By Olukayode Oyeleye
These two headlines above caught my attention this morning from a post shared by an acquaintance and I felt a strong urge to make some remarks on them.
This comparison is clearly needless as the bases are not comparable. To begin with, Chinese authorities have made it unequivocally clear that they don’t need God in the governance of their nation, and they’re doing their utmost to shut God out of their governance system. Notwithstanding, Buddhists still do their own thing there, although Dalai Lama and the Uyghurs are under the state’s radar. They repress religion officially and drive churches underground.
Nigeria, as bad as half-baked pundits may choose to vilify it on the ground of religion (particularly Christianity), is a shining light globally, with many respected men of God living and pastoring abroad (even if unpopular at home, which is not surprising) and many Nigerian churches, commissioning missionaries, are taking the gospel back to Europe and America where the missionaries earlier came from. They remain a stabilising force, a source of inspiration and are counsellors to many good leaders out there where the God factor is still in good reckoning.
Don’t be misled by the embarrassing stories of those who turn some churches to money spinning ventures. Those are aberrations, outliers (no matter how widespread) and not true representatives of Christianity in its pure form.
It may well be that Nigeria’s wheel of progress rolled rather backwards over the years. This should rather set off series of conversations and critical analysis on political leadership and their failure to move the country forward technologically, economically and socially. We should then be demanding accountability and report of stewardship from them, no matter how long ago they left public offices.
As for proliferation of churches, it will be a lazy logic to just conclude that all these are commercial. Many have inspired hope (and still do) in the lives many who are hopeless. Many church leaders left lucrative or fulfilling professions behind in pursuit of their passion for God and His mission, living lives of perpetual self-sacrifice for the benefits of others. This is an era of startling and increasing social problems of greater complexity, many of which modern science has no solution for. There are shocking statistics of divorce, gun violence, juvenile delinquency, suicide and anti-social behaviours in many developed countries.
China, in particular is famed for suppressing and manipulating data to suit its own official narratives. Do you hear of many cases of suicides or broken homes in Nigeria? China won’t let you know of its own escalating figures, especially since the adoption of one-child policy, later relaxed to allow two children per family, when the policy was breeding scandals. But they present the plausible explanations to the world while suppressing those that are embarrassing. China is where it’s prominent citizen heading a UN organisation would get missing at the behest of the state authorities. Same for a celebrity lady and, most recently, Jack Ma – easily the closest rival of Amazon big tech, and about the richest man in China – for daring to criticise the authorities (only to.reappear after weeks of his arrest).
Marriage is one institution that requires a high degree of tolerance, and the churches have played a remarkable role in boosting tolerance in homes, providing good environment for raising the children. Many marriages that would otherwise have been permanently broken because of irreconcilable differences (judging by today’s Western social standards) have been mended and remain intact (although roadside social advocates and rights activists would prefer separation of couples because one complained about unsavoury experience in the their marital relationships rather than proffer the option of PEACEMAKING or finding a middle ground or healthy compromise. They glorify single parenthood and see it as a better and more dignifying way out of the ‘bondage’ they think marriage is, since the slogan of gender equality is now in the air).
Many churches, through messages of faith and hope, have snatched a lot of people from the jaws of untimely deaths and helped them find meanings of and purposes for living. Cases of sexual perverts and opioid addiction and related mental and psychological crises are absent in Nigeria as religion (particularly Christianity) replaced this (although someone in the past derogatively referred to religion as the opium of the people). Many who would have been patients of mental disorders in psychiatric hospices, resulting from chaotic and dwindling economy, are able to keep their sanity as a result of their focus away from the immediate problems to the eternal glory and hope for a better future here on Earth.
Many of what outsiders prefer to mock at or derisively call motivational preaching have instilled uncommon confidence and courage in many otherwise timid and purposeless individuals. Do you know that many passages or verses of the scriptures speak about LOVE, FAITH, HOPE, RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE AND PEACEMAKING, TRUTH, RESPECT, OBEDIENCE, JOY, SATISFACTION (CONTENTMENT), TOLERANCE, SELF-CONTROL, GOODNESS, MERCY, VIRTUES, BROTHERLY KINDNESS among others? Never mind if many who profess Christianity do not practise any of these. Never mind if those who claim to be Christians leave all these behind when they occupy public offices and do the opposite of what the scriptures stipulate. Their aberrant examples should not discourage or prevent you from applying them to your own life. Everyone will individually render his or her account before God. There will be no class action, nor will there be group judgment when God sits on the exalted judgment throne.
One can therefore not afford to sit behind a lowly table in a small room and provide credible assessment of these churches so effectively or credibly point out their flaws (even where there are). Their achievements may seem intangible and not measurable empirically, but these are no fantasies. They are real.
As the Christians all over the world celebrate the central focus of Christianity, Jesus Christ, it is important you ask yourself how well is it with you. What does the essence of His sacrificial death and resurrection hold for you? Putting aside technology, economy and personal wealth and social profile, ask yourself if you are sure of where you will spend your eternity after you must have left all those man-made gilded toys (cars, electronics, public infrastructure, etc) behind here. Be not deceived. Those great achievements won’t matter anymore at some point. Those whose works will matter through eternity are those same church people that you find it convenient to denigrate. It’s more fitting and proper to reorder your priorities and mindset now.
Make the right choice without delay. If those good things of life are ultimately available for you to enjoy, use them, but praise God for them. If not, still praise God and don’t be downcast or wrongly assume that yours is the worst condition. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” Hebrews 13:14.