THERE has been so much fuss for some time now over the fact that some pastors have grown wealthy enough to acquire or own private jets. To the critics, this is grossly abominable, shamelessly immoral and most probably, culpably criminal. However, some of us who disagree with this overriding condemnation are regarded as gullible followers incapable of discerning the deceptive scheming of these charismatic preachers. Many of us ignore such criticism because they lack deep thought and smirk of ignorance. My attempt here is to fill up some half-truths and challenge all to fairer judgment and higher perspectives.
Some of us are glad today not just for the collapse of catholic monopoly over the Christian Faith but also for the revolutionary actions of both King James of England and Father Martin Luther. Today, the Bible is an open book for all to study and get revelation of divine truth. Anyone who perceives a divine call and inspiration is at liberty to step out into ministry. This is what these pastors and preachers did. They never forced people to attend their churches. Neither do they clearly compel people to part with their money. They preach and teach to the extent of their own revelations. People follow to the extent of their convictions and confidence in them as anointed servants of God. Faith is not an entirely public affair. It is a private thing. You cannot legislate to others what they should believe and do just because of the possibility of fakes.
According to the critics, the pastor should not be associated with wealth – no expensive shoes, suits, house, cars and, now the height of all opulence, private jets. Maybe you have a point. So, who is going to determine the limit of wealth a pastor is permitted to own, accept or enjoy. And on what basis do you compute that bar for different pastors in different places, doing different work and running with different visions. We will not wait for your opinion on this. You have not the yardstick. A workman, Jesus says, is worthy of his wages. The value of a service dictates the returns it brings and the people served are in the best position to veto it. This is simple market economics but it agrees with Jesus’ concept. The work of ministry is not business but it is work and so an activity that can be valued and appreciated. Bill Clinton is also not in business but when he speaks he attracts honorarium in the million dollar range. If the owner or CEO of Chevron Oil has a right to own a jet just because what he does passes for work, why not the pastor? In my perception, the pastor’s service is more valuable than energy derivable from crude oil. It is my opinion. If those who saw value in Michael Jackson’s music responded to have made him rich, you really think it stupid of those who see value in the pastor’s work?
Moreover, those who think they know so much about the Word of God and how to preach and live it better than the pastors and their current members ought to start a church and begin to preach their higher version of the truth. And then, be an example of the truth you are so impassioned to preach. Be a poor but humble pastor who refuses gifts from people just because of a misguided perception of people who may just not know enough nor care the least about your person or cause. When you have succeeded in this move, we will follow you. Orthodox Christianity emphasized keeping the pastor humble by making him poor. If it works so well for the pastor, then let us make everyone else humble by keeping us all poor. Such a disposition is not of God for God can make a humble man wealthy and a wealthy man humble, pastor or not.
A man of God will do what he is called to do. You cannot compel every man of God to fight against the government, or even at that, to do so the same way. We cannot kill all pastors because they do not criticize government. Some pastors can be friendly or diplomatic towards those in government. Others may be clearly antagonistic and God will still be working with them all. However, none of them is allowed to play games with privileges just to enrich themselves. None is allowed to collude with looters and justify evil just for filthy lucre. Any day you have good reason to believe that has happened, condemn the specific case. But you cannot give a blanket cover of condemnation for all pastors who tolerate or ignore the activities of government people and concentrate on their work. Every man should be allowed to choose his place and his time. Or at least, let us allow God rather than some man to choose for all pastors/preachers. Let us condemn what is wrong and when the evidence exists, nail the specific culprit.
Only a man who does not think far would believe that a preacher buys a jet just for the fun of it. These ministries are large and the worldwide itinerary of these pastors or ministers require such facility. No one can question that. No one will buy a jet just to admire it. These jets are functional assets and any organization has a right to decide what asset to own for its activities, or the activities of its functionaries. If they can afford it, an organization, Christian or business has a right to decide what it should do with its money. Churches owning jets have got little to do with why Nigeria as a nation is where it is.
Somehow we justify the criticism of jet-owning ministries on the ground of the prevailing or pervasive poverty, joblessness and suffering of members and fellow citizens. If every time you have collected money to buy a car, you are sanctimonious about this erasing poverty angle, no one will be justified to own a car. There is always a poor mouth yet unfed to gulp you car-purchase fund. There is always some need still to be met. That is not the way to look at life. My point is, if you have a car, you are not much different from the man who has a jet. Both are luxuries in a world of hungry people, jobless people and suffering people. But the way out is certainly not to make us all hungry, jobless and suffering just to prove how much we care. A man flying a jet around may eventually be contributing more towards solving the problems than so many holier-than-thou critics. Just like you could do so much and yet still drive your car. We leave that to you.
I have said enough. If Jesus were here in this world today, I will contribute to buy him a jet. And he definitely may need it. If Jesus at some point needed and used a donkey, ships and resources supplied by notable women in his day to do ministry, he definitely could get to the point where he could do with a jet today. I mean, knowing Him as I do now, if Jesus had said he only needed the jet just to cruise around sometime, to relax and enjoy life, I would double that contribution. Do you know many South Africans could do almost as much for Nelson Mandela? Anyway, when we buy our pastors jet, it is Jesus we are buying it for because they do his work. And yet we are happy that being human like us, they also deserve to have fun and enjoy life like us all.
Ogedengbe is a freelance writer and lives in Ikeja, Lagos,
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