Pastor David Oyedepo Has Erred
By Dr. Phil Tam-Al Alalibo, NNP, Dec. 21. 2011 – I was disturbed to see the video tape that has gone viral making the rounds on Youtube and the internet of a well-known Nigerian preacher in the person of Bishop David Oyedepo, the General Overseer of the Living Faith World Outreach Ministries, aka, Winners Chapel assaulting a seemingly subjugated and utterly helpless mere teenager girl at his altar. The scene appeared to be a crusade-like environment where young girls had been dutifully and meticulously arranged by forerunners to kneel before the flamboyant pastor and confess their involvement in witchcraft. The assault (See Youtube video to the middle right of this screen) which manifested in the form of an unexpected and simmering slap was predicated on the poor teenager's blunt refusal to be tagged a 'witch', but instead declaring that “She is a witch for Jesus.” Irked by this bold deviation from the script that ruined matters for him and rebuking her that “Jesus has no witches”, the Bishop unloaded the weight of his forehand on her left cheek and strutted authoritatively down the row of young girls that had been cowed into submission by that slapping act to illicit further confessions.
I have heard of the blatant excesses of some Nigerian pastors but never did I expect this sort of revulsive, abhorrent and unreservedly undesirable conduct from a man of Bishop Oyedepo's elevated height and exposure. In plain terms this hinges on the criminality of child abuse and should be consigned with sheer vigor and vehemence to the corridors of repugnance. There is no place in the Kingdom of God for such unkindness [to a child] that hardly uplifts the body of Christ. We must admit no matter what denominational badge we adorn that this is not what Christianity represents, a faith predicated on the premise of love, grace, mercy and compassion for the less fortunate. Were it otherwise, Bishop Oyedepo and the billions of other professing Christians around the world would be lurching eternally in object debauchery and turpitude unworthy of the saving kindness of God. This is why it is imperative no less a moral mandate for every Christian to stand against such indignity directed at a defenseless child that ought to be loved no matter where and who perpetrates it.
There was no basis for Bishop Oyedepo to showcase his might on a helpless teenage girl who had come to seek the intervention of the Lord in her life or coerced to do so without the benefit of full disclosure. Though she may have erred in her claims, if at all, the moment was perfect for the Bishop to demonstrate the love of Christ, to offer innate compassion and succor. As a child, the Bishop should have at the very least, assumed a father figure, taken her in as a father would his daughter and counseled her. With the glare of the cameras and a full congregation as witness, there couldn't have been a better opportunity for the pastor and his men to demonstrate the power of Christ and His dominion over the devil by casting out the demons of witchcraft which they claimed she had. This is what is expected of men of God who should fly above such vulgarities even in the face of disparaging confabulations against our Lord Jesus Christ not to inflict pain and emotional trauma while basking in judgmental pontifications, a trend that now appears to be common with many Nigerian preachers. The Bible says in Luke 18: 16 - “But Jesus called the children to him and said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
The Bishop's action demonstrates not only the tempestuous environment men of God have to dwell in, but most importantly their susceptibility to the trappings of carnality, of the flesh and their daily struggles to overcome. Bishops are not God, they can never be God, they sin, they flatter, they err, that is why it is imperative for Christians not to lose sight of the essence. In this instance, the Bishop was consumed by rage, with a disappointedly penchant need to stamp his eminence and reclaim the “tainted” image of Christ orchestrated by this teenage girl through violence. The salient issues evident in this case are instructive for all Christians not to repose their faith in man, not even in men of God but in God who transcends all earthly urgings. The Bible says in Psalm 56:11 “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.”
What Pastor Oyedepo in his rage may not have realized is that his adverse and inimical reaction to the girl's statement may have indeed proven to be counterproductive and driven her to the abyss of dejection, disbelief, antagonizing her against the kingdom. The cardinal no less pertinent question we should be asking is – what would have been the reaction of Jesus had this teenager girl made the same statement to Him? There are abundant examples in the Bible where Jesus was confronted with seemingly blasphemous utterances and yet never resorted to violence. Even at his crucifixion where the prevailing anthem was hate and blasphemy, our Lord Jesus found it in his heart to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.
Why then are some Nigerian pastors, especially of the Pentecostal variety so sultry and in most instances tyrannical when dealing with members of their congregation? Most of them have welled up a cult following, with their utterances instantly becoming law with no tolerance for divergence. They hold their congregation with seething disdain and in some cases regarding them as non-entity only appreciating the proceeds of their pockets as those go to sustain their larger-than-life existence that are abundantly manifest in offensively glowing mansions in choice cities around the world and private jets. It is worth noting that the Pope, the leader of more than two billion Catholics and unmistakably the richest denomination in all of religion does not have a private jet appended to his exalted office, he flies around in a leased Alitalia plane. But leave it up to Nigerian pastors to defile the simplicity of their calling to 'bring down the roof.'
What continues to baffle me is the fact that for some of these flamboyant pastors, it is no longer about Christ, even their personal lives are filled with assorted irregularities invariably conjuring a poor reflection of the gospel they preach. They may have started with good intentions, led by the spirit in time past, but somewhere in the voyage they lost their spiritual sprite and are now motivated by the flesh, masters in their unsurpassed sagacity to oppress and extract that which they desire from their congregation in the name of religion.
