Eyoh Etim

I am one of those who believe in the enduring relevance of religion in human societies. Despite the fact that we live in the age of advanced science and its characteristic cynicism towards anything meta-empirical, religion as a strong human force has prevailed and is certain to be part of societal evolution even to the end of time. This is so because no matter how advanced and sophisticated man thinks he is, there will always be times that he would want to reach out to a higher plane for spiritual resources like solace when under stress, comfort when grieving and strength when weak. Those who pray know that refreshing feeling the soul experiences after all of one’s burdens have been ‘cast unto Him’.

Mentoring is also part of the benefits of religion as the spiritual leader is expected to counsel and care for his followers. He can go to any length, even denying himself, to see to it that his followers are happy. This is another way of saying that the function of the spiritual leader usually transcends the spiritual. In Christianity, for instance, the shepherd (pastor) is expected to visit members who are grieving and console them. Donations are usually made in churches to support causes and to offer help to the poor and needy. I know of churches that support members with finances to start businesses and others that provide scholarships to brilliant but indigent students so as to help them realise their educational dreams.

But there is an area which the church has been found wanting in recent times. This is in the area of protest. By protest it is meant the act of using the pulpit to speak truth to power. It is quite disheartening the trend where most pastors want to align themselves with the powers that be. Please do not get me wrong. I do not encourage any form of antagonism between pastors and politicians. Pastors and politicians can be friends, but that friendship should not be to the detriment of the people whom both the pastor and politician claim to serve. What I mean is that a politician should not sit comfortably at the front pew if the pastor knows that the politician is not ruling in justice, peace, fairness and righteousness. Of course, nothing stops the pastor from commending the politician if the politician has served the people well.

The Bible provides examples of men of God whom God used to emancipate the people from yokes of oppression. Take Moses for instance. Imagine if Moses had allowed himself to be seduced by the power, awe and grandeur of Pharaoh’s court. What would have become of the children of Israel? Imagine Moses praising Pharaoh when his people, the children of Israel, were being beaten, maimed and killed. Imagine Moses accepting large envelopes from Pharaoh in return for not delivering God’s message. It is sad that today the politicians are the ones bearing the names Moses and Messiah while some of the pastors deserve to be called Achan and Judas Iscariot because they have betrayed the people. Contemporary pastors should learn from Moses and speak truth to power where necessary so as to emancipate the people from the Egyptians in power.

Most of the prophets in the Old Testament were tools of emancipation in the hands of God. As fearsome as King David was, Prophet Nathan was able to confront him about the murder of Uriah the Hittite. Faced with the truth, David had no choice other than confessing and repenting of his crime. God equally used Prophet Elijah to confront King Ahab on the murder of poor Citizen Naboth. Jesus did not spare the Scribes and the Pharisees who were the religio-political leaders of his time. He did not also fear the Kings of his time. If he did, there would be no Christians and Christianity today. Speaking truth to power was Jesus’ identity right from youth. He is our example and we must emulate him.

Do you remember Martin Luther King Jr? He is best known for leading the Civil Rights Movement in the America of the 1960s. But do you also know that he was a pastor? Yes, the great Luther was a Baptist Minister who used the pulpit and the word of God to speak truth to white supremacist America and to empower the African Americans to rise and fight for their rights. What a sad contrast today to see many pastors dining with the oppressors of the people! These pastors eat and drink with politicians when the education system in the country is in shambles. They take photographs with politicians when their people are hungry and are barely surviving because of high cost of living.

Do you know how the thirty years of dictatorship in Malawi ended? It was the church that ended it when a group of priests sent out protest letters to be read in parishes across Malawi. The letters sparked protests across Malawi and the great dictator, Dr Kamuzu Banda, had no choice than to concede to a multiparty system of democracy that eventually saw him leaving the power he had held on to for decades. This is why the current alliance between pastors and politicians should be reexamined in the interest of the people. I was elated recently when a revered man of God in Nigeria joined his members on a street protest. I was equally excited to watch a particular reverend father speak on the real witches and wizards in Nigeria. In times like this, we need more of these men of God to stand up and speak up so that the people of Nigeria can truly be free.  

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