What Pentecostal pastors have in common with politicians

Date:

Michael Owhoko
The disparity in roles between ecclesiastics and politicians is generally expected to translate to differences in values, lifestyles, and creeds, but this pattern has been disrupted and bridged in Nigeria by materialism. Moral disconnects, lust and insatiability for money, wealth, fame, influence, and power have conspired to bring the men of God to the level of politicians. This is evident in the Pentecostal ministries where some founding pastors and general overseers no longer exhibit ascetic disposition and restraints from material allures.

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Men of God are ordained servants positioned to constantly communicate God’s values and the work of Jesus Christ for the redemption of mankind with humility and sacrifice, not as businessmen and women with devotion to brewed capitalists, displaying affluence like politicians. Politicians are elected political office holders with the responsibility of running the government to primarily provide welfare and security of lives and properties for the people but opt to make politics a career and business for generating wealth for themselves.

With similarities in affluence and avarice, both pastors and politicians now operate in the same frequencies. They buy private jets, lodge in diplomatic suits in five-star hotels during local and foreign travels, send their children to expensive schools abroad, buy houses abroad, procure citizenship of foreign countries for themselves and immediate families, live in highbrow areas, enjoy retinue of domestic staff, and site projects funded with church or government money in their villages and hometowns.

Besides, they also drive expensive exotic cars and SUVs with convoys of security escorts for protection. The use of escorts by politicians is understandable because they are vulnerable to public attacks owing to their lifestyle of lies and deceit. But where men of God who preach truth and regularly assure members of divine protection, fail to invoke celestial powers on themselves, but rely on security agencies for defence, leaves much to be desired.

The process for funding their voracious and lavish lifestyles is similar. While politicians deploy all sorts of illusions to embezzle public funds, including the collection and diversion of constituency funds for private interests, some men of God obtain a pecuniary advantage over their members through hoaxes, guilt and fear. They ensure management of tithes, offerings, seeds and first fruits are under their exclusive preserve, including compelled donations orchestrated to look voluntary, but mechanically designed to appeal to the emotions of congregants.

There is no accountability and transparency. Financial management and utilisation of these sources of income are shrouded in secrecy, except to the knowledge of immediate families of pastors and GOs or a few carefully selected loyal church members. Members are generally advised not to ask questions on how finances are utilised, as enquiries are viewed as recalcitrant handwork of the devil, and attract consequences ranging from warning, suspension or outright expulsion.

Abroad, the church’s offerings and tithes are classified as charity funds. There is transparency and accountability. Members are at liberty to ask for receipts for such levies, as they serve as evidence of contributions to charity. Such receipts are presented to the government for purposes of tax rebates, enabling members to enjoy tax relief.

Pentecostal churches are not liable to members on how levies and contributions are managed, just like the government where there is no accountability and transparency. Political officeholders use public funds as personal incomes to service their lives. When citizens demand accountability over the management of revenues in the face of glaring corruption, politicians in power are quick to accuse or label such persons as agents of destabilisation working for opposition parties. When such criticism persists, such citizens are either hounded, warned, blackmailed, intimated, or silenced, using state security apparatus.

Due to seemingly shared values, politicians who contested elections and won through rigging and other fraudulent processes, are offered opportunities in the Pentecostal churches to offer thanksgiving to God for a “successful” election. They are even allowed to step on the pulpit to share testimonies and minister to the congregation, with prayers offered to them thereafter, and sometimes, along with prophesies. Before departure, the politicians make donations to the church, most of which are redeemed with looted funds.

Looted funds are accepted as donations, gifts, seeds, tithes or offerings. Pastors and GOs are not bothered about the sources of funds nor the integrity or character of donors. As long as it swells the revenue base of the church, it is acceptable. This is the attraction accounting for the proliferation of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. It is doubtful if the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics knows the exact number of these churches. They target locations populated by high net-worth individuals to set up branches in order to grow their finances, as against rural areas inhabited by the poor. Lekki in Lagos is a major target, accounting for the high presence of key Pentecostal churches.

While politicians have made politics a lucrative business, violating the purpose of government for selfish interests and gains, these men of God in the Pentecostal movement have also made the gospel a business, failing to resist the lure of earthly wealth under the guise of kingdom expansion pursuit. While it is true 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 says preachers can live from the gospel, making it an obligation for church members to support their pastors, men of God have taken this verse out of context by taking advantage of the vulnerability and ignorance of members to fund their ostentatious and extravagant lifestyles.

The need to sustain and maintain their expensive lifestyles is also responsible for the absence of clear succession plans. Having tasted power, money and influence, the typical politician is afraid to relinquish office. Where he is statutorily required to do so, resorts to picking his child or wife or relation or a sponsored successor to take over from him. For them, it is difficult to let go of the wealth and juicy opportunities associated with their offices.

Founding Pentecostal pastors and GOs also deploy similar methods to perpetuate themselves in office. They have no clear succession plans, preferring to foist themselves on the congregants in perpetuity, pretending to be waiting for the Lord to choose a successor, when in fact, they have their children or wives in mind, whom they groom to take over. They cannot afford to hand over the huge finances of the church to an “outsider.” It is the reason a Pentecostal church hardly survives beyond the life of its founder, as it slowly slides into extinction after his or her demise.

Also, while politicians regale their audience with promises of taking them out of poverty as a strategy to secure their votes, some of these Pentecostal pastors also create false hope for members for prosperity as a strategy for church growth. Rather than encourage congregants to acquire skills to enable them to offer services and products, they organise prayer programmes where they are asked to sow seed, which only enriches the pastors but depletes the poor. They know wealth cannot be created through prayers, yet members are advised to exercise faith.

Unfortunately, donations, levies and other revenues contributed by members of the church are not fully used for kingdom expansion but diverted and invested in private family commercial businesses registered in family names. Returns from these investments are also not fully ploughed into the church but partly reinvested into other businesses, including real estate, stocks, manufacturing, and even aviation where underutilised private jets are leased for commercial purposes.

Implicitly, there are now obvious blurred lines between spiritual and temporal dimensions fuelled by material pursuits involving Pentecostal pastors and politicians. Existential gaps between them have continued to be narrowed by shared values, exacerbated by materialism. The underpinning motive behind this seeming convergence is prosperity, covertly wrapped under the guise of bringing succour to the people, which is currently posing a serious reputation threat to the Pentecostal movement, and reshaping it to conjure an image of hypocrisy. It is, indeed, an unhelpful development.

Sadly, the affluence associated with pastoral office is also currently having a ring on the minds of church members who are enrolled in Bible Colleges. Most of them now look forward to establishing their own church upon graduation. They also want to “blow” like their pastors who project their stupendous wealth as a product of divine favour, prompting them to want to set aside divine ordinances and protocols to commence their ministries, rather than wait to be called by the Lord.

Owhoko is a public policy analyst

Naija247news
Naija247newshttps://www.naija247news.com/
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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