There is this story that made the rounds in Benin City in those days. It had to do with this legendary man of God who was the closest Nigerian version of Apostle Peter, mostly in terms of either his sanctimonious mien or with the axe he ground with members of the occult and native doctors. He was their mortal enemy and earned most people’s respect because they saw him as a consistent voice in the wilderness that agitated for the crooked paths to be made straight. Well, that was what the situation was until he was unfortunately attacked by robbers.
Now, these types of robbers are not the dare-devil-bazooka-wielding that abound today. They were the type who steal into your house surreptitiously in the dead of night and make off with your valuables. But these robbers were a little unlucky that night- they were discovered as they made off from this man of God’s house. The alarm was raised and everyone gave chase, probably miffed that robbers dared attack their local John the Baptist. One of the robbers, apparently unable to cope with balancing his loot on the one hand with running for dear life, dropped one of the chests he nicked from the man of God’s house. The contents spilled on the floor for all to see. Yes, there were charms and amulets. There were effigies with office pins stuck in them. Nobody was in doubt as to whether or not these were the personal effects of that man of God because his religious robes and the bell with which he proclaimed his early morning mantra of ‘Repent-for-the-kingdom-of-Heaven-is-at-hand were among the items in that chest.
This unveiling of the holy of holies of our man of God impacted negatively. It was clear that not all who said, ‘Lord, Lord…’ were people of the Lord. Not too long after this, there was another man of God along Ehaekpen Street still in Benin City then who was arrested with human skulls and bones. Whatever happened after that I cannot tell, but that period seemed to witness the golden age of the growth of the church in Benin City, Edo State. If there were a hundred houses on a street twenty were churches. I remember our arguments then- there were those who thought that all of this was commerce pure and simple, in the manner of the Monk, Pardoner and Priest in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. These respected men of God exploited the simple nature of the sheep in their custody either by the selling the so-called relics in their possessions (Saint Peter’s hair, the very hem of Jesus’ garment that the woman with the issue-of-blood touched, the robes the risen Jesus left in his tomb, etcetera) or of the sale of pardons: man A is told that if he had a brother or sister believed to be in Hell, there was an amount of money he should pay to transfer him or her straight to the right hand of God. Apart from this, a lot of the word of God was either couched in Latin (the language of the elite) or twisted right out of context to butter the bread of the monk. Redemption and Salvation for the yokel in Chaucer’s time came in the form of a Martin Luther.
Pretty much of what happened in Chaucer’s time still is the case today mostly in an oil-rich Nigeria with a poverty-stricken people. So much more than the exploits of the unscrupulous monks and pardoners take place today.The word of God is still very much quoted out of context to butter and better the fake pastor’s bread. There are many instances. First I will consider the bible passage that qualifies the pastor to partake of the altar’s wealth because it is logical for those who work at the altar to partake of the things of the altar. Partaking of the things of the altar is legitimate for those who truly work by the altar but the emphasis these days is so much on partaking, partaking and partaking that hoodlums have invaded the house of God to participate in the dubious partaking. One of them quoted the Book of Romans 15 VRS 27-28 as excuse for him to have sex with nearly all of the unmarried women in his church. The way it is, there is absolutely no difference between Chaucer’s monk and today’s fake pastors. Chaucer’s monk was a flamboyant monk who loved to socialize. He loved the out-of-doors. He loved ‘hunting’ (euphemism for womanizing). He loved to dress and eat well and was a wealthy landowner. But we must qualify the fact that there is nothing wrong in a pastor being a wealthy person. Nothing is wrong with that. But as the Bible has asked, what shall it profit a man if he gains the world only to forfeit his place in heaven? What sense is there if the pastor is the only rich person in the church? What moral justification is there when some members of the church can hardly make ends meet yet there are ‘men of God’ with as much as a cool billion in their personal bank accounts?
As answer to some of the questions I raised in the preceding paragraph, please let me relate a discussion that I had with a former student. A Nigerian, the chap was born and bred in Europe and was treated as such by his country of birth. At age nineteen, he already had a big house and many of the things we go get an education to acquire here. He was also a much sought after commodity in the European football market. He came back to Nigeria only because his parents wanted him to know something of his fatherland. So he was brought to my school. Because his English was a smattering, the burden fell on me to brush him up a little bit. In the course of doing this, I discovered a keen mind, seemingly nurtured by an environment that placed a premium on the development of the individual born and bred within that shore.
On a certain day in class I asked him if he ever went to church. His response was a vigorous non-affirmative. When I prodded why he did not since his former abode in Europe was just a stone throw from the Vatican itself, he responded thus: why should I go to church and pray when almost everything I want has been provided by the government? Why should people go to church to dash all of those 419 pastors (yes, he said that) the little that they get from eking a living? I reminded him that those monies given to the church either as tithes, offerings and pledges are held in trust for God by the pastor. Apart from that (I told him), all who messed with God’s monies have always had themselves to blame in the long run.We all know about one of them that died in a plane crash recently who was alleged to have had close to a billion naira in a bank account. To this, my young man merely sneered. I took that to mean that it would be really difficult for the kind of carpetbaggers and mountebanks we have here posing as pastors to succeed to blindfold anyone the way they do here in that place he was born and bred. Well, I think it is such a shame that people would exploit a peoples’ vulnerability and poverty of mind to use the name of God or of our messiah, Jesus Christ as a brand to lay up for themselves treasures here on earth.