Criticisms have continued to trail the introduction of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code by the Living Faith Church Worldwide (Winners’ Chapel), founded by Bishop David Oyedepo, to enable members make online payments of offerings and tithes, as services are largely held online due to the pandemic Coronavirus.
According to the critics, the initiative was a misplaced and insensitive step as they expressed that the church should have toed the path of other church leaders and organisations making relief donations to cushion the financial implications surrounding the stay at home directive by the Nigerian government in containing the spread of Coronavirus.
An online post in reaction to the new USSD reads, “New USSD for offering and Tithe in Winners Chapel. See How Much I Paid. *389*30*1# for all networks. This is Oyedepo’s contribution to fight COVID 19. See how much I just wired as my tithe.
“We always think politicians are the worst people in Nigeria but Covid 19 has exposed these. While politicians are soliciting for fund for Nigerians, these pastors are thinking of how to empty us at this trying time.”
Another post also noted, “Why should this be the priority of a church at this time of public health emergency?”
Another critic stated, “This is gross insensitivity and desperation on the part of Winners’ Chapel. Instead of looking out for the welfare of thousands of their church members who are struggling to survive and eat at this critical period, the church is only concerned about how to further milk its malnourished members for tithes and donations…
“The judgement of God will be heavy and severe on Nigerian pastors. Is it too much for our mega rich pastors to sell their private jets and donate the money to COVID 19 emergency funds? Is it too much to temporarily convert the exotic church buildings to isolation centres?
“The people I pity most are the gullible church members who cannot even afford to pay the exorbitant fees these churches are charging in their schools. Religion is not the major problem of Nigeria. The major problem is that Nigerians are very much gullible. The so-called GOs (General Overseers) are smiling to the banks. Jesus was never like that. He lived a very humble life.”
On the contrary, another critic, perhaps a member, in defence of the church, said, “I will surely pay my offerings, tithes, etc. If it pains you just die, don’t wait for corona.”
But, the church in its reaction, said it did not emphasise or make it compulsory for members to pay tithes and offerings alongside other financial commitments.
The church maintained that those who attach relevance, progress and fulfillment to payment of tithes, offerings and seeds will not be comfortable defaulting in the payment, hence their request for USSD to avoid backlog of payment.
While treating the allegation that the church was “irresponsible” and “insensitive” with a wave of the hand, Professor Sheriff Folarin, a representative of the church, in a telephone chat, said the church had always been in the forefront of bringing relief to the public, both within and outside the shore especially in times of emergency.
Folarin noted that Bishop Oyedepo had always been reluctant to make public the interventions made by the church in different areas, including construction of roads, and huge relief donations.
He said the church founder had usually emphasised that “whatever anybody gives is between the individual and God.”
Folarin added: “Let’s reason together, tithes and offerings are not compulsory in Winners’ church, there is no time it is emphasised. There are people who have spiritual fulfillment in paying their offerings, tithes and working for God. Winners’ Church introduced giving with envelopes, because whatever you give is between you and God as Bishop Oyedepo will always say.
“The church is a responsible church. Remember the intervention it gave to the people of Rwanda, Koma village in northern Nigeria and other things. We don’t make noise, the church is there for the people.
“The USSD introduced was demanded by members and the church gave in to their demand. For those condemning it, I tell you it is not good listening to the noise of the market place.”
On what the church had in stock to contribute to help combat the scourge of the rampaging Coronavirus, he said, “we don’t follow the crowd. I can assure you we have our plans.”
On the demand for Oyedepo’s arrest, particularly by a politician over the church service of March 22, he said, “it was unfortunate that politicians who milk the nation can make such irresponsible demand.”