I am a Christian. In expressing that identity, I align myself with the new dispensation of Christianity that is Pentecostal; described aptly by the strategist Leke Alder as “generally creative in approach, aggressive, uninhibited and resourceful”.
I am a born-again Christian. A tongue-speaking, Christianese-loving, church-working Christian. I love God with all my heart.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria that can immediately mean that I cannot be trusted, that I have no integrity and that I will in no way act like Christ. But this is not the fault of those who see us in this way; it is our fault; us Christians who have perverted the Gospel we are supposed to share.
The way we have served God here appears to have done us more harm than good; if anything the fact that most of our leaders who are corrupt and inept are some of the most religious people you will find anywhere in the world says a lot about who we are, and explains the disdain with which non-religious people hold those who profess their faith with joy and pride.
In September 2005, a sitting Nigerian governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was arrested and detained in London by the Metropolitan Police for money laundering. They discovered about £1m in cash in his London home, £1.8m ($3.2m) in cash and bank accounts and then uncovered real estate worth an alleged £10 million.
In December 2005, the detainee jumped bail. When he emerged in his state of Bayelsa and was asked how he managed this feat, he responded, “It is a miracle”. The fugitive who had stolen state funds gave glory to God for transporting him home; for helping him break the law.
In that one statement, Alamieyeseigha captured the essence of what we have turned the creator of the heavens and the earth into – an aberration.
My friend, Elnathan John, in a piece that went viral last year and was even quoted by my pastor, Sam Adeyemi, captured the nature and character of this God that Nigerians serve impeccably:
First, you must understand that being a worshipper has nothing to do with character, good works or righteousness. So the fact that you choose to open every meeting with multiple prayers does not mean that you intend to do what is right. The opening prayer is important. Nothing can work without it. If you are gathered to discuss how to inflate contracts, begin with an opening prayer or two. If you are gathered to discuss how to rig elections, begin with a prayer. The Nigerian god appreciates communication.
When you sneak away from your wife to call your girlfriend in the bathroom, and she asks if you will come this weekend, you must say—in addition to “Yes”—“By God’s grace” or “God willing”. It doesn’t matter the language you use. Just add it. The Nigerian god likes to be consulted before you do anything, including a trip to Obudu to see your lover.
When worshipping the Nigerian god, be loud. No, the Nigerian god is not hard of hearing. It is just that he appreciates your loud fervour, like he appreciates loud raucous music. The Nigerian god doesn’t care if you have neighbours and neither should you. When you are worshipping in your house, make sure the neighbours can’t sleep. Use loud speakers even if you are only two in the building. Anyone who complains must be evil. God will judge such a person.
Attribute everything to the Nigerian god. So, if you diverted funds from public projects and are able to afford that Phantom, when people say you have a nice car, say, “Na God”. If someone asks what the secret of all your wealth is, say, “God has been good to me”. By this you mean the Nigerian god who gave you the uncommon wisdom to re-appropriate public funds.
Consult the Nigerian god when you don’t feel like working. The Nigerian god understands that we live in a harsh climate where it is hard to do any real work. So, if you have no clue how to be in charge and things start collapsing, ask people to pray to God and ask for his intervention.
The Nigerian god loves elections and politics. When you have bribed people to get the Party nomination, used thugs to steal and stuff ballot boxes, intimidated people into either sitting at home or voting for you, lied about everything from your assets to your age, and you eventually, (through God’s grace), win the elections, you must begin by declaring that your success is the wish of God and that the other candidate should accept this will of God. It is not your fault whom the Nigerian god chooses to reward with political success. How can mere mortals complain?
The Nigerian god does not tolerate disrespect. If someone insults your religion, you must look for anyone like them and kill them. Doesn’t matter what you use—sticks, machetes, grenade launchers, IED’s, AK47’s.
If you worship the Nigerian god, you are under no obligation to be nice or kind to people who are not worshippers. They deserve no courtesy.
Aren’t all of us – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, whatever we are – ashamed that this is the God that we present to the world? Aren’t we disturbed that this is what we have turned the maker of all that is good and perfect into because we will not live by the standards that he has set?
Nigerians have used God as an excuse for failure: refusing to hold people responsible for their actions because we should ‘leave it to God’, not correcting mistakes we have made because ‘that is the will of God’, breaking the law at will because ‘God understands’, declining to understand and engage the world with sophistication because we are ‘praising the Lord’ and refusing to create and innovate because, after all, ‘this world is not our home’.
