Unfortunately our religious leaders seem to be encouraging us to build on sand and not expect a building collapse
By Muyiwa Adetiba
The nation woke up to yet another church collapse in the country. This time in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State. The Cross River State Governor, Dr Ben Ayade was there with some of his aides when the unfortunate incidence happened. He was lucky to have escaped unhurt. Some of his aides and fellow worshipers were not. There were conflicting reports locally as to the dead and wounded—as if we can’t count anymore—but a CNN report gave the dead as a hundred people with several more injured.
The church is the last place anybody expects death—either from arson, bombs or natural causes. In fact, people have been known to flee to the church when threatened by physical or spiritual forces that seem beyond them. It is, in people’s consciousness, a place of sanctuary from whatever demons that chase them. While we might not be able to do anything about the spiritual aspect of it, the state must make sure that the church and its environs remain a place of sanctuary physically. Every death that occurs around the church must be thoroughly investigated and every culprit brought to book. Too many of our mythical institutions and values have been demystified and demeaned over the years. The church must not be added to the list.
The collapse of the church in Lagos generated an uproar of diplomatic proportions because many of the victims were international visitors who had come to the church for spiritual relief. The church was probably conscious of its international reputation as a place of spiritual fortress and the dollars that flow from such a reputation, when it started issuing statements that were downright ludicrous given the tragic circumstances. These statements hinted espionage, sabotage and spiritual attacks at various times. None of the statements to the best of my knowledge, admitted the tiniest possibility of a structural defect. Unfortunately, the pussyfooting attitude of the State has not helped matters. By now, through the application of science and diligence, we should have known exactly what caused the collapse of the building at the Synagogue Church of all Nations and taken steps to avoid a repeat.
I do not in any way discountenance spiritual intervention in the affairs of man. It is entirely possible that buildings can collapse even when everything seems perfect like the Titanic did. It is possible that the wrath of God can be visited on a building which has fraud and duplicity as part of its foundation. But that occurrence will be more of an exception than the rule otherwise many of the church buildings across the country and across denominations which are founded on the ego of the leaders and the exploitation of the congregation would have been collapsing like a pack of cards.
But our God is a patient God who allows, largely without interference, His laws of cause and effect, reaping and sowing, to rule the affairs of His creation. In other words, the law of nature says that if you fed badly in your youth, then you were likely to suffer bad health in old age. And if you built your house on sand— literally or figuratively—then it was likely to collapse in the presence of a strong wind. The miracle is when it does not and not the other way round. And miracles don’t happen every day contrary to what the organisers of revivals and conventions want us to believe.
Unfortunately our religious leaders seem to be encouraging us to build on sand and not expect a building collapse. They do that each time they hold services during the time of day when people should be gainfully employed. They do that when they emphasize payment of tithes and sewing of seeds as the key to wealth. They do that when they uphold the testimony of a person who gets a promotion he is not qualified for as a miracle that is worth celebrating. They do that when they pooh pooh the dignity of labour and showcase wealth however gotten as a sign of God’s favour. They do that each time they put miracles ahead of the teachings and admonitions of the Word. Those who brought the Bible to us did so along with schools and hospitals and promoted their belief in having a sound mind in a sound body.
They tried to build the temple of God on a solid foundation of knowledge and good health. We have taken the schools and hospitals away and replaced them with miracles. The result is manifest everywhere in the values and attitudes of our society which seem to disdain hard work and glorify wealth. The result is there to see in the stagnation of our industries, the shallowness of our enterprises and the sheer absence of any inventions of substance. We seem to prefer miracles to the use of our brains and hands and instant gratification to building an institution through block by diligent block.
A leading Pastor once told his congregation how he travelled over 200km on a reserve tank. It may well have happened. I don’t insinuate otherwise. But it is not something to encourage. Many gullible people are going to use this example to cover up their slovenly attitude and lack of preparedness. I know a lady who bought a tyre from a road side vulcaniser to make the fourth tyre of her car. She did not have a spare. When told she was playing a dangerous game she said she had prayed to God not to have a flat tyre and besides, God knew her financial situation. This was coming from a university graduate and a chartered accountant to boot.
Yet the churches can do more. Much more if they can just stop their, ‘my Mercedes is bigger than yours syndrome;’ if they can stop their private acquisition of wealth and property and concentrate on lifting up the poor, the widows and the challenged in their midst. Having the largest auditorium and the most glittering church when the least among you cannot afford a simple meal in a day is not God’s will. Feeding people with the word of God when you have not fed and clothed them is unfeeling and hard hearted. Besides, this kind of ‘opulence of the church and leanness of the masses’ was one of the causes of the Russian Revolution. May it not be one of the causes of ours.
Rather than seek esoteric reasons for the collapse of the churches, the most likely reason is that someone tried to cut corners by using inferior or insufficient materials in key places. That person may well be an important member of the church who has ‘prayed’ over it. He represents the larger Nigerian society that steals and prays not to be exposed. It is the duty of the State to find them out and mete justice to them. What is more important however, what is more worrisome, is the collapse of the spiritual house of God; the temple of God in each one of us. May God temper His justice with mercy.
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