The Revd Oghenekaro Moses Ogbinaka, Ph.D
Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos
Member of Faculty, Lagos Anglican Seminary, Lagos
We are in a world where many people, experts, and non-experts, feel democracy, liberalism/liberalisation and capitalism are the best forms of political and social value for all human societies. This informs why our world is permeated with constitutional democracies, free market economies, and globalisation. The effect of all this in Nigeria and Africa is reflected in the failures of companies, unemployment, migration of skilled labour and African youths to Western and Asian countries, insecurity, dependence on others – both states and individuals – for existence, failures in families, crime and violence, corruption, etc. Africa can be said to be experiencing the Hobbesian state of nature.
From where can the leadership of the Church get help out of this gory situation? The Church has traditionally been a place of refuge for communities and individuals. In times of war people run to Church buildings and premises. The Church is therefore seen as a mountain and cave for protection. The towers of churches were places people converge when there was the threat of an earthquake.
Nigeria is currently undergoing a very challenging period. We are not here talking about, or simply limited to the oncoming elections; but also, the expectations of our people in the post-electoral period. This expectation is brought about by the past pains citizens have experienced, and the current pains they are undergoing. We all expect God to send us a Moses who will lead us out of Egypt.
What is socio-political? The word ‘socio’ is derived from “social.” It refers to that which is human or related to human beings. This means it covers a broad range of human activities such as the economy, politics, religion, psychology, and sociology of man. The “social” is often intricately intertwined with the religious and cultural experiences of man. According to the Collins Concise English Dictionary, “socio-“ combining form, denotes “social or society” Hence “socio-political” is an adjective that means “of or involving both political and social factors.” Socio-political is therefore used to describe the differences between groups of people relating to their political beliefs, economic experiences, social class, etc.
In many ways, the political is always related to the social. A few scholars prefer to use the term political economy since they believe that both are inseparable. Some use a broader term, “socio-political” because they feel that culture, religion, society, etc. cannot be extricated from all forms of political or economic analysis and experiences. Happenings in the political space affect the Church in many ways. Not necessarily fiscally but sociologically – family, group relations, security and safety of communities, environment, etc.
Given this thinking and logic, it is myopic for anyone to argue that the Church and its leadership should be isolated from the political and social happenings of their society. There are many forms of political participation. The priest may not be a card-carrying politician. But he must be someone whose epistemic dispositions to the socio-political, especially as it affects his flock, is validly situated. He can only carry out the socio-political burden of his flock if he could remove a received and restrictive theology, and place it in a space of a more accommodating, contemporary, and socio-relevant theology.
Dr Jaci Maraschin (1984, 66), an Episcopal Priest from Sao Paulo, Brazil writes, “An ‘indigenous’ church also develops the concept of an ‘indigenous’ pastoral ministry. Understanding this pastoral ministry there is, naturally, a pastoral theology,” and he goes to explicate this point that:
The indigenous church has to liberate theology from the bondage of academic and scholastic tradition in order to leave the way open to creativity. This sense of freedom has been responsible, now, for the creation of new theological movements in the Third World countries, namely the theology of liberation. However, the real theology of liberation enterprise is not the academic book now translated into First World countries, but the great number of letters, church proclamations on social and political issues, poems, songs, small Bible studies, and so on. …
One of the marks of the “indigenous” church is the liberty it has for creating new patterns of theological expression, related to the question our people are asking in our day.
The marks of an “indigenous” church are always the marks of the commitments of the local Christians to the problems of their own people. The “indigenous” church is a church “indigenous”, a church-related deeply to the needs of the place where it lives. This is why the “indigenous” church has to learn anew the reading of the Holy Scriptures. It has to recreate liturgy, discover its own pastoral ministry, and develop its own theology (Jaci Maraschin 1984, 69).
Every church has its own peculiar existential challenges that the clergy must not evade. In Nigeria today, we have challenges of poverty, insecurity – killings and invasion, increasing debt, unemployment, youth migration to Europe to undertake working conditions that are akin to modern slavery, failing school system, drug abuse, prostitution, etc. All are consequences of chains of cause and effect. One problem creates many others as their consequences. The church must not leave all this to the government. The question to be answered is how can, and should the church intervene?
