24/Sep/2019

People ask about the difference between forgiveness and justice, especially in the context of sexual assault. When one forgives, is there any need to ask for justice? People usually say to survivors, “Why don’t you just forgive and let’s move on?” We tell the survivors, “Well if you can’t forgive now, perhaps after counselling and prayer, you should be able to.”

For a person going through the trauma of sexual abuse, this message only goes to traumatize them further. Survivors are told that forgiving the abuser would mean not taking any action thereafter. At the same time, people who have committed abuse then feel that in being forgiven, they have received a pardon that then makes it unnecessary for them to face the human consequences of their crime. The problem with this position is that many people see forgiveness as the opposite of justice, they feel it’s one or the other and don’t understand how both can work together.

But what we do not understand is that asking for forgiveness without dealing with justice shuts the survivor down, denies them the right to be heard, the right to ask for closure, the right to correct wrongs and actually heaps more shame on them. Forgiveness is about letting go of feelings of bitterness against those who have hurt us.

When we forgive, we embrace the quality of life that hatred can never give. But that does not mean forgiveness needs to be the first thing that we bring up in every situation. Forgiveness is very personal and very complex. When it comes to sexual assault, it does not mean we overlook the atrocity.

Forgiveness does not mean we do not report the offender. Neither does forgiveness imply that we reconcile with the perpetrator who has traumatized us. A lot of women are in torment because they’ve been told, “forgive and keep silent”. And that’s why we often have women in very abusive relationships who keep forgiving and reconciling with men who abuse them to a point of incapacitation. We can forgive and still stand to testify against the one who has assaulted us.

We must encourage forgiveness but let us not use forgiveness to block the way of justice. When we preach forgiveness without justice, what we’re doing is depriving women, and many others who have been traumatized, a pathway to their healing. We need to listen to survivors. We need to protect survivors. We need to break the culture of silence in sexual abuse. We must speak out against the culture that turns the victim into the accused.

Families who know about a sexual assault usually cover up rape cases due to shame or fear of being victimized by their communities and this happens at the expense of the healing of the survivor. We often become guilty of collusion and cover-up in cases of abuse when we arrange mediation and reconciliation without understanding the principles behind justice. Asking a survivor to go into forgiveness before they have acknowledged the issues, processed their emotions, released their anger only urges drives many survivors to turn to drugs, alcohol and other addictions.


24/Sep/2019

In these times, we need to revisit the story of Tamar over and over again. Tamar was David’s daughter who was sexually violated by her brother, Amnon, one of David’s sons who then casts her out. Tamar’s brother Absalom then finds out about what Amnon has done and he gives her advice based on his ignorance of the trauma of sexual violence.

Absalom says, “Be quiet now my sister, he is your brother so do not take this thing to heart.” That was so wrong. But it is David’s response that was really painful. We read that he was very angry but he did nothing. He does not condemn his son, Amnon, and he does not vindicate his daughter, Tamar. There are no words of kindness or comfort for his daughter neither is there justice carried out for the sake of her honor. David was angry but he remained silent.

By keeping silent and not taking action against Amnon, what David failed to do opened the door for Absalom to kill Amnon in revenge and then escape to his grandfather’s house, while Tamar was left in desolation. But why was David angry yet he took no action? What David sees in his two sons is really his own sins being repeated again. Not so long ago, David had not only overpowered and had an affair with Bathsheba, he also killed her husband, Uraiah, to cover up his tracks.

Now his sons were fulfilling judgement by committing exactly the same sins. So, David remained silent because he knew he was also guilty of the same act he was to pass judgement over. After Amnon had overpowered Tamar, her cries to him were “Amnon, where will I carry my shame to?” David’s judgement was meant to help alleviate Tamar’s cries but by his silence, the answer to her question was really, “nowhere”.

Today, Tamar’s story is still very common but it is one that’s been difficult for survivors to open up about. We hardly ever preach about Tamar from the pulpit. We don’t tell Tamar’s story most times to preserve David’s reputation as “a man after god’s own heart”. At the same time, silence from us as leaders heaps more shame on survivors like Tamar.

