Should a pastor own a private jet?
That this is even a debate issue in Nigeria reflects just how waywardsome of our Christianity has travelled, particularly since the end of the civil war and the arrival of large piles of oil money.
We are good adopters, and in the past 20 or 30 years, these Christian strandsin Nigeria have “grown” side by side with the monies flowing in the streets and the technologies produced by others. Christianity has moved from the pews into the realm of business, and from the pulpits to American-style television.
In the process, some of the emerging Christian leadership, adopting the culture of American television and stage, became celebrities and rock stars. Christianity became marketable, and marketability became mistaken for commercialization.
These pastors also became instant television producers, concerned about their looks and make-up as they prepared for worship services tailored for broadcasting. They worked on scripts and colours and lighting, andarrived in stardom wearing expensive suits and jewelry.
They became stars as theirMinistry became a business. And since there is no business without politics, business took politics in its arms and kissed her. Increasingly, pastors prayednot for right over wrong, nor simply for the mercy of God or the wisdom of Solomon, but for specific individuals or political parties.
Increasingly, pastors enshrined and preached the immediacy and centrality of prosperity, often praying for prosperity answers before nightfall.
Prosperity is good. In a way, our entire journey as homo sapiens is about prosperity: health, education, longevity; heaven is prosperity over earth, and if we make heaven, we triumph—that is, prosper—over humanity.
The problem is that some of ourChristian leaders often neglected the fact that prosperity is not always about materialism. From their glittering thousand-dollar suits, some of them prospered into the best cars, alligator-skin shoes, suites in five-star hotels.
All of this often happened alongside barbaric businessmen, guzzling governors and looting legislators many of whom, in moments of guilt or periods of sickness or sadness, sought the comfort of a pastor.
As you know by now, many pastors pray with their eyes closed. It helps focus on the celestial, but also conveys the impression of holiness.
Evidently, it also helps block out the obvious: that some of the powerful people appearing for prayers in the dead of night, or conveniently arranging to meet with the pastor in faraway lands, are thieves who have robbed the people blind.
Now, forgiveness is normal in Christianity. It is the foundation of the Christian Church, as the entire mission of Jesus Christ, in the Christian faith, was to take away sinand effect reconciliation with the Father. It is the place of a Christian leader to help with that process, so when he engages a sinner, it is to be expected.
The only problem is that in Nigeria, some pastors have often seemed to close their eyes a little too much and too long: allowing celebrity thieves to impoverish the people longer or escape justice. The pastor thereby becomes an accomplice, accepting vast “contributions” they had reason to know could not have come from a legitimate income.
In 2007, Archbishop Peter Akinola, the leader of the Anglican Church, showed up at a “glorious homecoming” celebration for one OlusegunObasanjo, who had recently, reluctantly, and vindictively, given up the job of President of the Federal Republic.
“You have got the best in the world and your eyes have seen the worst in the world. All that is left now is to make heaven,” he told Obasanjo.
He assured the former president that while he had finished his “horizontal fights,” his spiritual journey had just begun, and urged him to fight the battle of his conscience, and seek forgiveness from those he has wronged.
The people Obasanjo had wronged, for eight long years, were the people of Nigeria, and the good bishop knew it as did all of the pastors who followed Obasanjo around and prayed with him routinely.
Akinola told Obasanjo God had blessed him with everything. “You have enough money, you have enough houses, you have enough land, enough (cars), enough properties, even enough children and all should be enough…God has given you far too many houses. What to eat is not your problem. Paying children’s school fees is no longer your problem…”
He did not tell Obasanjothat all those riches were at the expense of his deeply disappointed people.
Indeed, many of the Christian leaders who interpret Christianity as a tool for personal prosperity pretend to see no link between bad governance and the manna from heaven they preach to their exhausted congregations. For them, their access to the corridors of power is merely part of their own prosperity. They do not see their blindness to bad governance to be collusion, or their silence to be support.
This is really a double rape, because on the other side, the pastors collect relentlessly from the poor to fund an affluent lifestyle. It is the collections that are now said to be lucrative enough for pastors to bank hundreds of millions of Naira in personal wealth, and purchase jets by which to rule the sky.
In the case of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), he did not even have to work at buying the jet himself: his congregation presented it to him as a “gift.” It is impressive when a congregation can raise $40 or $50 million to buy a jet.
According to a recent newspaper story, in Nigeria private jet ownership has grown by 650 per cent in the past five years, with those wealthy enough to afford it, including our pastors, spending about $7.5 billion
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah has described this trend on the part of Christian leaders as an embarrassment because it diminishes the moral voice of the church in the fight against corruption.
It is not surprising that he immediately came under attack. Sunday Oibe, a spokesman for CAN, said: “If there is any clergyman in the country whose constituency is government, it is Bishop Kukah, who served every government in power in the last decade.”
Kukah, he accused, served in the Obasanjo government, only to later attack the former president. Kukah, he accused, fraternized with formers Governors James Ibori and Peter Odili.
Kukah never served in the Obasanjo government. “Fraternized” with corrupt governors? Does that mean he knew them, accepted contracts from them, used them as his route to riches and glamour?
Which explains the very point: corruption fights back. Corruption not only defends itself; in Nigeria, it advertises in Eagle Square. Corruption blackmails; on the offensive, it paints everything in its own colours.
The obvious is that it is those pastors who buy jets remind one less of a Christian leader and more of a playboy or a corrupt former governor. A pastor who buys a jet, even from “legitimate” resources, cannot avoid being perceived as being corrupt or compromised
The reason is that a private jet is not just a mode of transportation. It symbolizes a lifestyle of opulence and challenges the Christian values of humility. It suggests matching riches and possessions, affluent luxury homes, exotic cars, expansive hotel suites and immense bank accounts.
A private jet, for a Christian leader, suggests the corruption of the Christian spirit and contradicts the life of Christ and the ability to live a life of humility and compassion, or to serve the poor.
A private jet may be transportation to a businessman, and a Christian leader can argue eloquently that he needs it to simplify his mission. In a country as desperate as Nigeria, the only destination to which a luxury private jet transports a pastor is away: from his ability to confront power, and from the mission.