By Sam Eyoboka
IN his lead paper titled: “African Pentecostalism, civic role and social capital engineering”, a United Kingdom based historian of the University of Edinburgh and University of Bayreuth, Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Emmanuel Anim averred that in the face of dwindling economic and failing welfare systems, Pentecostal Churches are demonstrating increasing social relevance by redefining their public role in ways that complement basic religious-spiritual tasks.
In the UK for instance, many Pentecostal Churches exist as ‘registered main charities’ with varying public functions and social welfare programmes and these churches are growing to acquire immense properties and real estate and provide employment opportunities for members and the wider public.
Prof. Abogame quoted a report which claimed that RCCG North America with the approval of the General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye donated $50,000 to Haiti at a time when many African and Western governments were still contemplating whether and how to respond to the emergency situation. According to him, the RCCG is increasingly taking up extra-religious functions such as social welfare programmes within Africa and the diaspora; thus their focus is not only spiritual wealth of members but their social, material and psychological well-being as well.
He pointed out that beyond their church vicinity, RCCG have taken up functions such as the regeneration and rehabilitation of drug-ridden youths in the society, the socially displaced, under-privileged, refugees, asylum seekers, not forgetting to add that “Christian communities such as RCCG have assumed one of the powerful medium for breaking the silence on HIV/AIDS.
“They have engaged theotherapy (spiritual healing) providing spiritual succor, moral advocacy activities, and funds to the infected and the affected. Thus, RCCG’s public role becomes ore and more visible and its extra-religious functions complementary in socio-contexts where efforts by local and international bodies and agencies have largely proved insufficient to combat the spread and impact of HIV/AODS let alone its amelioration,” he further argued.
Not satisfied with the activities of some pastors, Prof. Adogame urged Nigerians to look beyond government for solutions to the nation’s multi-dimansional challenges, saying “It’s not just politicians, it’s not just the government, it’s not everything Buhari. Search yourself, there’s problem in the Church. If we don’t deal with the problem in the Church as the starting point, if we don’t deal with the problems in our families as the starting point, we are just wasting time.
“So this is my own way of looking at it. And I think that this has something to do with social responsibility. I look at social responsibility on the corporate level but I look at it as an individual responsibility and so this will be my preamble. Having said that, the media has that tendency of portraying churches only when there is bad news but that bad news is important for us to think about.
“For instance, I think between last year and now, there was a hot debate in the media and social media about tithing. I can tell you, that has woken up not just members of churches, but it has woken up pastors to their responsibilities because it’s not right when you spend all your money paying tithes and offering and someone else is using that money to improve him or herself. So we had to wake up and raise questions about this. So as far as I’m concerned, social responsibility starts in the context of the Church.
“Any parish or branch of the church where members cannot go to their pastors and say pastor you are great, you are wonderful, but we tell you that this approach you have may help the church but may not help the church very well….You say it in a very polite way, not carrying arms. If you fail to call your leaders to order or to advice them, you have failed yourself.
“My argument is simply that corporate responsibility will not work if you as an individual will not take your destiny in your hands. But we are so carried away sometimes saying oh this is the man of God. The man of God is the leader, we respect him but he’s a human being and he is capable of making errors. And so it’s our responsibility to guide them, to support them, both with prayers but also physically.
“Why we have terrible leadership today in Nigeria and Ghana is because we patronize our leaders. Whatever they do is fine, it’s their time, let them continue to mess us up. And we don’t raise our voices. I think this is where the role of the Church becomes very important. Buhari is a Muslim. He’s been to Redemption Camp here, he’s been to Winners and to several churches. I don’t have any problem with that. They can visit all the churches and shrines and every place, but when it also comes to the point when they are misbehaving as they are doing, the churches should not be silent.
“When the churches are silent, then it’s a case of complicity. We endorse them to do what is right. We are in a security crisis now, everybody is afraid of kidnappers. Two days ago, there was a comment that before you go froof the Redemption Camp to Ibadan, you pray and fast for one week. But we are captured in that fear. We don’t ask the bigger question: why are we having kidnappers?
“We have graduates, somebody graduated five to seven years, no job. He is 40-45 years old and is still living in his father’s house and being pampered. When you drive people to the extreme, they fight back. So how long is this going to continue? And some will come and say empowerment program and then you buy motorcycles and distribute to graduates and say this is empowerment. No! This is disempowerment. And I think we are accepting this too much.
“The Church is not talking because we are comfortable in our comfort zones. This is insecurity as far as I’m concerned. My question is: Pentecostal Charismatic churches and civil society, do they really matter? And I want to suggest that scholars of Pentecostal Charismatic churches need to accord sufficient attention to the consequences of sensationalized depiction of individuals and their religious groups. Some of you who use social media will see that it’s very common now to receive text messages or YouTube videos of pastors who command their members to eat either grass or stones, or females come to church without underwears and the list is endless. And we don’t say anything about it,” the expert maintained.
Speaking further, Prof. Adogame it’s wrong to always assume that everything a man of God says is from God. “Until we raise our voices to condemn and criticize those kind of behaviors, we are in trouble. We are talking about CSR today because the government has failed but as I mentioned initially, it’s not just the government because we have also failed. That’s why the question of social responsibility comes up now.
“In the U.K where I lived and researched, Pentecostal Charismatic churches or other churches exist as registered main charities with varying public functions and social welfare programs. And because they are charity bodies, at the end of every financial year, every church is supposed to submit financial reports. The financial report is to serve as a check and balance so that a pastor cannot wake up one morning to say that God spoke to him or her that all money received today should come to him.
“If that appears in the financial report, he or she will go to jail because that is fraud. But there is so much here in Nigeria, churches are not charitable bodies, they don’t pay tax. This laxity also is coming up because of a failed system, a system where accountability almost doesn’t exist. That is part of the problem we are facing today. Whereas Pentecostal Charismatic churches are growing to acquire immense properties and real estates and some attempt to provide job opportunities for members and the wider public. But question will be, are churches doing enough in this regard?
“I think this is why we are talking about social responsibility now. I want to look at this question in terms of what we call social and religious capital. Religious institutions such as Pentecostal Charismatic christianities as we have heard this morning and before, played a distinctive role within specific local context. And if we take an example with the Redeemed Camp where we are, is not simply a religious place, it’s also a political space, also an economic space and so on.
“If you ask how many people are employed in the camp now, you will be amazed. It’s providing employment for a lot of people. There are people who live in the camp and don’t go outside the camp for a full year, reason simply is the camp is seen as safe. The camp has a lot of social amenities that you don’t have out there. So in a sense, the camp is a nation within a nation because everything is self generated whether it’s water, electricity and so on.
“This can be the kind of example that Church institutions can set for the government and challenge the government and say if we can generate our own energy, our own water, grade our own road, why can’t you do the same for the entire nation? It’s not simply that there are no resources, it is that resources are mismanaged.
Speaking on the marginalization of women with particular reference to the Christ Apostolic Church, CAC, Prof. (Mrs) Helen Adekunbi Labeodan of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan argued that women though formed the larger number of worshippers in any church congregation but they are marginalized on the issue of the power structure in the church.
According to her no matter how anointed a woman is, the highest position she most likely to hold is perhaps to head a women’s fellowship or at best the coordinator of the children’s department, advocating that it is high time women are recognized within the power structure of the church.