We need to allow our Tamars speak. We need to let them know that their stories need to be heard. We need to let them know that their grief is our grief and they should not feel ashamed. David’s silence should make us all speak today. David’s inaction should get us all to begin to act today. We must speak about Tamar’s story and as we speak of Tamar, we are speaking to the women in churches whose voices are silent because of the shame that they feel.

We are inviting them to a place where they feel safe to tell their story and where they begin a journey of healing. No daughter in the family of God should ever carry shame for the abuse she has suffered. There should be no desolate women in the church, only daughters of God who are seen, loved, and cherished. Today, when we talk about Tamar, we become for our sisters and daughters the advocates that Tamar never had.

 


24/Sep/2019

In recent times, there’s been a push concerning women proving their worth in society and showing that they themselves are just as capable and intelligent as men. There’s a lot going on about women proving themselves in the workplace in comparison to their male counterparts.

Women are being celebrated and empowered and they are succeeding in their fields of endeavour. But inspite of the affirmation women are receiving in the area of strength and success, we still have to admit that they are vulnerable generally in ways that men are not. As more successful and powerful women are coming out with their own stories of assault, the issue is clearly that many successful women have been subjected to abuse.

In the sight of God, He created men and women equal. Women are just as gifted and complete as men are. We can however not ignore physical differences when it is time to confront evil men who take advantage of women’s God-given physical tendencies to abuse, repress and control them.

When people ask questions such as Why didn’t you leave?or Why did you let it happen?It is an assumption of certain level of physical power and command that is removed from the equation. Indeed some women are larger and stronger than the men, but many strong and fit women still get targeted by these men.

The solution is not to lock women away but to guard the women as they navigate the world. We need good men who would use their strength to protect women, make sure when women speak they are heard, and to stop those who target women.

We have a responsibility to teach our young men that even though women are successful, brave and strong, they are also vulnerable. We live in a broken world. The #metoo campaign is helping us understand the dangers women face. Amidst the brokenness, we must let our mothers, sisters and daughters know that the problem is with a broken world and not with them.

 


24/Sep/2019

Many people come to church. They sing, they clap, they dance, they look good on the outside, they say the right things, they go through the motions of Christianity, but beneath the externals, they are bleeding internally. They need attention and healing; inside is pain, hurt, guilt, and anger. Even pastors, elders and deacons are themselves victims of torment and anguish of sort.

The Bible talks about those who mourn in Zion. They are adults with trapped little children on the inside.

Many kids are traumatized by fathers. Others are physically and emotionally abused by parents. Some children have grown up hearing harsh words like “I wish you were never born” or ‘Stupid’ or ‘useless; kids embracing rejection and ridicule.

We hear of the abomination of fathers molesting their daughters sexually; too many people crying silently at night, weighed down by grief and sorrow from the past; many full of regrets and pain from previous tragedies.

Jesus said HE was sent to heal the brokenhearted. And where do these broken hearts come from? From abuse, from disappointments, from divorce; from broken bodies, engagements and marriages.

To embrace healing therefore, we have to turn-on the light on the situation that traumatized us. This is the beginning of a journey into healing.

We must confront the terrible, hidden, childhood memories; we must break down the barriers of guilt, shame, rejection and withdrawal as healing commences and as we acknowledge the pain of the past.


24/Sep/2019

It is morally reprehensible to dismiss the crimes of pastors and church leaders. It is an abuse of faith to attempt to silence critics and denounce people who challenge the church to be accountable as unfaithful, or lacking obedience to the word of God. To believe that church leaders are infallible is a disgusting handicap to have.

Have you ever heard a sermon in your church about sexual abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse? The answer is probably ‘No!’ Sexual abuse, domestic violence and child abuse are not just mentioned once or twice, there are references to these issues in abundance. Examples can be found in the abuse of the Levite’s concubine, Joseph, Abel, Tamar and Dinah. Your pastors or reverends shy away from these passages because they are scary and unglamorous. With what is going on in Nigeria and in Christendom, these passages are very relevant today, as they have always been.

