Money laundering in the churches

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By Femi Aribisala

Thieves and robbers are Satan’s gifts to the churches.

When a villain has ill-gotten gains, he sometimes needs to have the money “laundered.”  This is the process whereby stolen money is made respectable by moving it through a number of legal channels designed to camouflage its original illicit source.  Sometimes, the stolen money is smuggled out of the country and then brought back in through regular channels, so as to make it seem like it originated from foreign shores whose records are inaccessible domestically.

Another version of this money-laundering process is duplicated in the churches with pastors as the lynchpin.  When a contrite Judas brought back the thirty pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus to the Jewish Priesthood, they refused to put the money in the offering-box: “The chief priests took the silver pieces and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.’” (Matthew 27:6).

This was convoluted reasoning at best, showing the “doublethink” of religion.  The priests had no qualms about bringing about the death of innocent Jesus.  But they felt it was inappropriate to put “blood money” in the offering-box.  However, even such hypocritical qualms are no longer evident today.  Today, it does not matter where the money comes from, as long as it is money you can be sure the church will receive it.

Theft sanctification

As I said, pastors operate today an elaborate money-laundering business.  You steal the money; you kill for the money; it makes no difference.  Just bring the money; we will receive it gladly from you with no questions asked.  When you bring the money, we will bless you and pray for you.  We will also pray that the source from which you got it will not run dry, so you can go and bring some more.

This goes a long way to assuage the conscience of the wicked.  They are encouraged that as long as they give a significant fraction of their stolen money to the church, the theft is sanctified.  In effect, the offering is used by the pastor to make atonement for the sin of the theft, thereby releasing the crooked donor from guilt.  So doing, we receive and launder stolen money on God’s behalf.  Indeed, there is an implicit signboard in front of mega-churches, saying: “Thieves and robbers are welcome here, preferably with a tithe of their stolen loot.”  When they come, we lavish encomiums on them.

When I accused a lawyer with whom I was negotiating a business deal of sharp practices, she retorted: “Dr. Aribisala, I will pay tithe on the amount.”  Jesus shows nothing but contempt for this kind of thinking.  He said to the Pharisees: “Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” (Matthew 23:19).

Thieves and robbers are Satan’s gifts to the churches.  Visit the mega-churches in Nigeria and you will discover the people seating in the front-row are the big-time thieves who have robbed the country blind.  Everybody knows they are crooks; nevertheless, they have pride of place in the churches.  Their seats are reserved.  The messages preached are carefully-crafted so they are not offended and remain comfortable in their thievery.

Mega-pastors would hardly operate in the tradition of John the Baptist, calling the Herods of Nigeria to repentance.  On the contrary, when Herod comes to church, we give him the microphone to address the congregation.  Thus, one Lagos mega-pastor gave Governor Bola Tinubu, a non-Christian, the microphone to address members of his house on the sand, when he was seeking re-election in 2003.  Of course, the “ogbologbos” of Nigeria can always address the faithful of Redeemed at Kilometre 46.

Says Ebenezer Obadare: “In a dynamic that works quite well for the state and serves the ends of holders of political power, religious leaders attend their (office holders’) birthday ceremonies, bless their respective families, and, at the end of each year, unfailingly prophesy positive things for the country they so spectacularly misgovern.”

Robbers’ revolt

I was given a fascinating report about a well-known Lagos prosperity pastor.  He suddenly saw the light one Sunday, and decided to preach the true gospel for a change.  He warned his parishioners that it is righteousness that exalts, but sin is a reproach.  He told them if they did not repent, they would miss the kingdom of God.

No sooner had he finished his message than uproar arose.  The major financiers of the church were livid and they asked for an emergency meeting with him.  They did not mince words.  They told him in no uncertain terms that that kind of message was unacceptable.  It was very easy for him as a pastor to grandstand with lofty religious sentiments, while living on the money he collects from them.  But how did he think they were getting the money they gave him?  Let him leave the pulpit and come into the real world so he can see whether it is possible to become a slumdog billionaire through the righteousness that exalts a nation.

The pastor’s ears were opened.  He quickly went back to his old time-worn prosperity and motivational messages and everyone was happy again.  “Preach it, pastor; preach it,” they cheer him on, while an attendant dutifully comes forward to wipe his face with a towel.

Stolen offerings

In 2002, it came to light that one Lawrence Agada stole 39 million naira over a period of time from the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, where he was employed as a cashier.  For very strange reasons, he spent very little of the stolen money on himself.  Instead, he gave the lion-share of it as tithes and offerings to a parish of Christ Embassy.  Clearly, there was witchcraft at work here.  The man did not even own a car.  Neither did he have a motor-cycle.  Nevertheless, he did not use any of his stolen loot to enhance his standard of living.  What must they have been telling him at Christ Embassy to lead him to the conclusion he could serve God with stolen tithes and offerings?

His “generosity” so impressed his church that, on occasion, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, the head of the church, wrote him a special letter of commendation read to his entire parish.  At no time did anyone deem it necessary to enquire how someone who was only a cashier could have obtained so much money.  When the theft was finally detected by his employers, Christ Embassy admitted that Agada had indeed given the stolen money to the church.  Nevertheless, the church refused to refund the looted money.  You may well ask why a church of God would refuse to refund money it knows was stolen to its rightful owners.

Suffice to say any church which directly or indirectly encourages theft and knowingly receives stolen property cannot be of God.  If you steal, it makes no difference if you give all the money to your church, you are still a thief.  Your offering might be acceptable to your pastor, but make no mistake about it; it is not acceptable to God.  God hates robbery for burnt offering. (Isaiah 61:8).  He said: “As your offering to me you bring a stolen animal…  Do you think I will accept that from you?” (Malachi 1:13).

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