THE SOCIO-POLITCAL ROLES OF THE CLERGYMAN
Speaking Truth to Power: An immediate answer is that the church should not occupy the space of an opposition party. The church should rather be clear and more explicit in its socio-political agenda. A good way of doing this, for success to the achieved, is by giving its role a scriptural foundation that is centred on Jesus Christ’s mission on earth. “And He stood up to read, and there was given to Him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to claim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4: 16-19).
The authorities were never comfortable with the ministry of Jesus. It was the same with the early Church. The religious class was united with the political class in not only their suspicion of Christianity but also in the persecution of the early fathers of our faith. Christ was often asked implicative questions such as if it was right to pay tax to the Roman authority. John the Baptist was beheaded for his biblical-moral observations to which Herod took exception. Today, more than anywhere, our churches are becoming havens of comfort for the political class; even in the face of our members’ dissatisfaction with the economy, politics, and other socio-political structures. “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3; Acts 2:37). Will today’s Herod be troubled when he hears our sermon or when he meets Jesus Christ?
Social and Political Education: The church, at the least, can teach its members what good governance is. It has a responsibility to offer political education to Christians. This is to enable them to make wise political decisions and to properly appraise the policies of the government. The church could set up bodies that would study the socioeconomic decisions and policies of the government in order to proffer better alternatives. The church has a right to preach against corruption and other societal vices bedevilling our society. Adrian Chatfield (2001:52) writing on the Homilies stated that: “The Homilies were written in the 16th century as an attempt to get the Church of England to improve its teaching. The quality of education of the preachers of the day, mostly clergy, was not all it might be. And sometimes preachers were more interested in using the pulpit for public argument than for presenting the Gospel. This was so much a problem at the beginning of Elizabeth 1 reign that she forbade all preaching for a while, requiring all to use Homilies already printed.”
In today’s Church of Nigeria setting, we can take our annual Bible Study Outline to be a modern version of such printed Homilies. Bible Study series of the Church of Nigeria, such as that of 2017, that dealt with such TOPICS as “Healing of the Land” are quite instructive as examples of the best way to go. Such studies should not be a one-off studies.
THE CHALLENGES OF THE CLERGY
The challenge and task of the clergy within the context of this paper are three-fold thus:
1 the challenge of receiving the right socio-political education; and
2 the challenge of offering the right socio-political education to the people; and
3 the challenge of a right analysis of the society’s socio-political reality
As we have earlier pointed out, the terrain of social, economic, and political analysis is not an easy surface to work and walk upon in Nigeria. The ethno-religious complexities of Nigeria make this even much more problematic. The clergy must not be seen to be racially or tribally biased. It must not be seen to favour one economic sector or class over the other in society. For example, questions such as the introduction of fees in public schools are not likely to enjoy a united or common consensus even among the rank of clergymen. We may add issues such as a tax increment, cross-border settlement, use of merit in admission and employment in Nigeria, population control, resource control, federalisation, fiscal independence of local government from the corrupt grips of Governors, etc. In spite of these challenges, a Church that is guided by Holy Spirit and directed by godly reasoning should be able to stand as the lighthouse of Nigeria. This way, citizens would receive the socio-political views of the church as the right positions to guide their political decisions and choices.
The clergy’s training right from our theological colleges and seminaries must include courses such as INTRODUCTION TO NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION. Knowledge is power. Our knowledge of the Constitution of Nigeria should not be one that is acquired from the pages of newspapers, social media, and group discussions. Our congregation should know their civic obligations and fundamental rights as citizens. How can one explain a democracy where freedom of worship is impeded in some sections of Nigeria in spite of a clear constitutional empowerment of citizens on this? How do we explain the failure of the government to protect the lives and property of citizens? How do we explain the audacious possession of arms and ammunition by non-state players? These questions can only be properly answered if the Church’s leadership is rightly educated in order to issue (i.e. put forward) socio-political knowledge-based analysis and judgment. This is not to say that engaging in the reading of newspapers, following social media, and group discussions is fruitless. Without contradiction, reading newspapers and magazines and following on-goings in social media should be consequential to a thorough study and understanding of the socio-political reality of our society by the clergy.
