“To act as a watchman of the spiritual and moral welfare of the nation; to serve as a basis for response to the unity of the church, especially as contained in our Lord’s pastoral prayer “That all may be one” (John 17:21)” – CAN objective.
Never in its recent history has there been schism that has threatened the ecumenism of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) since it was founded in 1976. Matters came to a head with the withdrawal at the national level of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) from CAN, the umbrella body of Christian churches in Nigeria for promoting unity and peace among the various strata of society. The Catholic church suspended its activities in CAN sighting “recent attitudes, utterances and actions of the national leadership of CAN which in our opinion negate the concept of the foundation of the association and the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The reaction from the Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor-led CAN to the withdrawal of the Catholic bloc was rather antagonistic, confrontational, haughty and a face-saving rant that does not address the issues raised by the Catholic bloc. It was expected that as a responsible Christian association, pertinent questions put forward by the CBCN should have been addressed in their response. CAN’s spokesman for the 19 Northern states, Sunny Oibe, reacted brashly; “There is no need for anybody to lose sleep over the threat by Catholics to pull out of CAN because without them CAN will still continue. The constitution of CAN makes provision that membership can be terminated by any group that is misbehaving or any group can also terminate their membership”.With remarks like this, it is obvious that all is not well with the Christian association. Such unguarded comments and outburst is capable of exacerbating the present crisis rocking the body.
Close observers of events anticipated this, maybe it was long overdue, because in our very eyes, we saw the CAN leadership, gradually, in their quest for power, political relevance, filthy lucre, material gain and opulence become an appendage of the ruling political party. Pulpits of mega churches are now campaign platforms for politicians seeking election and re-election, the picture of President Jonathan kneeling before a man of God readily comes to mind. When a group of Pastors or General Overseers, begin to manipulate and use CAN like their personal property, then there is bound to be schism. The leadership of the Christian body is now an avenue for some avaricious few, to gallivant and junket around the world in private jets in the guise of spreading the gospel. Their choice of a life of opulence and splendour rather than the ‘modest life of a leader of the flock of Christ that common sense dictates is quite appalling. Men of God have turned lovers of money, mundane possessors whose affections are set on things below. The Christian body seem to be at ease with the corruption from all sectors of the country, it is detached from the Christian folk it represents. There is an unhealthy rivalry among the mega rich, prosperity preaching and political protestant pastors that constitute CAN to outdo each other; whose private jet or private university is bigger, which denomination has built the newest mega church auditorium in town. CAN now seem to fan the embers of impunity, sleaze and profligacy in the country. The reason is not far-fetched; some of the embezzled public funds in the country has found their way via “brown envelopes” to church offerings and pockets of pastors who in turn guaranty return of votes from willy-nilly church members during elections. The politicisation and monetisation of CAN is a far cry from the association’s articulated objectives that seeks to act as conscience of the nation and voice of the voiceless. With CAN’s conscience seared and its lips sealed, it has become a toothless watchdog of the Christendom and as of today, it has lost its relevance.
The CAN leadership went a step further to smear its image when its President and Senior Pastor, Word of Life Bible Church, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor at a lavish church party to mark the 40th anniversary of his pastoral calling in Warri; President Goodluck Jonathan – whom he is “ferociously” close to – was in attendance, joined the elite league of private jet flying men of God when he received a greek gift from unnamed members of his church.
It was high time someone said the truth, CAN has derailed! To aptly put in Bishop Matthew kukah’s words, Nigerian Christian leaders “…Have become more visible in relation to national prayer sessions, pilgrimages, alliances with state power and so on. Unless we distance ourselves, we cannot speak the truth to power. We cannot hear the wails of the poor and the weak. We should not be seen as playing the praying wing of the party in power.” Apparently, he spoke about CAN.
Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Lamido Sanusi Lamido must have been thinking about CAN recently when he said people now “Find religion to be a very good instrument in the contestation of space for political power and for distribution of resources, they are not religious organizations; they are not cultural organisations; they are political associations in disguise of religion and region”.
When was the last time CAN consulted with its member churches to make necessary common statements and take common actions after a major crisis like the incessant Boko Haram attack in northern Nigeria? What we have seen in the last few years is the regular visit to the seat of power, Aso Rock Villa, and mere blowing of hot air whenever turmoil arise, exhibiting little or no initiative to take decisive action in matters affecting the Nigerian Christians. There is a general believe that the Christian body is on a freefall. As a matter of urgency, a moderation by the leadership of CAN in its lifestyle and association with politicians will go a long way in restoring some integrity and respect to the national Christian group.
It will be pertinent to add here that there has always been some form of discrimination between Catholics and Pentecostals even till this day. I had a personal experience when I worshipped in a Catholic church, the Rev. Father during his homily, made allusion to the raucous manner the Pentecostals engaged in praise worship and prayers even for the death of their enemies. Each group consider themselves pious Christians, some Protestants in CAN still consider Catholics as drunkards who are not devout Christians. Catholics in turn do not think Protestant pastors in CAN as properly ordained since their ordination lacks historical link with early Christian practice. Until such cerebrations are jettisoned, genuine ecumenism might be wishful thinking.
At such a crucial time that the country is trying to grapple with the onslaught of Boko Haram on Christians, the least desired of a body conceived as a rallying point for Christians is division. If for nothing at all, the lives of Christians lost to the violence of Islamist fundamentalist and splinter sects should be a reason the leadership of CAN and the Catholic bloc resolve their differences..
Now, more than ever, the Christian body needs to put its house in order and reposition itself to speak out against all forms of violence. CAN must henceforth desist from politicking and refocus on its core value of Christian ecumenism.