Professing the name of Jesus is not a cure all. Being born again can wash away sins, according to the Bible, but it cannot wash away crimes. The pulpit should not be a safe haven for sex offenders, pedophiles, child molesters, wife beaters and rapists. Those who aspire to lead us in faith, ought to be people of integrity, known for their self-control and compassion. It is completely out of line, if churches and Christian umbrella bodies choose to ignore the scripture and the principles behind their own existence. Certainly, sex offenders, rapists and anyone engaging in those crimes do not meet the integrity, self-control and compassion criteria and they should be made to face the consequences.

From what we know about the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) saga playing out and the obscene and ostentatious lifestyles of many pastors, it is clear that the body of Christ in Nigeria desperately needs accountability and responsibility. Self-sanction is best, if they do not wish to lose the digital generation that is wiser, more introspective and practical. They must know that no one is above reproach in all things. Understandable but not excusable is the palpable fear gripping the body of Christ into defensiveness. Many in it fear the allegations of rape is going to make them all look bad. Unfortunately, reactions based on fear are no long-term strategy. It is actually a failing strategy because many of in the body of Christ are bad, and they should look bad. Issues like this have gone on for too long without being addressed. Defensive responses from “respected” pastors and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and attempts by the COZA congregation to demonise victims, rank high among the worst things the sexually abused can endure.

…the nauseating indifference to criminal behaviour by pastors and the “touch not the anointed”-believing congregation is a gross abuse of faith. The lack of accountability and oversight in branches, and big churches without hierarchical structures, constitute an abuse of faith.

Increasingly in Nigeria, people are associating faith or authority with oppression, trauma and betrayal. Religious leaders are authority figures. They are frequently and affectionately called “Men of God”. When someone is referred to as a man of God, there are no holds barred. Those who look up to them have no guards and their defence systems are completely paralysed. There is a feeling that it is a special relationship, blessed and sanctioned by God. Along with star power, it is easy to see why the young women were so vulnerable with zero defences.

That is why the nauseating indifference to criminal behaviour by pastors and the “touch not the anointed”-believing congregation is a gross abuse of faith. The lack of accountability and oversight in branches, and big churches without hierarchical structures, constitute an abuse of faith. Recently, the social media has become the battle ground for the fight against errant pastors and those committed to defending them. It is the height of the apologism of rape to bandy about the worn cliché of “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”. What about making sure the called become qualified? We must not allow anyone to offer loose interpretation of the biblical text with respect to rape and sexual assault. Rape is never the fault of the victim. We have lessons to learn from the book of Judges 19. The story is a lesson in intimate betrayal and the complicity of the community in the story, calls on us to consider our own roles when we aid and abet evil. In it is the most gruesome story in the Bible. The entire chapter is almost all about the rape, murder, and the dismemberment of a woman, facilitated by her husband. The Bible defined our roles as a people or as congregants in the final verse of the chapter: “Set yourselves (your hearts) on her, confer and speak!”

The common responses to abuse within our churches and communities mimics the ordeal of Tamar. Concerted attempts are made to silence victims and are designed to minimise their pain. What Tamar went through, shows how patriarchy and abuse are intertwined. David was silent but his silence made things worse.

We have heard about the promotion of Joseph as prime minister of Egypt but have we heard or read about the ordeal of Tamar and her rape in 2 Samuel 13:18-22? As they say, there is nothing new under the sun. The common responses to abuse within our churches and communities mimics the ordeal of Tamar. Concerted attempts are made to silence victims and are designed to minimise their pain. What Tamar went through, shows how patriarchy and abuse are intertwined. David was silent but his silence made things worse. The refusal of David and Absalom to turn over Amnon to the authorities complicated things, leading to dysfunction within their family and death.

It is morally reprehensible to dismiss the crimes of pastors and church leaders. It is an abuse of faith to attempt to silence critics and denounce people who challenge the church to be accountable as unfaithful, or lacking obedience to the word of God. To believe that church leaders are infallible is a disgusting handicap to have.

