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Primate, check here too

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Tunji Ajibade

The Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, The Most Revd Henry Ndukuba, writes a letter to his fellow preachers in England. In it he reiterates what the holy book he uses says, adding that such is what preachers of the faith out there should be doing. Among other things, the Primate stated his wish that the preachers would devote their energy to the “re-evangelisation” of the people of their nation. Of all that the Primate wrote, that part stood out for me.

Primate, in Nigeria many followers and preachers of your faith have forgotten about evangelisation that you refer to and regarding which the holy book they use gives them a command. Some devote energy to staging street protests rather than taking the message to the streets. They treat symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. Two major factors are responsible, Primate. One, no one reminds them of the examples in the holy book they use but which is what you have done regarding your fellow preachers in England. Two, when anyone reminds them rather than some who identify with the faith to assess what is said on its merit, they regard the person as an enemy.

Did I state that some attended to symptoms? It’s what has happened in the nation to which the Primate writes a letter. How that nation arrived at this point didn’t start today. It started over 200 years ago when ‘philosophies,’ ‘laws’ and practices different from the content of the holy book used by the faithful began to creep into the public comments and beliefs of preachers and followers. I once saw a picture of a preacher sitting among congregants in a church auditorium, drinking beer ostensibly to celebrate their nation’s beer festival. These things have caught everyone in a web and they can’t turn back. The beginning of the same pattern is noticeable in Nigeria and it’s what I call the attention of the Primate and other preachers to.

Lack of devotion to evangelisation that the Primate frowns at may lead to other complications. When a mission doesn’t set targets for its preachers regarding evangelisation, which some missions actually set, those preachers will lose the focus and passion to win over people who don’t behave fine. Now, Primate knows there’s a large body of those who identify with the faith but their actions aren’t in line with the content of the holy book they use. That’s already a big challenge for the faith because the numbers in this category are huge. When observers see their unbecoming behaviour and hear their sometimes hate-filled utterances, they conclude that if this is what people who claim to have religion do then they don’t have reasons to belong.

As for preachers in particular, some harm the faith through their utterances and attitudes. I rate this a bigger threat in Nigeria. Why? If followers don’t behave fine but there are no preachers whose attitudes and utterances can correct them then the fate of the faith hangs in the balance. I state in private conversations that the faith isn’t growing as expected in a part of Nigeria, and I mean across ethnic and religious divides. If the attitude of some preachers remains the same it won’t, because some now see themselves as preachers to their tribes. The faith has become the identity of their tribe. Preachers openly express hatred for people of tribes and religion other than theirs. A message from a heart filled with hatred can’t be effective. Meanwhile, I imagine the Primate would say that preachers of the faith are to love and they’re sent to all tribes

Fighting for their tribes while demonising other tribes because of the criminality of a few, however, seems to have become the mission of many preachers in some parts of Nigeria. They forgot that Paul was raised when Peter was showing reluctance to take the message to people other than his own. Primate, I’m certain you would say to preachers that the message of your faith is for all tribes. You might add that being on the altar isn’t a licence for a preacher to become an activist for their tribe, and that actually it’s this message that other tribes accept that can make a preacher’s beleaguered tribe experience long-lasting peace. And as such evangelisation is the way to go.

I’ve been on the receiving end of what I state here, Primate. In the North, I visited a respected senior citizen and sat opposite her for discussion. I noticed she had invited some pastors for a different purpose. Some were seated, others were arriving. This particular preacher entered and greeted the senior citizen. He looks at me in my kaftan and cap – which generally make many Nigerians presume a person is a northerner and a Muslim – and walks past. Of course, resentment for northerners other than his tribe and faith propelled this. Resentment in a preacher. At the other end of the room this preacher loudly greeted others, “Good afternoon, Pastor…” and he shook hands. He returned and sat beside the table that was between me and the senior citizen, still pretending I wasn’t there. The senior citizen must have noticed this attitude but in her usual wise manner kept quiet. I thought such a meeting might be an opportunity for a preacher to make a new friend and casually evangelise; but this one didn’t have the mindset.

Primate, whatever makes some in your faith to hate others only they can justify it. But no one who expresses hate for fellow humans will tell me they have a religion and I’ll agree they do. My understanding is that preachers’ job is to win over all people. It was what the originator of the faith did, wasn’t it, Primate? Instead, many of your fellow preachers allow emotion about their tribes to get to them. With this kind of attitude among preachers, they’ll bring to a halt the spread of the faith, especially in the North of Nigeria. There’s this other curious phenomenon. A preacher of northern extraction stands on the altar and preaches against tribes other than his, saying they wouldn’t take over the land of his people. Is this the new message, Primate?

The originator of the faith didn’t spend his time defending his race. Rather, he went about spreading his message to all, doing good to everyone including the “Roman centurion.” Some preachers of northern extraction especially are losing sight of the message and the reason they’re commissioned. Primate, I imagine one reason Paul was commissioned was for him to use his high education to communicate the message to brilliant Greeks and others. As for preachers of northern extraction in Nigeria, they can use their knowledge of the culture and language to reach their neighbours. Some aren’t interested.

Hatred for those neighbours has become full-blown. The message of love is abandoned for the message of hate. Another issue related to this is how preachers say things that aren’t supported by the holy book they use. The originator of the faith said his mission was to win over those who weren’t behaving fine. He was accused of relating with people who didn’t behave fine; he gave his reasons and didn’t reject the accusations. Some preachers in Nigeria say no one should point at them regarding people who don’t behave fine. Primate, how would preachers who reason like this have a passion for evangelisation that you’re keen about? This is how it starts.

I’ve stated that no one blames anyone for the behaviour of anybody. However, if preachers publicly distance themselves from people they’re meant to win over, what then is their job? If wrong narratives promoted by some continue, Primate, they’ll destroy the faith in the hearts and eyes of many Nigerians. And what will be the outcome? The kind of situation you frown at in another nation – Church hierarchy propagating what you say the holy book disapproves of.

Some utterances and attitudes that preachers exhibit here are weeds that can choke the crop dedicated preachers plant. I urge all religious leaders who believe in what the Primate states in his letter to look inward and address utterances and conduct that shouldn’t be linked to preachers. Primate, you too should ensure what you advise others outside to devote their energy to is exactly what preachers under you are doing.

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