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The Redeemed Christian Church of God should ignore critics


Nothing says how cynical people have grown toward the church in recent times better than the response that greeted the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s decision to be more directly involved in the 2023 electioneering. The RCCG’s internal memo—where they noted they would coordinate their members going into politics and mobilise support for them—that circulated online could not have been any more innocent. Yet, it was met with an adverse reaction by those who concluded the church wants to use its broad network to mobilise support for one of their members, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who might run as president. The conjecture alone is telling.

Ideally, a church’s efforts at political mobilisation should have been received as a potential injection of religious moral virtues into our corruption-ridden political system. For people to be so critical, and for the RCCG to clarify its intention, should be enough for the church leadership to reflect on how their association with politicians tainted the public perception of their virtues. Even at that, much of the blowback is mere alarmism. Take, for instance, the viral article by Dele Momodu where he said the church’s move is “an invitation to Armageddon” and that “the easiest way to create trouble in Nigeria today is an attempt to mix religion with politics.” Really?

From time immemorial, and in almost all parts of the world, religion has always been a core part of politics. The arc of Nigeria’s history itself is a testimony to how God gets readily weaponised by political elites. Otherwise, why does this country spend money it can barely afford on annual religious pilgrimages? Why else do we spend public money on building religious houses? In the same country where Bauchi Governor, Bala Mohammed, recently approved N100m for a National Quran Recitation Competition, somebody still argues the alchemy of religion and politics is strange? What did constitutional provision matter when the Kaduna government reportedly gave N27m to some Islamic clerics to provide “favourable Friday sermon” in 2019? Why else have a band of idle ragtag of fundamentalists like the Hisbah had such temerity to destroy beer bottles, private property worth millions of naira, without pushback from either the state or other elites? The fact that all these subsist, and some still think religion should not mix with politics, means the operations of religionised politics have been so normalised that those critics are inured to the materiality.

In Nigeria, we balance Christian political candidates with Muslim counterparts, not because their combo guarantees ethical politics, but reality dictates that we must serve the idols of religion. Even at their most immoral self, politicians never fail to cling to religion. Therefore, saying the RCCG’s involvement in 2023 politics will ultimately lead to moral collapse is unwarranted fearmongering. Even in the so-called secular societies like the USA, religious appeal is a core component of their politics. When Donald Trump faced a crisis in his government that threatened his re-election, he led his aides to the front of a church to pose for a photo-op. It did not even matter much to his Evangelical base that the Bible in Trump’s hand in that photo was even upside down.

Besides, much of the pushback against the RCCG exaggerate their influence. Pentecostal pastors might be influential but critics also overhype the extent. Any politician that relies on pastors as a power bloc that can win an election will learn the lesson Goodluck Jonathan did in 2015. The fact that GEJ lost despite the huge support he received from churches—to the point some pastors practically converted the church altar into a campaign ground—shows the practical limit of their clerical power to anoint a president. One can even argue that the overreach of the pastors, who threw their weight behind GEJ, was part of why he lost.

It is also possible that we apportion too much weight to the religious factor in people’s voting choices. Unlike other places, Nigerian voters are barely surveyed to quantify the factors that determine their electoral decisions. Without statistics, we can only assume what people truly vote when they say they are voting religion. Electoral victories are far more complicated than what a single church can pull off, no matter how broad their network. Look, if Pastor Enoch Adeboye should dedicate every sermon to campaigning for Dele Momodu from now till election day, it still does not guarantee he will win even the votes of the RCCG members, let alone the broader Nigerian public. There are too many intertwined factors that determine electoral victory and religious influence is only one.

Religion has its practical limits but it is an inextricable part of politics. We cannot wish it away but we can only teach ourselves to develop enough emotional intelligence to differentiate religious politics that merely uses us as pawns in the larger game of power and one that seeks to deploy the truth of religion to refurbish a morally battered polity. As another election season draws closer, we can expect to be inundated with the familiar pontifications about the toxicity of religious identity politics. Maybe this time, those sermonisers will go beyond the usual condemnation to reflect on if/why those who vote persistently vote religion forgo other factors. What despair lies at the heart of the Nigerian project for them that makes people defer to their religious identity at the expense of competence? Besides, what does “competence” mean to a Nigerian for whose religion is a core part of their human identity?