The current narrative of the many UK based ‘African Majority’ Pentecostal Churches is the clinging to the fantasy that the ‘Men/Women of God’ who serve them are perfect. That they can do no wrong, have no weaknesses and live and embody perfect lives. It is suggested that it is this fantasy that allows the church members to neglect the construction of protective layers and structures around their ministers. This singular failure of church membership and followership has exposed many of these ministers to possibilities of unspeakable scandals.
In many of these churches there has been the substitution of accountability structures for some expectation that the ‘Men/Women of God’ inhabit a higher moral plane than the rest of us, setting up their churches and the world out there for a massive fall from grace.
At this stage, before proceeding any further, allow me to indulge you in a number of personal confessions as follows:
– I regard myself to be of and from the Pentecostal tradition and consider myself to be ‘born again’;
– I am a miserable sinner and not whiter than white nor beyond reproach; and
– I am not qualified to speak truth to this issue but find myself in a position of having no choice.
The context of this article is located within the recent conviction of Dr. Albert Odulele. The doctor, the Senior Pastor of Glory House; a London based Pentecostal Church, previously President of the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance and a renowned personality within the evangelical world was convicted of indecent assault on male members of his congregation, one who happened to be a minor.
This is a very tragic case, tragic on so many different levels. It is tragic for the victims, tragic for the perpetrator’s family, for the reputation of the ‘African Majority’ Churches in Britain and for the perpetrator himself.
In the midst of the unraveling reports about this conviction while some are struggling with the loss of the reputation of a ‘Man of God’ many more find themselves facing a terrible truth, a truth that even ‘Men of God’ face the same struggles as other human beings. The victims could of course be left to struggle with the life long trauma of abuse and would naturally be casting about for someone to blame. They could blame the government for inadequate regulation of these Churches, the Christians for permitting ‘wolves’ in their midst, and of course the ‘Man of God’ himself for falling prey to his own particular perversions. The victims could naturally blame everyone they can think of and be filled with unspeakable rage. But then we must pause and try and find a way forward to ensure such abuses never have the space to occur again.
Whilst the victims and many observers would naturally demand retribution but this alone will not prevent further abuses. We could blame the Church but again this alone could rob of us peace and space to reflect and rebuild preventive mechanisms and surely we have had enough of that.
Whilst there are many churches with spaces and places where people are blessed and set free, other churches must exercise more humility and open up a spaces, which begins to allow them to question their own criteria of success. In support of this position I quote Revd. Gideon Para-Mallam of IFES who states that:
“Evidence suggests that indeed, the foundations of Christian discipleship are weak in many of these churches experiencing explosive numerical growth across sub-Saharan Africa. This is the case from Lagos to Lusaka, Kinshasa to Kumasi, Accra to Addis Ababa, Abuja to Yaoundé, Nairobi to Kampala, Harare to Blantyre, Cape Town to Dare Salaam. Churches need to refocus on their character and how this impacts their commitment to completing the task of world evangelization. Yet the impact of the gospel on society is diminished by the disjuncture of belief and practice. One major result of this is the lack of depth found in many Christians. Religiosity is widespread; however, godliness is scarce. People from all walks of life profess faith in God; however, this is not displayed in everyday life practices. Is it any wonder that Christians going into government are unprepared to withstand temptations of the office? They fail to be true ambassadors of Christ in government. Many have instead brought shame to Christ’s name.”
There is also clearly an issue of accountability that needs to be addressed by many of these Churches that happen to be independent. The absence of little or any clear accountability structure or reference point for many of the ‘founding’ ministers is very troublesome. There is, however, a greater concern of the attempts by many followers to ‘daddify’/deify many of these mere mortals, elevating them to superpower and superstar status. The conferment of such status encourages the myths that these men are free from struggles or do not have issues that we mere mortals struggle with on a daily basis.
Another phenomenon is that many have styled themselves after their long distanced American mentors and have no local mentors they can relate to on a regular basis. There is the possibility that some might see the issue of relating to a mentor as a sign of weakness rather than of strength. However, even Jesus needed time apart with the inner cycle of three disciples. And the ultimate example I might suggest is how God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit relate to one another.
In the concluding, I suggest these independent ministries and their leadership continue to expose themselves if they stand or remain in isolation for whatever reason.