 


24/Sep/2019

One issue we have in Nigeria is that most Nigerians visualise corruption just in terms of theft of money. Generally speaking, corruption is a form of dishonesty or criminal activity undertaken by people entrusted with positions of authority. These forms of dishonesty include but are not limited to bribery, embezzlement, misconduct and theft.

Security corruption is misconduct where law enforcement officers end up abusing their power for gain, either personal or for friends. This type of corruption is a challenge to public trust, public cohesion, human rights and society itself.

In China, there is ongoing concern about collusion between corrupt police officers and the leaders of criminal triad gangs. Since the 1990s, a lot of China’s anti-corruption campaign messaging has focused on organised crime, corrupt government and security officials who protect criminals. Why is this? The ruling Communist party believe, correctly I might add, that such corrupt activities bring a legitimacy crisis to the police, which eventually affects them: the ruling party.

But such campaigns can only work when society finds the behaviour of such people in positions of trust to be abhorrent. So in the United States, for example, Reverend Amy Butler, the first female pastor of New York’s famous Riverside Church was recently removed from her post. The Riverside Church, had announced that they would not be renewing Rev. Butler’s contract but did not give a reason. Journalists went digging, and as it were, a video of the good reverend visiting a sex shop called Smitten Kitten during a conference in Minneapolis emerged. The church, naturally, was not amused, so she’s gone. Of course, the church reacted because they knew that if that video had emerged before they took action, their legitimacy as the shepherd of God’s flock would be cast in serious doubt. But that is in a normal country.

For some weeks now, Nigeria’s social media space has been on fire over rape allegations made against Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo of Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA). Fatoyinbo is also known as “Gucci Pastor”.

The allegations, which led to a protest around the church’s headquarters in Abuja, and other branches nationwide, were made by Bisola Dakolo, a celebrity photographer and wife of Timi Dakolo, a musician. Mrs. Dakolo’s interview with Chude Jideonwo was the stuff that hydrogen bombs are normally made of, in normal societies.

What was interesting was that on the Sunday of the protests, COZA was protected by a detachment of the Nigerian Navy’s elite Special Boat Service. A few weeks later, after presumably the storm had cleared and Nigerians had started to, as usual, move on to other things, there was an attempt by the police to intimidate the Dakolos into recanting their accusation.

Mrs Dakolo’s interview came months after her husband, Timi, called out Fatoyinbo over his alleged sexual relationships with female church members. Timi also encouraged other victims who have gone through similar experiences with the man to speak up.

This is not the first time that Biodun Fatoyinbo would be accused of sexual impropriety. In August 2013, he was entangled in an allegation of infidelity with a former member of the church, Ese Walter. The allegation snowballed into a huge sexual scandal that many said was going to undermine the church. Days after Ese Walter, a former church member, and worker of the COZA, confessed to having had an affair with Mr Fatoyinbo, another former female member alleged an encounter with the same man in a hotel in Lagos. Fatoyinbo denied both allegations, and told us to expect a robust response. It’s been five years since we have been waiting for that response…

For me, the problem is not so much Mr Fatoyinbo, as it is the proof that in Nigeria, law enforcement is an entrepreneurial activity.
When we have members of the Navy’s Special Boat Service, and then members of the police’s Special Tactical Squad being deployed to protect a non-governmental actor, then we should be extremely worried, all of us. Who authorised the deployment of the SBS to COZA three Sundays ago? Who approved the dispatch of the STSF unit to the Dakolo residence last Saturday? Who is abusing important national security assets?

I did not dwell on Mrs Dakolo and her accusation for the simple reason that the alleged rape happened years ago, and even in a normal society, it is hard enough to prove rape a few days after, not to talk of years later in a society as deeply patriarchal and messed up as Nigeria is. What I wanted to mention are two things: first, Mr Fatoyinbo has form; and second, he has made use of his position of power, to abuse the system. Permit me to add a third; that the clear collusion between the security organs and someone close to the pastor, or the pastor himself, adds to the many things undermining the legitimacy of the Nigerian state in the eyes of its people.