“A clergyman is one who feels himself called upon to live without working at the expense of the rascals who work to live.” – Voltaire (1694 – 1778)
The above quote, even though it is from the 18th century, is even truer now than it was then. A report in the online edition of Forbes highlighted at least three Nigerian pastors who own private jets: Sam Adeyemi, Enoch Adeboye and David Oyedepo. The latter owns four jets, the last one bought in March at a cost of $30m. Buying a jet doesn’t end there. The maintenance of it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Where is this money coming from? The congregations of these Pastors bankroll their lifestyles through weekly or monthly tithes paid into church coffers, special offerings for special prayers and so on. The idea is that by giving these people your money, prosperity and breakthrough follow. This is the contract, and this is why a lot of Christians seem indifferent. After all, they weren’t forced to give, or so they think.
There is something about religous practice that bypasses rational thought and goes straight for the emotions. If this weren’t the case, how can we criticise our public officials for taking such obscene salaries and allowances, and then give these Men of God a free pass? They should be subject to the same condemnation, because it is essentially the same thing. Religious leaders and politicians in this country are connected by the brazen, barely believable levels of excess they display. It is an excess funded by the collective wealth of the people. They also feed off each other: Politicians make hefty donations to churches with mostly ill-gotten wealth, while the pastors of those churches pray for them.
The proceeds from church business are second only to the benefits of being a government official in Nigeria. When congregations see their pastors display amazing wealth, they do anything to attain it as well. So when a preacher speaks out against corruption, moral decadence, and so on, the message is dead on arrival. Most don’t practice what they preach. The commercialisation of religion has been made possible by the proliferation of churches which concentrate authority in a single individual. He is the star of the show. In older denominations like the Catholic Anglican churches such displays of wealth are non existent because there are no stars, there is no special treatment and no one owns things like cars, houses, expensive suits and so on. For example, the Pope, head of a billion Catholics worldwide, flies Alitalia when he travels. They can do this because they have no wives or children to cater for, while Pentecostal pastors do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should be poor, but since religion is now unquestionably a business, it should be handled as such. Churches should be taxed.
Churches are tax exempt because they are non-profit organisations which engage in charity like feeding the poor, running orphanages and so on. Obviously, this is no longer the case. Many churches have taken advantage of government failure in education to build universities and charge astronomical amounts of money as tuition, to say nothing of the fact that these institutions have all kinds of draconian regulations. If every church had to justify their tax exempt status by showing proof of charitable activities they are engaged in, nearly all would fail the test. State governments, especially in the South, can increase their revenue base significantly by taxing religious organizations and using the money to expand social services. The religious organizations would most likely be more interested in what goes on in the state, leading to more accountability.
For as long as such huge inequality exists in this country, flagrant displays of excess on the part of anyone who does nothing but help himself to the commonwealth of the majority should be frowned upon. A wealth redistribution is overdue.