THE CHURCH’S FORAY INTO THE SOCIO-POLITICAL IN NIGERIA
Presentations such as this may give the impression that the Church is new in the space of the socio-political. In Nigeria, there are examples of individuals and religious organisations that are, or have become prominent socio-political influencers. Here, we recall the various Presidential Addresses by our Bishops at our annual Synod Sessions. For example, the 2004 - Second Session of the Second Synod of the Diocese of Lagos West had the theme: “The Church in the Society.” Let us read an extract from Bishop Peter A. Adebiyi’s (2004:32-33) charge:
However, when you pursue a goat to the wall, it will become frustrated and when it has no means of escape, the goat can face the pursuer and bite.
I am not a prophet of doom but I am an oracle of God. I read so much and I gather information from the media and from thousands of our members who are badly affected by the harsh economic situations. All of us can see with our eyes millions of graduates who have no work. For the first time in the history of our country, the Police contemplated embarking on strike action; the Army that had not gone on strike is grudgingly keeping faith with the Nation. Look at the following:
A Students are not happy
B Graduates are without work
C The Police are not satisfied
D The young members of the force are grumbling
E The university teachers are agitating
F Social amenities have broken down in most states – no water, no electricity
G The roads are not adequately maintained. There are thousands of villages where you cannot reach with vehicles
H The few Naira in the hands of the people are almost worthless because of inflation
I Hunger is conspicuously written on the faces of almost 80% of the Nigerian population.
Now, what has changed socio-politically in Nigeria since 2004? Look at a brief account of Bishop Adebiyi’s successor in his Presidential Address of May 2019 - the 2nd Session of the 7th Synod. For economy of space and time, we shall take the subheadings and a few sentences that follow them as observed by Bishop James Odedeji (2019:34-35)
1 Security: It is becoming an understatement to say that our country is insecure. The Boko Haram insurgency in the North East is still with us! The Fulani Herders and Farmers clashes in the Middle Belt and other areas still persist
2 The economy: Nigerian economy is still sick and if necessary measures are not taken, we might still experience another round of recession, God forbid!
3 Transportation: There is no doubt that Nigeria is witnessing a transformation in the transport sector. Construction sites are all over Nigeria.
4 Education: The level of illiteracy in Nigeria is still very high. The percentage of the yearly budget being allocated to the educational sector is such that nothing meaningful could be achieved in this sector.
5 Health: Not only that Nigerians no longer believe in our health facilities, including our teaching hospitals, but even the drivers of our economy will not risk being treated by our hospitals in Nigeria
6 Agriculture and Food Production: The recent report of the United Nations puts Nigeria's population at almost 201 million people. What this information translates to is the ability to feed ourselves and avert famine. …Though, our Government continues to deny the United Nations Report, one thing is clear; we are not making adequate preparations for any possible population explosion in the nearest future
The 2017 Bible Study Outline of the Church of Nigeria was an extensive study of the socio-political reality of the Christian using biblical examples and experiences in interfacing the Nigerian reality. It was titled “I Will Heal Their Land.” I suggest that we all return to this wonderful Christian literature regularly. I also suggest that this and other proclamations made by our Presidents/Bishops at various Synods across Nigeria be collated and made Christian socio-political manuals.
Be that as it may, our intention in this section of the paper is to establish the point that the foray into the socio-political by the Church is not novel. The Church has a right to legitimately be part of this space. The reality is that there are countries with Christian Political Parties. In Nigeria today, whereas the Muslims are doing everything to have a firm grip on some northern states, even in States where Christians are in majority. Sadly, we in the South think ours should be “anything go!” I think we should draw some socio-political boundaries. Our recent history should remind us of how someone who was an “Engineer” in Lagos State and was given a key Ministry such as Works, appeared as “Ogbeni” in Osun State; as a Governor; and commenced a process of an Islamic agenda in that State.
My immediate recommendation here is that the Church of Nigeria should have a bank or repository of Presidential Charges of all Bishops that were delivered in the past. I believe a lot can be gleaned and gained from these documents that will help us fashion our Christian socio-political framework and agenda. The Church should initiate a body of eminent scholars and clergymen to be the arrowhead to fashion and drive a Christian socio-political goal. It may come in the form of an NGO that will provide a common umbrella for all Christians - socially, economically, and politically. Did we all not wake up sometime in March 2023 when The Redeemed Christian Church of God set up a political directorate with the explanation that “it will help coordinate the engagement of its members who are willing to be involved in politics as well mobilise support for them when required.” (Premium Times, March 11, 2022). This is the time for the Church to realise that we are in a democracy. We should engage in “self-advice” and not wait for deceivers looking for our members’ votes to be our political advisers and compass. They are Yoruba, Igbo, Isoko, etc. people in the South, but would suddenly flag their religion in the North as vote-catching devices.
