How Religious Leaders instill fear in their members – Prof. Sonaiya

How Religious Leaders instill fear in their members – Prof. Sonaiya
Professor Remi Sonaiya

Religious leaders have been advised to desist from instilling fear into members of their congregations by placing so much emphasis on the powers of ‘evil forces’ as against God’s protectiveness.

This charge was given by Prof. Remi Sonaiya while delivering a lecture at the Harvest Fields Int. Annual Making a Difference Leadership Seminar, recently.

In the lecture titled “The Christian Faith, Africa Magic, Science and Development,” she lamented that many pastors have turned their sermons to “story-telling sessions – how evil forces attack people, but in the end those who come to them for deliverance are freed from the oppression of the devil,” akin to what is seen on Nollywood Movies.

According to her, the kind of teachings that go on in many churches these days will not lead the country to development as they do not allow people to use their intellect to judge all things, as commanded by the Bible.

Prof. Sonaiya cautioned the religious leaders thus: “The generation of young Nigerians, upon whom we are placing much hope for the future of our continent and our nation, must not be socialised into a world devoid of logic and reason, of curiosity and risk-taking, because that is the stuff that technological advancements are built upon. They must believe that physical problems have physical solutions, and bend their backs to the task of finally bringing dignity to Africa, and Nigeria in particular, as they begin to find ingenuous and innovative solutions to the problems which have plagued us for ages.”

She queried the kind of God most present day Christians believe in and said; “there is no doubt that what we believe about God affects or, in fact, determines the way in which we conduct ourselves in this world. Maybe looking at how we worship could reveal our true response and attitude towards this God. What is our worship like? Much time is spent in church and in prayer calling upon God for blessings – “for me and my family.” And since He does not seem to know how to keep His own people, we have to tell Him what to do, especially with our enemies – they must fall down and die; the ground should open its mouth and swallow them up.

“In many of our churches today, someone who comes with a heart of contentment and tranquillity might feel out of place, for it is almost a requirement that you be constantly hankering after something; you are trying to “make it in life,” regardless of what you already have! We must ask ourselves: Is that the God presented to us in the Bible? Are we following the teachings of Jesus Christ who said that He came to be an example to us, so that we would walk the way He walked?”

Acknowledging the scripture that says our fight is not against flesh and blood, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world and spiritual wickedness in high places,” she lamented that fear was keeping people from living. She submitted that the issue was not about whether evil exists or not, but what one chooses to believe as to who has the power to control the affairs of men.

“Most of us live in an atmosphere of fear, and the bottom line is that we cannot trust God to keep us – or accept in faith and with joy whatever He allows to happen to us. We are afraid of what people can do to us, and we make it our business to keep ourselves safe, as best as we know how. We cannot relate freely and honestly with one another, even in the church. People are afraid of the pastors who may use the power of their anointing to curse them! The light of the gospel does not seem to have had much success in dispelling our darkness and renewing our minds,” she said.

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The linguistics professor pointed out that “the difference between us and the faithful Christians of old was that they seemed to accept suffering as part of their calling; we do not. And that is why we are so consumed with seeking blessings rather than seeking to be found in Christ, and making always doing His pleasure our greatest delight.”

She spoke further, “our traditional way of “being in the world” (for want of a better expression) is such that we are here as victims rather than as agents. It is this victim rather than agent manner of being in the world that we have here characterised as Africa Magic – and the foundation upon which it is built is fear. The desperate, me-and-my-family prayers said in several of our churches demonstrate it.”

She argued that Christianity should have a radically transformative effect on the lives of both individuals and society as Jesus’ teachings represent the most revolutionary and liberating body of ideas known to man: “He turns leaders into servants; redefines what true riches are (a widow’s mite is of more worth than the millions which a rich man contributes); and basically deals Self, that great enemy of the human soul, the death blow. He thus liberates the individual, now energised by divine love for God and fellow man by the Holy Spirit’s power, to pursue the task of subduing the earth in a manner that would be beneficial to humanity and bring glory to God,” she said.

Prof Sonaiya decried the level of control some pastors have over their church members. Her words: “Many of our pastors exercise so much control over us, demanding that we be in church almost permanently, determining the number of days during which we will fast, ordering us to carry out sometimes very mindless actions, and not tolerating any dissenting opinion – because they are under the anointing. They lord it over us and cow us into submission with their anointing. Rudeness is acceptable under the anointing, and we are expected to fear this anointing upon “men of God”, just the way we fear the prowling powers of evil people. We are held captive – even in church!”

Continuing, she said, “I believe that the time has come for us in Africa to deliberately make a decision to rid ourselves of our fears and begin to live and operate confidently in the beautiful world which our God has created. Christians must be at the forefront of the liberation of African minds from the fears which have held us captive for millennia.

“Nigerian young people are incredibly gifted and raring to go. May I please beg our churches and pastors not to bog their minds down with stories that would strike fear in their hearts and hinder them from performing optimally the huge task that is ahead of them.”

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