For declaring, the other day, that a more fruitful battle against corruption must begin from the churches or different houses of God, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has officially extended the searchlight on corruption into the inner sanctuaries of spirituality. Osinbajo, who did not mince words about his convictions over the anti-corruption crusade, said religious leaders “need to talk far more about honesty in the same way we talk about giving,” and must brace up to confront members who are living above their means. He enjoined leaders to expose, ostracize and reject members, who are perceived to be unduly or unjustifiably affluent.By his pronouncement on that auspicious Father’s Day service at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, Osinbajo has once again demonstrated courage, sincerity and candour in the ongoing fight against corruption. Unperturbed by the many criticisms that would greet his assertion, Osinbajo seemed to have touched a raw nerve in the social fibre. Being himself a pastor of a very large church organisation, and therefore an actor in that constituency, the Acting President must have been speaking from informed position.
In recent times, religious leaders have deviated from their function of being mediators between man and God, custodian of moral values and moulders of character and conduct. Perhaps, reliving in a most brash fashion the thesis of early 20th century German sociologist, Max Weber, whose work drew a correlation between capitalism and predestination, many religious leaders have become incurable wealth seekers. In place of the difficult but rewarding role of shepherds, they have become imperfect imitations of wealthy entertainers, motivation speakers and celebrity pseudo-economists.
It is common place to listen to religious leaders telling their congregation about how ‘craftily’ they were able to appropriate wealth from perceived unbelievers; or teaching their flock about how to smartly make millions without stress. Ignoring the message of repentance, forgiveness and togetherness, others have made the enforcement of giving and tithe offerings their only message of salvation. Still, in a non-productive economy in recession, some popular religious leaders flaunt their wealth so obscenely that they are a scandal even to irreligious minds.
This trend is not applicable only to Christian religious leaders. Even Imams and priests in traditional religions are complicit in this contagious chain of corruption. Like their Christian counterparts, some clerics of other religions have found in influentially corrupt persons an avenue to become wealthy, even as they take refuge in harmful secular ideologies to make sense of their moral doctrines.
If the personal development and empowerment teachings of religious leaders follow the same principles which the secular world has also pursued with woeful results; if the principles of their Scriptures, be it the Holy Quran or the Holy Bible, have been interpreted along neo-liberalist models of development, how then can corruption be addressed in a non-productive economy in recession?
Experience has shown that at the pinnacle of wealth-power, where only a few congregate, erstwhile strange bedfellows speak the same language and understand themselves. At this apex of the economic pyramid, where wealthy sportsmen, business magnates, unjustifiably wealthy politicians, affluent showbiz personalities and persons of means find common kinship, many church leaders have put their moral function on hold to frantically seek relevance amongst the wealthy.
Although congregations draw inspirations of basic survival from the lives of their pastors, the naïve and impressionable should not be misled to wallow in the Weberian dictum that one’s material prosperity on earth is a determinant of one’s state in the Hereafter. Whilst individuals’ survival skills differ according to their environment-induced peculiarities and endowment, pastors and other religious leaders must understand the commonness of humanity and the need to make the human person the best he or she can be.
Any preachment celebrating or promoting the flaunting of affluence and wealth as a glory of God, but denying equitable and justiciable distribution of resources, and also remaining blind to, and not giving equal attention to the plight of the needy and oppressed, is not only hypocritical, but also a megaphone of corruption. Equally hypocritical is the dubious silence that comes from association with corrupt wealth.
In truth, therefore, as the Acting president suggested, corruption thrives in the silence of men of God. If religious leaders would lead their flock beyond the ritual of selfish prayer sessions and routine scripture recitals, to follow the enviable canons of exemplary leadership, holiness, honesty, integrity, justice, fellow-feeling, and speaking truth to power, they would make their faith more actionable and effective to social engagement. If they would tone down on their material craving and needless attempt to be associated with corrupt wealth, they would have the moral courage to speak out without qualms.
In this way, they would, as this newspaper once stated, be able to fill the vacuum created by a national patrimony of moral cowardice and lethargy in the nation’s fight against corruption.