Tuesday 15 May 2012

Nigeria: Is Winners Chapel Losing Respect?

Our culture of cults
Pastor-bashing has almost become a pastime in Nigeria just as much as the churches they have founded have become the objects of much opprobrium. Worse still are attendees of such establishments who by their attitudes have subscribed to the cult of personality and have enslaved themselves to systems that operate no better than shamanist grottos.
We must not however allow the pall of injustice to hang over a demonstrably untenable situation without comment; there comes a time where religious adherents need to cast off the apparent dumbness of sheep that goes for community and fellowship returning to the excitement of using their God-given intellect to review the circumstances they are in.
The basics of the story [1] are: Parents leave twins at church crèche, obtain tags as proof, return to find one of the twins missing, church apparently doesn’t aid investigation, church allegedly interfering with the process, child not found one year on.
Facts of life anywhere
Rather than attempt to rehash elements of the story, I will address some very fundamental points we all need to be aware of.
A religious environment or meeting place despite the atmosphere of piety and solemnity or even feigned holiness in some cases is still a gathering point of people from all strata of society – some good and others not so good with all sorts of motives – there is a possibility that people will let down their guard in such settings when they are to be vigilant – like in society, crimes do happen in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and grottos too.
Many religious establishments depend on volunteers to function effectively, people generous with their time and means are to be commended but each function and activity comes with a modicum of responsibility even though we work in the implicit trust that within an religious establishment people exercise the best of conduct as if they are licensed and regulated in the functions they perform.
Once volunteers have taken on responsibilities they are responsible for activities entrusted to their care, there greater the responsibility the better the standards of control and supervision must be – in the case of caring for children, it is paramount just as one would not expect sloppily prepared food and drinks to be served endangering the health of patrons, if I may, of the religious establishment.
Ordinary people make communities
A religious establishment will usually have hierarchies, rules and structures to deal with internal issues but when crimes are committed or criminal activity is suspected, it is not the place of that religious establishment to replace the state in the dispatch of police responsibilities for investigation, questioning of suspects and witnesses, securing the crime scene for forensic analysis and prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law those issues that have been identified to require that level of scrutiny.
Much as a religious establishment brings together many strands of society, it is not in and of itself beyond its primary function a police station, a court, a hospital, a school, a restaurant or a shop if it has not exclusively applied to operate as any of those establishments and so the abuse of any of those function must always devolve to civic authorities.
Persons who are found to be professionally skilled in all these areas might take on advisory role or even assume immediate responsibility until such a time that qualified persons not conflicted by affiliation can ensure that adequate and due civil process is followed.
Religious organisations are subject to civil authorities
The Catholic Church presents one of the poorest examples of the separation of Church and State when on having cases of child sexual abuse reported to the senior clergy they attempted to contain the matter rather than hand the cases over to the authorities – the embarrassment they were trying to avoid as well as the people they tried to protect has snowballed into an almost insurmountable crisis.
The case that inspired this blog pertains to Winners Chapel, a sprawling Pentecostal religious organisation that includes businesses and schools with the head of the organisation having gained notoriety for being the richest Nigerian pastor and the having delivered that legendary stinging slap in front of the congregation – this new development appears to compound what from a secular perspective is chronicling a catalogue of abuses.
Cajoled by religious behemoths
On the side of the parents, too many issues need addressing in general. That it took a whole year for the news of a missing child from the Children’s Department of a church to make the headlines is beyond the pale but my second paragraph already shows that people find it difficult, terrifying and sometimes impossible to challenge religious authority on civil matters.
The news story suggests that the church has been actively interfering with the investigation with regards to the police; such that the handlers of the children have not been interviewed to ascertain how a child under their care went missing, they seem to have polluted the narrative to suggest the child did not go missing in the care of the church volunteers, fed false information to the investigation teams and they have intimidated the parents so much that it has taken all this time for the parents to muster the courage to come out against the machinery of a behemoth organisation like Winners Chapel.
Humanity and justice are paramount
If any of the detail in news story bears any semblance of truth, nothing can justify the actions of the church in trying to cover up this case much as the parents are deserving of some sanction for not speaking up the more about this much earlier and forcefully.
In matters like this, victims after reporting matters to the religious leaders of their commune must immediately see that they case is handed over to the civil authorities whilst they engage counsel and advice outside of the structure of their religious settings to see the matter through to its conclusion.
I will continually say that the purpose of religion is for the service of the people, where that purpose is lost, whatever that religious situation is has become irrelevant and with the handling of the case of this missing child purpose and relevance are being lost for expediency.
I am disappointed in all parties involved in this case and most especially the church for not being a better force for justice, for fairness and for right – if people and children cannot feel safe there; the world is indeed a very dangerous place.
Actively seeking the missing child and to be seen to be doing everything to help the police, the parents and every concerned party is the great sense of justice that is required and it is the least one should expect of a religious establishment and most especially if that establishment is Winners Chapel.
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