I watched a documentary a few weeks ago about a Nigerian Pentecostal pastor whose love for fast cars and villas could not be hidden. At a young age and just pastoring for about five years, he had amassed exotic cars in excesses of $10 million, he rides about in Lagos with a cadre of security guards in yellow Hummers (his favorite color) forgetting all along the promise of the Lord in Psalms 23:4, “Even thou I walk in the shadow of valley of death and I shall fear no evil.” For what reason would a man of God need armed security guards when the Bible says that “The Lord is my fortress…”eclipses my faculties.
The likes of Pastor Oyedepo should not be embroiled in a scandal laced with the filaments of impropriety to impugn his reputation. The man is smart, intelligent with an astute business sense that has served him well in the material sense. He is the richest pastor in Nigeria estimated to be worth well over $150 million with a vast business empire that transverses the expansive landscape of the African continent even to North America where Winners Chapel edifices are popping up in urban cities. The founder of Faith Academy, an elite secondary school, Covenant University, one of the best private universities in Nigeria and with a string of churches all across the globe, Oyedepo has no doubt done well for himself, establishing his family and those around him on a solid financial footing. He is the first Nigerian pastor to own a private jet, at latest count he has four, boasting of one of Africa's largest congregations, the Faith Tabernacle where he is said to hosts three services each Sunday with comfortable seating for 50,000. He owns homes in London and the United States and a fledging publication outfit, Dominion Publishing House, where he churns out books that promulgate the gospel of prosperity. That is why it is confounding that a pastor of such unimaginable caliber would be part of this craze to label children as witches in a bid to accentuate his profile.
The attitude of today's Pentecostalism and some pentecostal preachers invokes the urgent need for a deep reflection and soul-searching on the seriously outmoded patriarchal disposition of Nigerians who are often quick to ascribe despotic powers to leaders without instituting the necessary checks and balances that ensure equity in civil society. There is also need for a deeper understanding of the Bible and its message of salvation which appears to have been amply lost on some of today's modern day prosperity-preaching Nigerian pastors and their congregation that does not see the merit of sousing aplenty in the fundamental teachings of the Bible but rather receive eagerly with both hands every wind of doctrine and interpretations that come their way. The sad truth is, most of them simply lack the biblical knowledge and understanding which is not attained in the halls of theology schools but by constantly communing with the Holy Spirit and seeking its guidance and wisdom. Regrettably, this is no longer possible for some Nigerian preachers as the spirit has since departed their shores leading them to improvise relying on their academic knowledge of the Bible.
No matter the spin, the sugar-coating and interpretations, Pastor Oyedepo's behavior was simply inappropriate, a clear affront on Christianity and all that it stands for. In light of this revelation, the pastor should admit his lapse in judgment and make appropriate amends. And such will not diminish him in any way; rather, it will affirm his strong sense of leadership and purpose earning him applause in civilized circles. When the American preacher, Rev. Jimmy Swaggart frolicked with a prostitute in 1988 and was exposed, he came outright without mincing words and uttered in public the now famous sentence, “I Have Sinned.” I believe it would not be far-fetched to state that such public declaration of imperfection will never be associated with a Nigerian leader who does not believe in his fallibility. It depresses me to state that African leaders be it in politics or religion are vastly clueless of the concept of leadership and what it means to be a leader; the evidence is clear in the emphatic mess called Nigeria and in the abundant confusion attending Christendom of the Nigerian variety. Leadership means servitude, consultation, compassion, vision and principle, in plain terms, it means rolling it up and getting dirty. Nigerian religious and political leaders, however, have redefined the entire concept to appropriate themselves a tin-god status, untouchable and incorrigible. A man who cannot be corrected no matter the level of education or achievements is a man doomed. Our elders say, “a fly without an adviser follows the corpse to the grave.”
And there are those Nigerian preachers that cannot decide if their calling is to serve God or to be in politics. I am one of the proponents of Christians getting involved in politics, it is good for our country that God-fearing men and women are in positions of leadership and authority to lead the country aright. But when a man (or woman) is called by God and anointed to be His servant on earth, that man must consecrate every ounce of energy in fulfilling this mandate. In my humble opinion, there is no higher calling than to serve the Almighty God on earth in the capacity of the priesthood. Yet some famous Nigerian preachers take this divine responsibility with levity, ever so cavalierly calling into question their claims of divine calling.
In tamed societies like Canada, United States, UK and others, Oyedepo's impropriety would be a basis for arrest and prosecution for assault and abuse of a child leading to an urgent review of activities of churches and their proprietors. The sheer complicity of the Nigerian populace and congregation in condoning this perfidy or aiding and abetting it at the very least remains a source of grave concern and underscores the inherent attitudinal flaws and fault line of a society so fascinated with the concept of 'bigman-ism”. At the instance of the assault, there were loud cheers and spontaneous shouts of Hallelujah when the congregation should have been remorseful at this undesirable treatment of a girl. The video revealed that even the men who stood behind the pastor did nothing to intervene since the victim was a non-entity and a persona non grata. There is certainly an aberration in the rapacious philosophy that children can be used and manipulated to achieve fame and notoriety; when this happens, it is often an indication of spiritual paucity and the dearth of substance.
Dr. Alalibo is an American educated political scientist, professor and a frequent commentator on this site. He is author of three books, co-author of one and several scholarly publications.