Pope Francis’ admonition in his new year message asking Vatican leaders to have a change of attitude may ordinarily be regarded as a homily on humility; but the widespread sharing of the message on social media platforms across creed and climes sign-posts a deep concern about the unbecoming goings-on in the house of God. Just as in other spheres of endeavour, pride has entered the house of God and the earthly custodians are now possessed by the spirit of arrogance, even though professing the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic pontiff talked about the pride-filled clergy, which has become like a pandemic across creeds. He warned that pride and self-interest are harmful to the spiritual lives of church leaders and consequently corrupts the church’s purpose. He was worried that this unbecoming attitude is capable of tainting the church. Even as the warning is being delivered, the deed had been done already.

Though he was specifically addressing his Catholic audience, the admonition is very apt in relation to the clergy in Nigeria. There is no doubt that the twin monsters of pride and self-interest have become commonplace. Circumspection and humility, virtues of God’s housekeepers, are no longer common among those who claim to be called of God. Some have abandoned the garment of humility and holiness for the cloak of arrogance and aggression. They are driven by the spirit of mammon and rebellion – rebellion against humanity, rebellion against science, rebellion against the state; and in fact, rebellion against the intent of the gospel.

Vatican leaders, cardinals, priests and the laity must have taken the pontiff’s admonition in good faith. It is unlikely that such would have gone down well with some spirit-filled folks in Nigeria where pastors do no wrong. Who would lead the charge and where would it start from when owners of worship centres, with some exceptions, are the ones wearing the colourful jackets.

In Nigeria the pastor seem to be infallible. In the church community the credo is ‘see no evil and say no evil’ about the pastor or his actions. Those who dare, risk the invocation of “Holy Ghost Fire” because the pastor is led by the Spirit. No one has the right to question any action. Congregants just believe and worship and say Amen to every pronouncement from the pulpit, no matter how inane. The pastor is god and they have become like robots.

But it is evident today that quite a number of pastors have descended from the pulpit into the village square and have seized the soapbox. Listening to some pronouncements and arguments on certain issues of public interest, what stares in the face is high level hypocrisy – some very mundane, others typically pedestrian. Grandstanding is the performance standard. Decorum has been banished. Some have turned the sacred chambers of the Almighty into comedy theatres. They adorn fanciful titles and wallow in self-adulation. And you see hypocrisy of divergence at full play.

READ ALSO: Maritime Organisation Secretary-General Commends Bebua Udenyi

Some of these men live in a world of illusion and assume things based on their perceptions – a clear product of pride and perfidy. They push their positions as real and want them to be seen as such. Those who refuse to see it their way are labelled and, or branded by bewitched followers. They appropriate the level of knowledge and wisdom that would make King Solomon insignificant; they assume the type of prophetic elevation that would make Prophet Elijah look very ordinary.

These are people who believe they have the right to do whatsoever they fancy, including opposing whatever in their estimation seems inappropriate. Such rights are reserved for them only; and not subject to interference, not even by constituted authorities. They have the license to criticise, but not to be criticised. When they speak, they do so like the man on the street and not people with spiritual discernment. The language is not that of peace, love and reconciliation; but of violence, hate and vengeance. Pronouncements from the pulpit are not different from those of tribesmen and partisan politicians.

They want things to work normally as obtained in better organised societies but they loathe regulations that make institutions work for a better society. They hate comparison with other countries when it comes to responsibilities, but easily cite those same countries when it comes to entitlements. They resent laws and policies that make or give impetus to functional systems, but want our systems to work like those in societies with strict regulations, notwithstanding our attitude.

Given the pedestal they have descended to, they join in spreading untruths, with little or improper knowledge about the subject matter. They do all sorts to justify their ego-inflated prescriptions. They hate with passion and partisan affection, and allow such dispositions to colour their ministrations. They mislead their gullible audiences and instigate them against constituted authority, even on matters of public safety. They quote portions of the Bible that seem to justify their positions, even if they do so out of context and in obvious isolation of conditions precedent.

The same people who on a routine bases subject their members to long lists of levies and demands without considering their income levels, condemn marginal increases in tariffs of basic utilities. They will point to the economic status of the people and the neo-colonialist label of Nigeria being the poverty capital of the world. They feign ignorance or just become deceitful regarding the fundamentals that create such index situations.

Out of spite they get excited about such classifications and use them to further twist the consciousness of their followers, hoodwink the people and criticise the authorities whereas they contribute probably the highest percentage to the indolence responsible for the parlous economic status of the people. They embark on money guzzling programmes and projects, but care less about the source of the money contributed by members. They build empires from contributions and become sole administrators of the estate.

They avoid interrogating why things are the way they are. For purely self-serving reasons they fail to appreciate that the economic status of a country is not driven by mere expression of faith or assessed by the wishful thinking of individuals; but by purposefully driving the fundamental parameters that underpin growth and development.

It does not occur to them that a people with an uncanny sense of entitlement, people who spend all their productive man-hours on weekdays in worship centres listening to tainted sermons and expecting miracles or manna from heaven are bound to fall into such poverty categorisations. They lose sight of the biblical admonition that the desires of the sluggard shall kill him. They ignore the clearly stated scriptural prescription that only those who are diligent in their works shall sit with kings while sluggards are bound to wallow among mean men.

Apparently driven by their primary intentions, these ‘pastorpreneurs’ have no business with morality. They support whatever situation aligns with their cardinal objective – those things that would sustain their flamboyant lifestyles and mundane acquisitions. They invade the territory of politicians and eat of the fruits of the land. In the process, they draw no distinction between the world and the kingdom. They encourage corruption in the process and give impetus to impunity so long as it serves their purpose. When politicians rejoice, they shout hallelujah; when they wail and rant, clergymen carry placards, irrespective of the propriety. Arrogance and greed drive it all!

However, no matter the prescriptions or pretentions of these ego-driven tribesmen, politicians and entrepreneurs on the pulpit, it is bound to happen that an indolent people who engage in finger-pointing while their local and regional leaders engage in mindless financial frolicking, in the name of governance, will definitely feel the pinch of sleeping while the thief is on rampage. Those who indulge brigands in their backyards but label or profile those in other people’s yards are bound to suffer insecurity when the chickens come home to roost. A society that indulges recalcitrant children is bound to have impunity walking the streets when the fruits are ripe. Preaching against these societal afflictions cannot find space in the sermons of this calibre of pastors.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with people genuinely opposing policies and actions based on calculated convictions, knowledge and understanding of the issues involved; or those who, though ignorant of the fundamentals and real life situations, make sincere observations and even protestations. However, there is something fundamentally wrong when persons parading the landscape in robes and cassocks pretend to be so concerned about “the people” or “the Church” when apparently they are espousing their partisan and ethnic fullness. The vehemence with which some push their messages easily gives them out as either disgruntled elements or those given to rebellious inclinations.

The law guarantees the right of citizens to hold opinions no matter how divergent; but pushing ignorance, mediocrity and callousness beyond reasonable boundaries simply because of certain claims to apostolic anointing while in fact pushing personal, partisan, political and ethnic carts is nothing but monumental hypocrisy. It’s not a virtue in the household of God.

Like the Pope admonished, those serving in the house of God should let humility guide their thoughts and actions. Being human, they are bound to have some sectional inclinations, but such must be kept away from the pulpit and the church. Serving God and mammon is an adulterous spiritual combination. They should stop hiding behind the veil of the church because by their fruits we shall know them. Their actions are bound to define those among them who are partisan activists, entrepreneurs and the truly called.

* James lives in Abuja