Some years ago I had this devotional I used to read, which I can’t remember its title.The passage of a particular day contained a story about a man who loved to pray for the poor widow who lived next door to his family, for God to give her clothing and food. One day his seven year old son observed “Dad instead of praying to God every day for this woman, why don’t you give me your wallet so that I can go and answer your prayer myself?”
What actually brought the above story back to memory was the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Bill, which has been presented to the State House of Assembly by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, and the reaction of some religious clerics to it. I will look at the action of the Christian leaders, as I am a Christian and I don’t want this to look like I am prescribing for a faith that I don’t understand. However I expect other faiths to find points that also apply to them. The particular response I had in mind was the response of the President of Omega Fire Ministries Prophet Johnson Suleman warning Governor El Rufai to “stop the bill or face the wrath of God.” The thing that immediately struck me about that was how quickly men of God, especially in Nigeria tend to respond to unfavourable political decisions and laws with mean spirited threats and warnings instead of engaging those laws as citizens with legal rights within the framework of the constitution. The more baffling one is the tendency of some other set of Christians to be less confrontational and retreating to their churches and pray that God either touches the leader’s heart or destroy him with fire and brimstone.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am a Christian and I believe firmly in the efficacy of prayers. Indeed in the book of Acts of the Apostles chapter 12 where Herod arrests Simon Peter, it is the prayer of the faithful that prompted God to intervene and save him. The reason why the early faithfuls can be excused in this case is that they were a bunch of persecuted “misfits” who had little or no political power and thus could not engage the authorities. These days Christianity has become a force to reckon with, and as Christians we have the ability to engage the politics and policy of the government of Nigeria at any level for good. But we still prefer to use the old fashioned lashing out with fire and brimstone threats and retreating to our churches method as Apostle Suleman does.
The problem with this modus operandi is that it continues to perpetuate the notion that Christians/religious people are fundamentalists who are incapable of intelligent debate and who must use the threat of an omnipotent, and vindictive being to bully others into agreeing with their points of view. What this often leads to is creating the impression of God being little more than a schoolyard thug and bully, whom you can unleash on people you don’t like. Worse still it allows “unbelievers” to call God’s bluff and yours which El-Rufai immediately does to Suleman as those who have been following the story know.
I think the problem with Christianity and public policy engagement is the belief that “we are in this world, but we are not of this world.” That Christians are superior to “unbelievers” because we believe in something they don’t, which implies that they are foolish and thus deigning to debate with them is compromising our stance and our superiority. This is a real pity because we have professors and brilliant legal minds within our ranks who can call Gov. El-Rufai to a public debate and reduce this bill to trash, so that the joke is on El-Rufai and the State House of Assembly if they pass it. As Inibehe Effiong proves here, Nigerian politicians aren’t the most rational of thinkers when they are trying to pass laws on religion, but we Christians are going to be the assholes who will get laughed at if we don’t learn to kick this habit of wishing fire and brimstone on politicians we don’t like instead of engaging them in debate as Johnson Suleman proves.
Finally, I must reiterate again that I am not saying Christians should not pray, but we can do well to learn from one of our founding fathers Paul the Apostle,who in Acts 17 challenged the people and leaders of the city of Athens to public debates instead of praying for God to save their souls or wishing the wrath of God on them. Jesus Christ himself talks about being as gentle as doves, and yet being as wise as serpents. If we don’t learn to push back with rational arguments , we are going to be labelled as laughingstocks, and policies like this Kaduna Religious Preaching Bill will not abate. It will continue until we reach our limit and we do something so unchristlike that “unbelievers” will be like “Didn’t you say your God is a loving God?” And we wouldn’t want that to happen would we?