My feeble attempts at speaking truth to power in the recent past have mostly found its way into the political sphere and it has tended to tread with care when matters of the spiritual sphere are involved. This is not an accidental occurrence but a deliberative act stemming from my own reality. A reality that one who inhabits a building with a glass contract should not seek its protection and then indulge in some exercise of stone throwing. It does takes into account the dangers inherent in these are the repercussions of facing many more stones returning in one’s own direction.
My silence in this area may also be influenced by the oft used legal maxim, I learnt as a law student that: ‘He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.’ In other words I am, and I must own up and come clean that I am part of the problem associated with the perceived Churches’ inadequacies in fulfilling its prophetic mandate in Nigeria. I therefore venture into this article with the uttermost of care and introspection and pray that I come out with clarity.
In recent times my silence has been broken and commitment to speak truth to power reignited by a recent article I came across in the Nigerian Punch newspaper of 10th January 2009, reporting: ‘Why I accepted national honour – Adeboye’. I note also that Rev Ayo Oritsejafor, the President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and Cardinal Arinze and others were in receipt of some honour.
I am clear and accept it is the right of the men of God to accept any honour from the Nigerian State and I support their inalienable right to do so. My support is based on a number of conditions and parameters, which I have drawn extensively from the Africa Bible Commentary. That their acceptance of these honours should aid and facilitate the mandate and role of the Church as enumerated in the paragraphs following.
If by the acceptance of these awards or honours it leads to clarity in the relations between church and the state, ensuring that the relationship is always characterised by institutional separation and functional interaction, then they have my full acceptance.
If accepting the honours indicates that churches and governments may have some areas of common interest, usually involving human welfare, in which they can co-operate to achieve objectives, then I am foursquare behind them.
If accepting it, implies that while addressing the many social issues and problems of Nigerians, the church remains the church and the government remains the government or put differently, church and government realise they are distinct but not divorced, then I am complicit with them in every way and celebrate the honours.
If it means that rather than building a wall of separation between church and the government, there should be institutional separation and functional interaction, because both the government and the church are part of the society, then count me in.
If accepting the accolades means that when the church promotes human rights, it acts within its own right as an institution that is part of society and therefore it cannot be accused of interfering in government business, then I am their fully paid up supporters.
If it means that the church should boldly support initiatives that may lead to a new social order in Nigerian communities, then again I say am in with the men of God.
If it implies that the task of the church in an independent and democratic Nigerian state is to learn to say ‘No’ by remaining vigilant about the dangers of political power, specifically its ability to serve its own interests rather than the common good, I am a member of the men of God’s fan club.
With a full measure of humility I submit that provided their acceptance in no way is a diminution of the prophetic struggle against the Nigerian injustice which often requires further conflict, mutual reprimands and bitter debates on how to resolve differences or to bring inconsistencies to light, then Dr Adeboye, Revd Oritsejafor, Cardinal Arinze and others should be supported and encouraged.
For the acceptance of any honour by men and women of God should remain focused on the role of the church as an institution composed of believing Christians in society. With this role comes the right to make statements explaining its views on issues, and becoming involved in many kinds of socially transformative activities. Some of these may involve promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, reconciliation and national building. For the church should jealously defend its right to speak and its voice should be heard publicly not secretly.
In other words the acceptance of any honour should be a catalyst for the Church to free itself to support the cause of civil society in Nigeria honestly and calmly, acting within the society with boldness. In its actions, locating its theological compass to articulate and know when to speak the prophetic ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ within the context of being distinct from but not divorced from the government.
In practice, you may ask what does this mean? My response is to illustrate with one simple example. How does the church further the gospel by placing large megaphones and speakers outside it doors to ensure that all and sundry hear the sermons emanating from its buildings? A strategy that is usually not a respecter of days of the week or times of the day or location of the church. Does this strategy endear the church to the society that it must bear witness to and lead to salvation?
It is with these that I hold the above self evident and whole heartedly support the men of God and others in their acceptance of the recent national honours. The church must continue to speak to power just as in the times of John the Baptist.