him his sin. The assailant was dumbfounded as this show of Christian reconciliation, which is, turning the other cheek. But those who are using the Bible falsely to exploit the public will stop at nothing to raise money to buy jet aircraft and cruise on holidays. They don’t respect or recognise Holy Mary. They despise her, whereas, Muslims hold her in awe. Are they better than the rich man Abraham told could not cross from the Hades to Paradise because of the chasm between the two worlds? They are a nuisance. They call for prayers when a vehicle is in motion. One wonders how a driver, on the steering, will close his eyes to pray while in motion and will not crash. With their loud speakers they disturb people’s quiet, against what the Lord advised that prayers should be said quietly in a corner of one’s inner recesses. It takes some of them less than a year to obtain a doctorate degree in theology from their Bible universities!
They are cashing in on the fact now that three-quarters of Nigerians are idle. Were it in those days factories in Ikeja, Apapa, Orile-Iganmu, Ota, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano, Benin, Sapele, Aba, Nnewi and Orlu buzzed like beehives, they would not have found people to exploit. But when it became obvious that only they and the banks throve, the coast was clear for them to apply all tricks in their bags to hoodwink the gullible.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said we should store our wealth in heaven, not on earth where moths and rats eat them, however precious. To Ashimolowo, we should store them here aplenty. There is no Jewish word as Jehovah to which some say they bear witness. We recognise Yahweh. Jehovah is one of the prostitution by illiterate translators that means nothing. The church is deeper than the prosperity sought by the Oral Roberts of this world. Whereas the Anglo-Catholics (Anglican) could be said to be some of the anointed who broke out of the church, the others are self-anointed proselytes who lead debating societies. When faithless leaders cross from Olumba Olumba to Synagogue, onward to the Redeemed to bow at empty altars, there could be no better proof of the vacuum in the land. We learn that Pentecostal priests fast for their clients. The bigger the cash, the fiercer the so-called dry fast for their clients, including criminals and presidents. What a shame!