Ogbu Kalu, the guru of the study of religions in Nigeria, takes issues with the presentation of pentecostalism in Nigeria
Please permit me to return to Dialogue no.37 Fundamentalism in Politics. I am surprised that no one took interest in this offering. The effort by the Center for Law and Social Action (CLASA) to forge a relationship between Pentecostals and other forms of civil society intrigues me, and was an aspect of my book, Power, Poverty and Prayer: the challenges of poverty and pluralism in African Christianity, 1960-1996 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2000) It is being republished by Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ. My interest was to explore how the mainline churches, Pentecostals, and the activist Christian feminists responded to the problems of poverty, ecological degradation, religious pluralism, and the second liberation of Africa; whether served as tools of hope in the midst of the darkness that hit Africa at noontide. The rise of Charismatic and Pentecostal movements cannot be ignored because they have reshaped the religious landscape of Africa, and have immense political import. The endeavor by CLAS is very laudable because the decimation of civil society by praetorian regimes in Nigeria further divided the members. It will be useful to regroup.
CLASA acknowledged that the relationship has been complex in spite of the fact that some of its members are charismatic. I could not agree less because there is an ideological divide that requires attention. Many of the human rights activists have tended to absorb the enlightenment worldview and rhetoric that located religion at the periphery, saw little of political activism in religious practices, and demonized the charismatic movements. They borrowed from Nigerian social scientists, many of who tend to be incurable positivists, vocal leftists (until settled by Babaginda), and critical of religion. When they are confronted with a very religious society, they resort to instrumentalist analyses, and point to religious entrepreneurs. Typically, this dialogue is labeled as one with fundamentalists. Naming could be quite instructive: are Nigerian Pentecostals fundamentalists? What defines them so?
As if this was not enough, they make foreign scholars as advisors and keynote speakers. Are we lacking high quality Nigerian scholars to plan and execute a dialogue of this nature? Could we talk to ourselves about our affairs? It could be that since it was funded from the West, the piper called the tune. This is a pity because there is enough money within the country to execute such a laudable enterprise that will remove caricatures and wrong information and realign members of the civil society. For instance, someone dubbed the Aladura as Pentecostals; another said that Pentecostalism in Nigeria came from America; another claimed its origin from university students in western Nigeria, ignoring the data form the eastern region. One is saddened that so much wrong information existed in the papers. The state of Pentecostal studies in Nigeria is not as poor as it might appear.
Particular mention must be made about the keynote speaker. My friend Paul Gifford has his own agenda that he has shared publicly. In 1986, he caviled against Bonkke's "Africa must be saved" conference in Zimbabwe. He followed it by alleging in 1990/1 that Pentecostals were tools of American CIA, funded through the moral majority. Even his fellow tribesmen told him that he has gone too far. Efforts have been made to delineate the indigenous roots of charismatism in Africa and Nigeria especially. Americans did not fund Wade Harris,1910-1914, Garrick Braide,1914-1918, the Ibibio Revival of 1927, Babalola in 1928,the Church of Jesus Christ, 1943 whose members invited the Assemblies of God in 1939, to name a few. In 1998, this apostle of "ecclesiastical externality", retreated a step but continued his jihad to show that Christianity is Western; since Africa depends on the West in every other thing, the new Christianity could be explained with the globalism discourse; the new Christianity has grown because of the collapse of the economies; they privilege concerns about wealth, status and material things. These have even supplanted the emphasis on healing, evangelism etc. Deploying cost benefit and deficit models of analysis, his explanation model links growth to poverty in the new Christian centers, and uses the market economy, modernity and globalization discourses to explain the attraction. These movements are profiled as alternatives to modernization and secularisation, a response by the marginalized wretched of the earth that seek cargo cults. But the class composition of the membership is much broader and does not support this assertion. So, explanation shifts to the tendency to schism, internal competition, clientele membership, recycling through sheep-stealing from historic churches, and the benefits from population growth. It argues that charismatic movements are often extension of American electronic church because of the undeniable American involvement in the 1980's; that they benefit from shifts in theory of knowledge as post-modernist attack on the enlightenment worldview opens the space for the resurgence of pre-industrial spirituality. It is a religion that purveys global cultural flows into non-western communities, and serves as a handmaid of fundamentalist Christian groups.
This model misrepresents the character of the contemporary shift of Christianity into the southern hemisphere and the importance of charismatic movements in this phenomenon, or how culture contact occurs. It diminishes indigenous initiative, agency and the patterns of appropriating the gospel. It ignores south-south connections and the nature of religious conversion. A combination of the cultural and religious discourses recovers how people deploy the element of transcendence in religious experience as a tool for coping with everyday life; enables an understanding of the 'fit' and resonance between primal and Biblical worldviews, or how the pneumatic resources of the gospel answer questions raised within the interiors of pre-industrial maps of the universe that were innately charismatic. People respond primarily to these pneumatic elements of the gospel because of their worldviews. Charismatic movements 'set to work' the message of the translated gospel as it voyages into new cultural contexts, and enlarges gendered utilization of human resources. Of import are the distinctive messages, values, beliefs, organizational structure and deployment of pneumatic resources for mediation of global forces, re-invention of self and life journeys, of daily life in the domestic domain, and expressions of imagination in arts and aesthetics. Enough attention has not been paid to Pentecostal hermeneutics. It is not just the hermeneutic of trust but a certain pneumatic reasoning that links the biblical saga to the realities of every day life.
