No Difference Between Pentecostal Pastors And  Politicians

PENTECOSTAL PASTOR

By  Dr  Michael Owhoko

LAGOS MARCH 6TH (NEWSRANGERS)-Disparity of roles between ecclesiastics and politicians are 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 {GOs} no longer exhibit ascetic disposition and restraints from material allures.

Men of God are ordained servants positioned to constantly communicate God’s values and work of Jesus Christ for redemption of mankind with humility and sacrifice,not as businessmen and women with devotion of brewed capitalists,displaying affluence like politicians.  Politicians are elected political office holders with responsibility of running 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 same frequencies.  They buy private jets, lodge in diplomatic suits in 5-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, andsite projects funded with church or government money in their villages and home towns.

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

Process for funding their voracious and lavish lifestyles is similar. While politicians deploy all sort of illusions to embezzle public funds, includingcollection and diversion of constituency funds for private interests, some men of God obtain pecuniary advantage over their members through hoaxes, guilt and fear.  They ensure management of tithes, offerings, seed and first fruit are under their exclusive preserve, including compelled donations orchestrated to look voluntary, but mechanically designed to appeal to emotions of congregates.

There is no accountability and transparency.Financial management and utilization 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 utilized, as enquiries are viewed as recalcitrant handwork of devil, and attracts consequences ranging from warning, suspension or outright expulsion.

In abroad, 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 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 government where there is no accountability and transparency.  Political office holders use public funds as personal incomes to service their lives.  When citizens demand accountability over management of revenues in the face of glaring corruption, politicians in power are quick to accuse or label such persons as agents of destabilization 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 election 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 pulpit to share testimonies and minister to 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, gift, seed, tithes or offering.  Pastors and GOsare 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 proliferation of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.  It is doubtful if the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics{NBC} 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 high presence of key Pentecostal churches.

While politicians have made politics a lucrative business, violating 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 lures of earthly wealth under the guise of kingdom expansion pursuit.  While it is true 1 Corinthians nine: 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 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 the wealth and juicy opportunities associated with their offices.

Founding Pentecostal pastors and GOs also deploy similar methodsto perpetuate themselves in office.  They have no clear succession plans, preferring to foist themselves on the congregates 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 takeover.  They cannot afford to handover 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 povertyas strategy to secure their votes, some of these Pentecostal pastors also create false hope for members for prosperity as strategy for church growth. Rather than encourage congregates to acquire skills to enable them offer services and products, they organize prayer programmeswhere they are asked to sow seed, which only enriches the pastorsbut deplete 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 fullyploughed into the church, but partly reinvested into other businesses, including real estate, stocks, manufacturing, andeven aviation where underutilized private jets are leased for commercial purposes.

Implicitly, thereare now obvious blurred lines between spiritual and temporal dimensions fueled by material pursuit involvingPentecostal pastors and politicians. Existential gaps between them have continued to be narrowed by shared values, exacerbated by materialism.  Underpinning motive behind these seeming convergence, is prosperity, covertly wrapped under the guise of bringing succour to the people, which is currently posing 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 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.

Dr. Mike Owhoko, a  public policy analyst, author and journalist writes from Lagos

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