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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
OPINION - Nigeria: Witchcraft in the Church
All Africa OPINION
Emmanuel Okonjo had had enough. His email to me from Abuja said as much. "That is the last parish of that church I will join. I am now convinced the church is a cult." What was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for Emmanuel. The pastor came to church that Sunday morning and laid down a decree "ex cathedra." "Anyone who speaks against our church or against our G.O. (General Overseer) is going to die."
Emmanuel went to the pastor and challenged him after the service. "How can you say something like that?" he demanded. However, the pastor had a ready defence. "I am not the one saying it," he insisted. "That prophecy is from the G.O. himself."
The pastor's logic was impeccable. The G.O. was an impregnable defence. Nobody in his right mind would dare question his judgment. If indeed it was the G.O. who said it, then it must be from God himself.
Emmanuel took the choice of least resistan-ce. If the G.O. is god, then he must resign from god's church in order to find the one true God. So resign he did. After the blind man whose eyes Jesus open-ed had been excommunicated from the synagogue, then the Lord met him and revealed himself to him. (John 9:35-38).
So let me ask you a question. Does your pastor practice witchcraft? Has he ever implied that when he decrees a thing it is established instantaneous-ly? Has he ever instructed you to speak prophetically to your offer-ing? Has he ever told you God is going to ma-ke you a slum-dog millionaire, provided you make a few down-payments to the church? If "yes" to any of the abo-ve, then your pastor is operating in a time-honoured tradition of using witchcraft on his congregation.
Players get played
Bishop Wale Oke of Christ Life Church, Ibadan, is also the South West co-ordinator of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). Sometime ago, PFN pastors from the South West were assembled at the Guiding Light Assembly in Lagos to elect a new executive. But there was something strange about that election; nobody knew the candidates.
At the last minute, a list was circulated with the names of certain pastors assigned to the different posts. We were then required to vote for only the people on the list.
Bishop Wale conducted this sham of an election. He suddenly declared that certain critical posts would not be by election but by selection. Then in full-flight oratory, he referred us to John 6:28-29.
In that scripture, the people came to Jesus asking him what they should do to work the works of God. Jesus replied: "This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent." Bishop Wale then turned to us: "God says you should believe in us," he declared triumphantly, referring not to Jesus but to himself. "We have fasted and we have prayed and we have decided who should be the elected officers of the PFN in Lagos State."
There was some kind of poetic justice in Bishop Wale's manipulation of PFN pastors. We use this kind of witchcraft time-and-again on our church-members. But somehow that did not make it any more palatable when someone decided to use it on us. It was also sobering to discover that our modus operandi as pastors was actually no different from those of the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Peoples Democratic Party.
When most people think of witchcraft, they think essentially of the hocus-pocus of "babalawos." However, witchcraft is also a manipulative device widely used in the churches by pastors who aspire to be gods in the lives of men. Many Christians have been hypnotised by pastors. Day-in day-out, we pastors practice witchcraft on our church-members; making them submissive to our will.
In the churches of today, the fear of the pastor is the beginning of wisdom. Christians are simply scared to death of pastors. Many are required to worship us even more than God. We manipulate our congregants so effectively they believe to disobey us is to disobey God.
Illusion is every-thing. The pastor is larg-er than life. We admit no human failings. We quo-te choice-scriptures dra-matically to great effect. Every so often, we decla-re grandiloquently: "thus says the Lord." Sooner than later, people become convinced we are imbued with supernatural pow-ers. When we tell them to jump, they jump. When we tell them to empty their wallets, they do so readily. We control their lives even to the ex-tent of determining who they marry.
God describes us succinctly: "Among my people are found wicked men; they lie in wait as one who sets snares; they set a trap; they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have become great and grown rich. They have grown fat, they are sleek; Yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked." (Jeremiah 5:26-28).
Recently, a video of Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners' Chapel, Otta, went viral on the internet. In it, the bishop is ostensibly conducting deliverance on a group of teenage girls alleged to be witches. The girls are made to kneel submissively in front of his holiness, the bishop. However, to his annoyance, one of them has the audacity to contradict him.
The girl says defiantly: "I am not a witch. I am a witch for Jes-us. My own witch is for Jesus." This response angers the bishop no end. He shouts at her: "You are a foul devil. Do you know whom you are talking to?" Then, consumed with rage, Bishop Oyedepo does something I would not have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes.
He gives the girl a very hard slap. He then condemns her to damnation, even though she came to him for deliverance. He barks at her: "Jesus has no witch-es. You are a devil. You are not set for deliverance and you are free to go to hell!"
Would Oyedepo have slapped the girl if she were Mike Tyson? Would he have slapped her if she were rich and powerful? Would he have slapped her if she were one of the major benefactors of Winners Chapel? I doubt it very much.
Isaiah says: "Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have prescribed." (Isaiah 10:1). The bishop must be unaware of this scripture, because he boasts in another video: "I slapped a wit-ch here last year. She came back in February to apologise. She beg-ged me to forgive her. She went back to her witchcraft company and they told her: 'Ah, if the man says you are dead, you are dead. That small thing can kill you forever."
What conclusions are his congregants expected to draw from this boast? Bishop Oyedepo implies he is so powerful; he can kill people eternally with his tong-ue. But surely, that is not the way of Christ. When James and John asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that denied them free passage to Jerusalem, Jesus rebuked them. He said: "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." (Luke 9:55-56).
Whatever manner of spirit is behind Bishop Oyedepo's outrage, it does not commend him as a disciple of Christ. A disciple must be careful to bridle his tong-ue. Jesus warns: "Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemn-ed." (Matthew 12:36-37).