PROTECTING THE CHURCH’S SOCIO-POLITICAL SPACE
Today, the church seems to treat its socio-political space with levity. The platform of the church ought to be well-guarded and sacred. Daily, the clergy seems to be at the forefront of those cheapening the “microphone, lectern and podium.” You only need to be at a service where very important persons (VIPs) are in attendance. Even when the VIPs do not desire to be noticed or recognised, we unduly pressurise ourselves to call on them to “say something to their people.” We fail to recognise that everybody in the church building is a “worshipper.” Worshippers seize to be “the people of politicians” and “the people of highly placed persons” once they are under the clergy in the House of God. Once the clergy releases his microphone to the non-sacerdotal, they have given the holders the “power of the microphone” and they –the holders - may put this sacred object of worship into profanity.
We should draw an example from the recent burial of the Queen of England. Throughout the proceedings at the Church’s sanctuary, no “important person” in spite of the multitude of eminent world personalities who attended the funeral, was called upon to “say something.” Only the Prime Minister of Britain held a microphone in the Church. She read one of the Bible Lessons and no more. We must not bring those who are outside the order of service to have any roles in our worship programmes – weddings, burials, birthdays, etc. It is exactly to this socio-political audience Jesus Christ was speaking when He proclaimed that the House of His Father is not the house of thieves!
Accordingly, J.B Phillips (1960:109-110) in his God Our Contemporary, writes:
Again, it is, alas, still possible for otherwise intelligent people to jeer at Christianity as a “pie-in-the-sky” religion that has little or no contact with day-to-day life. But could anything be more devastatingly practical than the way of living outlined by Jesus, and followed since by all kinds and conditions of people? Could sane people really study the records of such men as Paul and Luke, and say that theirs was an escapist religion? Or, for that matter, could anyone read of what Christians are doing today to combat fear, ignorance, and disease in the dark places of the earth, and still say that a Faith that impels them to do such thing is either a drug to their sensibilities or a means of escape?
… While it is true that Jesus offered no resistance to physical attacks against himself, his love did not prevent him from using the most aggressive and blistering invective against those who thought they held a “corner” in religion. For all his loving kindness, he did not hesitate to say that a man who led a child astray would be better off dead. He roundly declared that such notorious evil cities as Sodom and Gomorrah would fare better in the judgment than towns that rejected the living Truth when it was before their eyes. He was no verbal sentimentalist; he was not moved to violent physical action by the combination of irrelevance and black-marketeering which was corrupting what was meant to be the centre of worship – the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus we must not oversimplify the issue and say that in a given situation the attitude of Christian love must always be that of meek acceptance and patient smile.
J.B. Philip (1960:111) flags a major fear that the clergyman must face in today’s socio-political existential reality. “Now here we strike one of the really fundamental problems of the way of love, a problem of which not every clergyman and ministers appear to be aware. It is a fine and moving thing that advocate the way of patient love from the pulpit on Sunday, but it is quite a different thing to apply that love in the complex situations which arise every day in the shop, the office, the garage, the workshop, the laboratory and the factory.”
No doubt there is the problem of how the clergy can find a space to give direction to the people without being duly distracted from the more serious sacerdotal assignments of ministry. There is a need to take direction from the authorities in carrying out this task. Why should you be the political compass of your parishioners when your Diocesan is politically neutral? As has been earlier argued, having a study outline that is biblically guided is suggested as a way out of this challenge. There is good ground for such caution if the red line must not be crossed.
Michael Marshal (1988:71), in Church at the Crossroads: Lambeth 1988, provides us a good guide why fathers of the Church of Nigeria should provide a well-thought-out, well-reasoned, and Holy Spirit-filled roadmap for the Church’s socio-political role in Nigeria. Our recent political experience in Nigeria of the senseless killings and persecution of Christians and their communities in Southern Kaduna especially, the promotion of an agenda of Islamising Nigeria, and the recent Muslim-Muslim ticket hoisted upon an already existing and entirely Muslim security architecture of the Federal Republic of Nigeria require painstaking analysis and strategizing, rather than a hasty reaction from every clergyman as we seem to have today. We may just sit back, watch and pray! Let us not use this to fall into the error of sheep without shepherds.
