The Yoruba Obas (kings), the gods…and Nigerian Pastors

Someone linked to this article through Facebook about wealth, power and religion in Nigeria.  It focuses on a certain controversial event starring one of Nigeria’s mega-pastors, but it looks beyond him specifically to the general issue of the power wielded by many of Nigeria’s pastors.

I would here like to offer a few views that first occurred to me about a year ago about the way many “successful” pastors are regarded in Nigeria.

Like many of the Nigerian “super-pastors”, I am from the Yoruba tribe, one of the 3 major people groups in Nigeria.  I have lived most of my life in the West, so my understanding of Yoruba tradition is not particularly deep. However, one thing I am aware of is that before the widespread advent of Christianity, the Yorubas maintained a tradition of Obas, or kings, who would reign over different regions.  This tradition still continues, but because it was traditionally associated with many fetish practices, it has largely been watered down, I believe. (I know that there is still an Oba of Benin – a title that is still synonymous with deeply occultic practices).  I’m not very aware of tribal customs within the other people groups of Nigeria, but someone can tell if they are very different…

Now the point I am making here is that these Obas were not only venerated as kings, but were actually worshipped as gods. They received constant, lavish, elaborate and unqualified praise from their people. The worship they received even extended to human sacrifice.  They wielded absolute power. Their word was absolute law. Like most kings all over the world, they lived in sumptuous splendour, even while their people lived in poverty right around them.

I’m sure the point I’m making must be very obvious.  This is exactly the same way these Nigerian Pastors are treated.  Their word is treated as law.  They wield absolute power over their subjects – sorry, congregants. It is as if the old attitude to Obas has just been plucked up and imported intact into the church. Human sacrifice is not something I have heard of, but from what I have seen, I frankly do not believe that it is impossible.  That is, I don’t think anyone would be tied to an altar and publicly sacrificed in the middle of a church with a large ceremonial knife.  However, it is not altogether impossible to believe that someone might be “removed” for daring to challenge the views of the pastor-god, or that someone’s life might be considered expendable…

We Nigerians love to boast about the fact that in Nigeria we “respect our elders”. I of course agree that that is a good thing.  However, I can’t help feeling that this Oba thing is where the respect for elders comes from, so ultimately, if you dig back far enough, it is clear that it is not an altogether good or positive thing.

I have been in churches before where the constant mantra is “So-and-so says this”….”So-and-so says that”. While I believe that in church, our constant focus should be on what God says, or what the Bible says, this has turned out to be a very naïve way of thinking. I have sometimes quietly asked myself – “So, is “So-and-so” God?”  The clear answer to this, to all extents and purposes, is (of course) a resounding “Yes!” – that is, while I know that no-one of course is God except God and God alone, no-one else seems to appreciate this, and in many churches, some pastors are treated as if they actually are gods – as if they created us, as if they died for us, as if their blood has any power of atonement, as if they are immortal, or omnipresent.  So many times, the teachings of these pastors quite blatantly contradict the clear message and doctrine of the Bible.  You can guess which views “win” and are adopted and embraced by the congregation, time after time: “Our pastor says this…our pastor says that.”  It is as if no-one actually bothers to read the Bible, or to understand that the word of God must come above the word of every other person, no matter how excellent. It is as if people believe that “If Pastor X says it, then that must define the truth”, as if Pastor X has the power within himself (or herself!  But it does tend to be men who attain this cult status) to define truth.

This is not good.  This has to change.

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