A popular Nigerian writer and columnist has penned a controversial piece on the private life and teachings of influential cleric and founding president of Believers’ Loveworld Incorporated, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome.
Some weeks ago, an online lynch mob went for the head of the General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, after he had shared his opinions on marriage at a ministers’ conference in his church. Adeboye, in reality, did not say anything dissimilar to what most parental figures of his generation would have if asked to comment in a similar situation. The triviality of his suggestions, however, did not stem the flow of outrage against him. For one, Adeboye is a public figure and a rather influential one whose opinion on every issue matters because they are not confined to the precinct of his church.
While I do not see much value in the manner the man was virulently castigated for holding on to his traditional cultural values, I however think the cleric needs to be told by those around him that the times are changing and his sermons need to be updated to reflect the reality of the real world people now live in. An insistence on rigid gender roles even as the ground beneath our feet is shifting is one of the ways the society holds back everyone, male and female. No gender was born to perform domesticity and none is inherently enterprising either, these are values taught by the society.
If Adeboye can be forgiven for being sequestered from emerging cultural realities, I think that of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy’s sermon on marriage is unpardonable. The sermon itself is not new, it has been on Youtube since 2014 but the church posted it on their Facebook page recently. The message rubbed off the public the wrong way and was designated outrageous. For pastor whose wife recently divorced him to share that kind of message almost six years after it was preached sounds too much like self-vindication.
The disappointment of the public in Oyakhilome’s retrogressive stance is understandable. As a much younger, urbane, sleek, iPad wielding pastor who caters to a clientele of upwardly mobile youth population, he is expected to be more progressive on issues of marriage. Christ Embassy, indeed, evinces anti-traditional values in a number of ways. They are the first church where I have seen single ladies assigned roles of substantive preachers. In many other churches, women’s roles revolve around their “submissive” positions. As the second sex, they dutifully sweep the floor of the church, clean toilets, decorate the altar, populate the choir, take up “welfare” roles, occasionally take the offering, and if they are married to the pastor, they get to preach about marriage during youth and singles’ meetings.
Oyakhilome’s sermon, unfortunately, reveals him as another insecure self-serving male that uses the Bible to assert male domination over women. In that sermon, he basically blamed women for everything that was wrong in the world. Women have refuted God’s definition of marriage and formed theirs; women think they are equal to men; women this and women that. In fact, women are the reason men strike one testicle against the other these days and can no longer feel a spark!
Come to think of it, Oyakhilome’s views are in consonance with the Bible that puts all the blame for what is wrong in the world today on women and their appetite. They say if Eve had not eaten the apple, we would all still be in the Garden of Eden and we would not be feeling the recession! A number of creation myths that originated in the same culture that produced the Bible parrot each other in heaping all the blame on the woman. The problem with uncritical readers like Oyakhilome is that they conveniently forget that the Bible was written and curated by men who put their bigoted opinions in God’s mouth. Pastors should stop acting as if the Bible was devoid of any human interference. There are a number of critical works by scholars who have dug into religious history and shown us the agenda behind Bible creation.
For Oyakhilome, marriage is not about love and companionship but two unequals who agree to be yoked together; the man asserting authority and the woman submitting, obeying, and practically whittling herself so that her husband can look bigger. The sermon was infantilising, subtly valorises domestic violence and a total embarrassment.
What I am really curious about is whether Oyakhilome himself teaches his own two daughters the same kind of claptrap he feeds his congregation. I really will like to know if Oyakhilome wakes his daughters up in the morning and instructs them to respect their future husbands as their “masters” because he is not simply “another woman”? Does he also tell them that womanhood is a spiritually and socially degraded position, and that their chance at successful marital relationship is contingent on their firing the embers of their husband’s ego whenever it smolders? Does he teach them that they were an afterthought, created after God had made the ideal – the man? As he watches his own daughters grow into womanhood, does he tell them that their happiness depends on understanding a man, worshipping him and servicing his needs? If Oyakhilome had a son, would he have raised him to believe that women were created for his service and pleasure? In case Oyakhilome does not know, such messages about women existing to service male pleasure, have been interwoven within cultures for ages and is a principal promoter of sexual violence.
No, I do not drag Oyakhilome’s children into this conversation lightly but my observation about men like him is that they will not allow the abuse they mete out to their wives be visited on their own daughters. Such men want their sons-in-law to extend them the level of courtesy they did not deem worthy of their own fathers-in-law whose daughters became their physical and emotional punch bag. Yet, it is pertinent to ask if in his quiet moments, when he filters the essence of his message through his own children, he remains consistent and adheres to the message of his own sermon. Would Oyakhilome hand over his own children in marriage to a man raised on a steady diet of junk sermons like this and who has grown into a brat with a cultivated sense of entitlement, self-importance and is overall, defective?
Oyakhilome – and his defenders, I expect – may claim that his sermons were divinely inspired, that his words adhere to the Scriptures which they accept as the supreme authority and which dictate their personal and religious ideology. However, they should also be reminded that there is a reason we do no longer follow many biblical commandments anymore. If we did, we would marry our daughters to their rapists, stone people to death, and carry out genocide in the name of God. Even Oyakhilome would not be perming his hair with chemical products originally made for women. After all, did not the Bible warn against men using things that pertain to women and vice versa?
Thus, the biblical literalism Oyakhilome purportedly preaches is disingenuous; he knows the social infrastructure of the times we live in no longer supports certain rules. If Oyakhilome follows the Bible to the letter, he would not allow women to speak up in his church let alone make them pastors. Why act as if the patriarchal dictates of the Bible are immutable?
Finally, with the way Nigerian churches are obsessed with marriage and frequently engage the topic, I think the rest of the society should pay very close attention to the rhetoric emanating from the church and be prepared to challenge them. We cannot afford to roll over and play dead because these messages not only shape the cultural milieu we inhabit and form the bedrock of our values, they also influence major policies that relate to women’s health and place in the society.
About the Author:
Abimbola Adunni Adelakun is a Nigerian writer and columnist for Punch Newspapers.