I finally got to see the widely circulating Winners Chapel's Slapgiving starring the presiding bishop and a teenager. The response has been overwhelming with many literally calling for the head of the bishop on a plate considering the fact that it was a depiction of child molestation by one of Nigeria's most celebrated and highly respected socio-spiritual figures. To a large extent, his roles in the video deserve it. But no one is talking about the authenticity (or otherwise) of Bishop Oyedepo's provisional diagnosis.
I've been to several Nigerian churches and Islamic centers and I can unequivocally attest to the fact that in most of them, it looks like human rights, democracy, freedom of speech...are strange, or unholy. The head of the religious body isn't democratically elected but appointed through the leading of the Holy Spirit. In other words, you don't have to be a popular candidate to get a post in the church; all you have to do is to be selected by the spirit. Except the lingering leadership in the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) and in few other places where human laws are being used to challenge what is supposed to be a divine order, the church system in Nigeria is satisfactorily happy with the undemocratic nature of its leadership; although it is quite different from the nation's style of government.
Apart from the unique style of government in the Nigerian church, the salutations are very different from national hierarchy. Although there is the deaconry, pastorate and Council of Elders, his lordship is only answerable to God who "works in mysterious ways." Talking of mysteries in Christianity, three major aspects come to mind: giving, healing and deliverance.
I remember when I was very young and I often hear the pastor when it's time to give the offering. He usually asks us to give bountifully and cheerfully. Furthermore, we were often told that we are "giving to God" and not to him hence I used to think that after each service, he visits God and hands over the day's offering hence as a child, I used to write my name on the Naira notes I dropped in the offering box. This went on until I got one of my notes as change after purchasing some drinks. That was when I realized the truth about how offerings are handled. Even at that, I wasn't disappointed because we are contributing towards the furtherance of God's work. But if it were to be as a Nigerian, I'm sure I will take the president to court (with or without immunity consideration) for betrayal of national trust, lying and impersonation. But who can sue the man of God without incurring God's wrath?
When it comes to giving, Nigerian religious leaders present seeding, tithing and offering as God's forex trading platform that is never affected by economic meltdown, global financial recession and the lingering Euro woes. And the more Christians give, the more they receive. In the quest to get more, you may have to give all. In economics, statistics and other forms of human reasoning, this principle is crazy. But as far as the Christian faith is considered, that is the fate of Christians who want to enjoy God's blessings. Hallelujah!!!
There is no law opposing that, there is no one challenging that and it has become an acceptable norm and an appealing message that ensures that the house of the Lord lacks nothing.
Spiritual healing is even crazier (along human reasoning) than deliverance. I can never forget the experience I had at an Islamic healing centre in Ibadan. Toddlers and teenagers were chained with adults who had psychiatric disorders. During the healing session, they were severely flogged in the presence of some of the parents who couldn't hold back tears. They couldn't stop it either because doing such could jeopardize or interfere with the healing process. Some of the kids bled severely, passed out and had to be revived. Yet heavens didn't fall because the parents knew that the healer had good intentions for their children and "though weeping endures for the night, joy comes in the morning." Hence whatever needs to be done, medically or esoterically, which will make the child healed, will be allowed by the next-of-kin.
Apart from the religious healing processes described above, traditional healers have more dehumanizing procedures that healing seekers are subjected to, these are satisfactory to them since they gladly or reluctantly eat terrible meals, drink awful concoctions and walk naked across the village square in order to get rid of the underlying medical condition that the hospitals cannot cure.
Deliverance sessions are another amusing (to the atheist) aspect of religious practices in Nigeria, and other parts of Africa as a whole. The dialogues are quite interesting as the deliverance minister orders the evil spirit around much to the admiration of the congregation. Prophet TB Joshua's style seems to be the most interesting as he "controls" the evil spirit with the movement of his hands. Pastor Chris (Christ Embassy) is another delight to watch not to mention Nigeria's home of deliverance - the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries.
While these churches are always in full public glare hence they always put their ministers in check, local deliverance ministers perform very shocking activities to send the devil packing. We cannot forget Rev. King; his atrocities are typical of radical Nigerian deliverance ministers.
However, a closer look at the principles of deliverance would reveal that although setting people on fire isn't right, certain doctrines support some of the actions of these ministers.
In annoyance at the transmogrification of his father's house to Onitsha market, Jesus brought out his koboko just like the Air Marshal on Lagos road several months ago. Jesus chased away those shopping in the synagogue as if it were the multi-million dollar newly commissioned Ikeja Mall.
But unlike our overambitious deliverance ministers, Jesus drew a big line between personal and spiritual issues. The koboko story wasn't in response to satanic or devilish influence but an action that is expected of anyone protecting his or her worldly property.
The sheer interplay of physical and spiritual was responsible for the slapsgiving spreading like wildfire across the internet. Had it been that Bishop Oyedepo slapped the witchcraft spirit in the spirit thus leaving the poor girl out of the spiritual clash, no camera would have caught that to be shared on Facebook and Youtube.
But let's thank God the girl was just slapped and did not become a burnt offering like Rev King's unlucky victims. Although Bishop Oyedepo has become the latest inductee into NVS' Hall of Shame, this incidence further highlights the need for a sovereign national spiritual conference where issues like how to chase away evil spirits without dehumanizing the helpless persons will be extensively discussed because it is quite difficult, possibly impossible, for the legislature to promulgate human laws for the spiritual realm. And the president will not sign such bills into binding laws since he fraternizes with the religious leaders a lot. And he won't like to be seen as trying to hinder the move of the spirit that he hopes will show him which direction to take us to.
But there is something we can always do, that is to keep talking and publicizing incidences like this. The number of boys and girls that are daily humiliated by religious scientists who diagnose them as witches and wizards is still alarming yet the government is doing absolutely nothing to checkmate this. Nigerians need to take responsibility for their actions and take their destinies into their own hands. We can't be oppressed by heartless governments and still have to support excommunicated children who could be stoned to death or consumed by fire by embittered men of God using satanic or crazy methods for their activities.
When I thought every point has been made, an interesting explanation of the slap struck my mind. When the bishop confronted the girl and accused her of witchcraft, she vehemently rejected the accusation. Maybe the slap was meant to test her Christian faith since Jesus asked his followers to turn the other cheek when slapped. Had she turned the other cheek, maybe the bishop would have given her a full scholarship at Covenant University and an all expenses paid first class flight to any destination abroad aboard his lordship's private jet.