For some weeks now, the news headlines have been awash with the reactions and counter-reactions about Men of God (Pastors, General Overseers, Founders) of prominent Nigerian churches acquiring private jets. The argument has been that it is immoral to do so and that the pastors are spending stupendous amount of church money buying and maintaining private jets at the expense of mass of church members wallowing in abject poverty. The critics posit that the pastors have become materialistic like the corrupt politicians and are thus no longer different from those whose love for lucre and gold have driven them to wanton show of illegitimate wealth while the nation still gropes in economic doldrums.
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I did not want to engage in this debate, and I resisted the temptation to be dragged into such unscientific talk. This was more because those who were putting their pen to paper or fingers to the computer keys to engage in ordinary armchair analysis were considered by me as ‘Christians on the fringes’ (Sunday-Sunday church goers) who may not understand the deep things and mysteries of God, and could as such afford to offer such simplistic and cheap criticisms. Some were not even Christians; hence it would be foolhardy to bandy words with them.
However, with the intervention of Reverend Father Matthew Kukah, a man for whom I have high regards, condemning fellow Christian leaders for possessing aircraft, the temptation to say one or two things in response heightened. And then the maverick Pastor Bakare also condemned the aircraft thing, saying all pastors (including himself) deserved to be hurled into jail for certain ungodly acts. The immediate trigger of all this criticism was the recent gift of an aircraft to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor who was marking 40th anniversary on the pulpit. With those two respectable pastors offering their own perspective, it became incumbent on me to volunteer my own perspective on the issue.
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First, I consider the debate and angst over private aircraft use by pastors as a sheer waste of time. It is totally uncalled for. The pastors have not been indicted by the financial crimes commissions of fraud, embezzlement, or money-laundering. Neither have the congregations taken them to courts for stealing their church money to buy aircraft. The members of these churches are intelligent, well educated and connected enough to question their pastors or the shepherds if they feel strongly against owning planes. The members are not foolish or gullible like the critics have made it to seem. Some of these members even go out of their way to bless their pastors as a show of gratitude for being a blessing to them. Aircraft is one of those ways of showing gratitude.
Second, I think it is the poverty mentality of the African society that makes people to consider aircraft ownership as a very big deal. When you have too much money in a typical African society where majority is poor, you are envied, rebuked, criticized and may even be charmed to fail. When you now own an aircraft, people have very odd thoughts in their heads. You must be a drug dealer or have stolen public fund. But for pastors of very big churches, who have paid their dues after several decades of service to mankind, I refuse to acquiesce with the fact that they dip their hands into church money to buy such aircraft.
Thirdly and closely related to the above is the fact that we must wipe off the idea that pastors should remain “as poor as the church rat”. That era is gone. God has given us the power to get wealth, and pastors as men of God are no exception. In fact, if true men of God who carry the cross of Christ are not rich enough, and only unbelievers can afford a plane, I can renounce my Christian faith. The Bible says blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Paraphrased: blessed are true sons/servants of God, they shall have whatever they want. And Matthew 6: 33 says that ‘seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all other things (which others are dying to get) shall be added unto you.”
If the true pastors do not fulfill these promises as a lifestyle, then it means that there is no honour in the scriptures. Consequently therefore, that pastors own aircraft should not come to us as a shock because the scriptures cannot be broken. Pastors should not be as a poor as a church rat. Their God is not a beggar and Jesus has given us life and has given it to us more abundantly. If the critics understand these things, there would not be any hue or cry over private aircraft by pastors.
Fourthly, there is a fundamental lacuna in the argument that Jesus did buy an aircraft. What a juvenile talk! There was no aircraft technology at the time. Jesus traversed the length and breadth of the Middle East building the firm foundation of Salvation through Christianity. He used the boats, ships and foot to do that. And when he rode into Jerusalem, he did so majestically on an ass. The donkey was not a common animal used by just any man. The donkey was for the noble and princely. If there were aircraft then, our Lord would have rode in the very best. And today, His apostles are taking the message to the extreme lengths of the earth. So, what is wrong in getting it done by private plane for ease of accomplishment of God’s work?
There are certain pertinent things we must understand. The pastors in question have never been in government and neither do they sponsor their members into government to dip hands in government money. These pastors are men of uncompromising integrity known for their no-nonsense approach about people stealing public funds. The same Men of God lead ministries that have spanned between 30 and 50 years, and are still waxing stronger (jet or no jet). Also, it is their churches that are restoring credibility and hope to the educational sector with their universities, which again some critics have carpeted over high tuitions. These churches are employers of labour by their multiple ventures, including schools. These churches are an alternative government, as they now build estates and provide social infrastructures that serve the cause of humanity, something government has, over the years, failed to do.
I think taking on Men of God for owning aircraft is misplaced frustration and probably a misunderstanding of the person of God and the ways He deals with those that love Him. If pastors do not love Him, who else could? If He does not bless those who love Him, who else will He bless? And it is not all pastors that are fake. Fake pastors do not last up to 30 years or more and will yet be moving up. Fake pastors do not last longer than 5 years maximum. We need to read the Great Book (Bible) very well before writing or saying junk about pastors flying in private jets.
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