At another level, Charismatic movements always change the pace and direction, and enlarge the scale of communicating the gospel. They utilize mass media communication technologies for doing evangelism, mobilization of human and material resources, and re-packaging of a new spirituality. They reconstruct religious life and landscape through specific missionary strategies and ethics. As the old missionary era ends, they have reinvented a new one in a different stroke. Most poignant is the re-entry of religion into the public space through a theology of engagement that contests the regnant dichotomy between the boundaries of two swords. Covertly, they essay to change historical events and redeem the public space on their knees. They critique the responsibility of power because they accept Achebe's conclusion that the trouble with Nigeria is leadership. Thoroughly missing in the dialogue is the role of the Intercessors for Nigeria, a movement that is exploding because it deploys intercession as political praxis. During the Babaginda regime, they "walked" and prayed across the boundaries of the nation for the end of the regime. During the Abacha period, they posted prayer watchmen in Abuja during the constitutional conference; during the Liberian crises they mobilized refugee materials, and sent teachers and nurses after the civil war. The difference between them and other pundits might reside in the diagnosis of our problems: is it spiritual? Does individual salvation inform public morality? They share Professor Onwudiwe's optimism and the ideology of African Renaissance because they claim to have heard God declare, through a number of messages, His counsel for the recovery of Nigeria. It may tarry but will surely come to pass. Nigeria will become great again! It is an important tool in God's design for the liberation of Africa!
They have published a collection of these prophecies. Overtly, they advocate Godly policies and support public officials who share their views. They initiated the SALT program to train civil workers toward moral responsibility and sensitivity; they organized City Projects to repent and pray on behalf of the city dwellers. Many villages throughout Nigeria devote major holiday periods to land cleansing, and outreaches. Evil may seem to be holding us in bondage, but theology of hope rejects the pessimism, cynicism and defeat. Pentecostals eschew tribalism and the character of each group is amazingly devoid of ethnic conflict. The argument that CLASA has, in the past, been dealing with the mainline churches is obscured by the fact that Pentecostals are members of CAN and their President is the current Vice President of CAN. The argument that mainline churches chaired the transitions panels during the second liberation is actually non sequitur precisely because of the size and history of these churches. Conferences were followed by failed consolidations, anyway. Gifford and I have shown the different permutations in various African countries just as the late Adrian Hastings analyzed the patterns of church-state relationships in Africa. Lacking in the CLASA dialogue was a clear definition of the purviews of the political field. The charge of collusion with authoritarian regimes is a red herring. Space constrains my response. It does not apply to Nigeria where Catholics and Anglicans outnumber Pentecostals. If a Pentecostal Adeboye visits Obasanjo, so does the Methodist Mbang: Obasanjo has a Baptist chaplain. The track record of mainline churches in conscientizing their members on their civic responsibilities might be nothing to write home about. The Justice and Peace project of the Roman Catholic Church is not matched by others. The public profiles of Okogie and Kukah do not translate into a successful project. What does it matter where elections are rigged? Did anybody's vote count in Anambra state? The Governor of Abia State bragged in public and in daylight that Wabara offended him, so he permitted him to be defeated. When Wabara became remorseful, he was given back the lost seat! They embraced at the reception in Wabara's hometown, and went off to drink Remy Martin at the taxpayers' account. Recently, religious groups have embarked on tertiary education projects. Pentecostals are quite prominent in the enterprise, and their websites are intriguing in their mission statements.
The "brethren" constitute networking communities that shield from the harsh winds from the flutes of the predatory elite. They supply employment, provide safe environments for the womenfolk, inculcate ethics of hard work, encourage individual responsibility, and succor members in urban contexts. In spite of Gifford's jaundiced perceptions, another member of his tribe, Ruth Marshall-Fratani, has in a number of articles revisited the diatribe and pointed to the salient characteristics of the movement. Admittedly, Gifford does not claim to have done fieldwork in Nigeria. This explains why he devoted his keynote address to examples from Ghana. He wrote about Ghana in 1993,1994,1998, and produced a book centered on the Greater Accra in 2004. The contexts are very different: the scale of this phenomenon in Nigeria is much larger, and the force more significant. Charismatic movements hold the cutting edge of contemporary Christianity in Nigeria. Happily, Matthew Ojo corrected some of the wrong impression in spite of avoidable errors in his paper and possible collusion in the debacle.
My concern is that the next CLASA dialogue on women could be better organized to achieve its laudable goal. More important, the dialogue with Pentecostals should not be this one night stand. Perhaps they could encourage the mega groups as Winners, Redeemed and the PFN to fund a proper dialogue with Pentecostals. The Vatican has been dialoguing with Pentecostals since 1972.They have completed five quinquennia of very organized dialogue that have cleared much misunderstanding. There are many scholars in the University of Nigeria axis: Paul Emeka did his doctorate on the Idahosa factor in Nigerian Pentecostalism, Hilary Achunike worked on the Catholic Charismatic Movement and many others.