Anglicanism has rightly been proud of its comprehensiveness, and its commitment to pluralism. Yet will it prove to be after all just a massive, failed experiment? It would seem that some of those free-range theological and doctrinal chickens so generously let loose throughout Anglican history are now coming home to roost – with the address of Lambeth ’88 firmly attached to them. History, in general, would suggest (and post-Vatican II histories in particular would loudly proclaim) that it is when you take off the lid of authoritarianism from the kettle of church order that everyone rapidly vaporizes into becoming his own Pope. Anarchy is not the disappearance of authority but rather the fragmentation of rival and competing authorities. Where you have been compelled to believe everything, the danger will always be not that you revert simply to believing nothing but that on the contrary you compulsively rush out and believe anything. Revolutions seldom throw off authoritarianism; it always issues in a new tyranny, often the most satanic of all – authoritarianism dressed in the clothes of liberalism. You seldom substitute open-mindedness for authoritarianism. The task is more demanding. You have to find a good doctrinal authority in place of a bad one. It will not be sufficient to say that Anglicanism exists for the sake of what it is not.
Consequently, planning is required, if the Church of Nigeria is to be united to speak one socio-political language. This must issue from the authority of the body of Bishops.
The last point one must establish is the call to keep the sheep under the fold of a “true shepherd.” The population of post-1999 children is on the rise every day, just as the population of pre-1999 children is decreasing. For most of us, our children only know of military rule as a historical topic. The civilian rule in Nigeria is about 24 years old. Thus, we have a huge and growing generation of youth to whom PVCs make a huge meaning in their socio-political lives. Is the Anglican Church interfacing with this population fully?
In their pre-primary and secondary stage, they are available to us for shepherding. From one’s personal experience as one who is working in a university, I can testify that their Anglicanism in the University and their post-University life is purely a matter of luck. In the University where I have lectured over the years, under the guise of INTERDENOMINATIONAL SERVICE, the LAMP (Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians) group of churches usually headed by the Anglicans have lost out in the Chapel’s leadership that is often so audacious enough to reject priests posted by Bishops - to the Chapel of Light in the University of Lagos. Today, our youth leave our homes as Anglicans; but are faced with a new Church where women seat in upper chancels of our University’s Chapels, and administer communion; where vestments are jettisoned, where Holy Communion is called “Believers Communion,” no Cross is required on the Altar, and the idea of liturgical colours is gone for good. Undergraduates who are made to undergo such practices for 4 to 5 years of their study life in the University must definitely find a way to challenge existing Anglican values and practices, or alternatively, make their exit from the doors of our Church.
The time has come for the Anglican Church (like the Roman Catholics) to be courageous enough to demand for a pure and distinctive Anglican section in the Chapels of all higher institutions in Nigeria. We must recall that historically, Pastor William Kumuyi was an Anglican and a lecturer at the University of Lagos. Pastor D. K. Olukoya of Mountain of Fire Ministry was also a lecturer at the University of Lagos. The same is true of Pastor Enoch Adeboye. Consequently, to expose our children to persons with doctrines that are clearly antithetical to Anglicanism is surely a grave error of judgment and strategy. We owe our children a duty of teaching the right socio-political values erected on sound and well-thought out Christian verity. This is only possible when we have them as our disciples without breaks and gaps, without being adulterated with strange Christian practices. The corps of people who constitute our educated and elite future are our undergraduates. The Church must not allow them to stray away from her spiritual canopy.
Adebiyi, Peter A, Presidential Address- Delivered at the Second Session of the Second Synod of the Diocese of Lagos West, 13 May 2004
Chatfield, Adrain, Something in Common: An introduction to the Principles and Practices of Worldwide Anglicanism (Nottingham: St John’s Extension Studies, 1998).
Church of Nigeria, Diocese of Lagos West, “I Will Heal Their Land”, 2017 Bible Studies Outline
Maraschin, Jaci, “The Church Must Be Reborn in Each Culture of Its Existence.” In Gerald Charles Davis, Setting Free the Ministry of the People of God (Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, 1984).
Marshall, Michael, Lambeth 1988: Church at the Crossroad (London: Collins Liturgical Publications, 1988).
Odedeji, James Olusola, Presidential Address- Delivered at the Second Session of the Seventh Synod of the Diocese of Lagos West, 17 May 2019
Phillips, J. B., God Our Contemporary (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1960)
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