But is that the nature of God? Are a genuine relationship with God and excellence in the world mutually exclusive? Does God expect us to suspend our capacity to think and act right because we choose to worship him?
Some of the world’s greatest civilisations have grown hand in hand with a ferocious religiosity; the physical and the spiritual walking together, the church and the state almost inseparable for for many years.
Christianity (and I use its example because that is my primary frame of reference) became the pre-eminent thought driver for Britain after it embraced it in 1st century. Religion has played a crucial role in the evolution of Russian culture, a country that embraced Christianity in 988.
And whilst the current elite of America understandably pushes a more non-faith based national agenda, it is indisputable that the rise of America as the world’s most powerful nation happened at the height of its faith; in the nation where “In God we trust ” was adopted as its official motto in 1956. A nation built based on God and Godly values.
The evolution of religion – with wars, slavery, and death – is a subject of deep controversy even now, but that is a matter for another day. The lesson I instead seek to draw here is that religion is in fact contemporaneous with progress for many societies, and has in fact been responsible for the ascendance of most of the world’s great powers.
Contemporary nation building also indicates the same. The Emirati have delivered economic miracles even with Islam as their official state religion, proving that religion can be a liberating, progressive force. The Asian idea of God defines the way that business and politics are conducted – the East influenced heavily by Buddhist and Hinduist philosophies.
There is nothing that says that a nation cannot be Godly and do exploits; and many of the world’s religious centers, from the Vatican to Saudi Arabia are themselves models of progressive governance and the most excellent attitudes to nation building.
Even in Nigeria, the homegrown church has historically been a force for good. The Orthodox Church establishment laid the foundation for modern Nigeria, a December 2012 piece by Alder reminds us. “They are the offshoots of missionary work. They educated the people we now refer to as the founding fathers of the federation. They established the first set of hospitals and schools in Nigeria. Methodist Boys’ High School, Baptist Academy and Our Lady of Apostles Grammar School are well known examples of schools established by missionaries.
“It was the Church that educated the first set of civil servants in Nigeria. And the Church has always been at the nexus of cultural re-orientation in Nigeria. Who can ever forget the work of Mary Slessor, the diminutive nurse who fought against the barbaric culture of the killing of twins? And so when we chant about the “labour of our heroes past,” we must not forget that some of these heroes are the missionaries and the orthodox establishments.”
That sounds like the God I know and serve. A God of excellence – in the spiritual and in the physical. In the Old as well as the New Testaments he speaks continually to his character and his expectation of his children. The fruits of his spirit are a summation of all that should be good in our world – integrity, hard work, dignity, truth, humanity.
In Ecclesiastes 9:10, the bible says ”Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” and in 2 Corinthians 8:7, it says “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you—make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too.”
This is just one of many scriptures that make the same point, all through the Bible.
When the Bible tells Christians in Mark to give to Caesar that which is his and to God that which is he is, it wasn’t referring to the perversion in Nigeria where scripture like that is used to justificaty for corruption and amoral behavior. It means that the two can co-exist – we can be excellent in our faith and be excellent with the works of our hands.
We have to kill this God we have chosen: one of mediocrity, double standards, and filth; whose sole purpose is to give us wealth and multiply our resources. Making no demands on our character, holding us to no standards and teaching us nothing, this contraption we have put together is a multi-purpose excuse for the failure that we live with every day.
Nigeria, one of the most religious nations in the world, which has become Africa’s largest exporter of Pentecostalism and one of the biggest sources of Pilgrims to Israel and Mecca has become possibly the worst advertisement for religion.
“Finally, brothers,” Phillippians 4:8 tells Christians. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
That’s the God I know. That’s the God I worship daily and that I have a relationship with. That’s the God whose Word has made me a better person and a work in progress, forging me through the fire that builds character and imparts love.
Just imagine if the Christians in Nigeria and in authority follow these simple instructions in the scripture above. Nigeria would be a vastly different country, with a vastly different destiny.
Surely, God’s heart is broken by what he sees when he looks down upon us. We need to stop disgracing him.
Chude Jideonwo is publisher/editor-in-chief of Y!, including Y! Magazine, Y! Books, Y! TV & YNaija.com. He is also executive director of The Future Project/The Future Awards. #NewLeadership is a twice-weekly, 12-week project to inspire action from a new generation of leaders – it ends on March 31.