The sensational trial of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso should be seen by South African Christians as a blessing in disguise.
It presents an opportunity for self-introspection and to reflect on problematic leadership tendencies within the Church.
The senior pastor of Jesus Dominion International faces charges of rape and human trafficking. Sordid details of his lurid acts with young female congregants are pouring out from the Port Elizabeth High Court.
The biggest Christian denomination – the Catholic Church – is rocked by details of decades-long abuses by its priests and the church’s shameful attempts at covering up.
I think Christianity also has a case to answer. I say this because of the unchecked power vested in some of its leaders.
For instance, some residents of Port Elizabeth have seen followers of Omotoso bowing and giving him unquestioning loyalty.
This excessive deference could have laid the ground for the alleged offences and some sense of invincibility. To be fair, Omotoso is not the only Christian leader with unquestioning followers.
In fact, demigods and egocentric people are now flocking to the pulpit and they are so obsessed with power that they will do anything that gives them a whiff of importance.
Things like fancy and superlative ecclesiastical titles, a bevy of attendants, and so forth. Some of these titles, such as “major” or “chief”, do not only lack biblical validation but create a chasm between the leader and his followers. And it is this chasm that allows people like Omotoso to act with impunity.
It becomes easier for such leaders to get their followers to see to all their whims — including sexual satisfaction.
Point of leadership
But this toxic situation misses the whole point of leadership.
John Quincy Adams helps to refocus us. He once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Adams was the 6th president of the United States and he was known, among other things, for his fight against the circumscription of civil liberties.
Today’s church leaders are unlike the biblical character Moses. They are happy to dwell alone in the promised land while their followers are stuck behind in lack and neglect.
Some exasperate people with endless demands to maintain an opulent and unassailable life.
Sacrifice and servanthood
A similar toxic condition exists in politics and the rest of society. But in the Church it is fuelled by a departure from values that are a true mark of greatness and a distinguishing feature of Christianity. I am referring here to sacrifice and servanthood.
In today’s church foot washers are in short supply while the ranks of the Pharisees swell daily.
I believe the Church should declare a state of emergency and deal with a faulty leadership system that keeps churning bad and abusive leaders.
I mentioned that Omotoso is part of an array of Christian leaders whose behaviour is at odds with their faith.
Remember the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry, whose leaders allegedly kept women as sex slaves and had no qualms in committing audacious and callous criminal acts?
And just this week, Trinity Apostolic Church Bishop Jabu Ndaba was sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape of a minor.
The 52-year-old church leader was sentenced in the Springs Magistrate Court after being found guilty of two counts of rape.
His 15-year-old victim and her mother were members of Trinity Apostolic Church.
These kinds of actions have invited state organs such as the CRL Commission to call for regulation of religion.
But how do you regulate religion? Because by its very nature it entitles people to believe in anything, however absurd it might look.
Perhaps religion should regulate itself and come with a standardised process to root out charlatans and expose those who are bringing it into disrepute.
Otherwise, it will remain on trial through the actions of those who claim to represent it.