Most Reverend Nicholas Dikeriehi Orogodo Okoh, Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is one of Nigeria’s most outspoken clerics. In this interview with LOUIS ACHI, he urges Nigerians not to despair and that a new nation will emerge from the ashes of hopelessness and self-doubt. He also shared insights on topical issue and gave a message on Easter
Easter 2012 coincides with a period of extreme stress within the Nigerian state. There is uncertainty, political mistrust, governance failures and poverty. How can the meaning of Easter provide hope and healing – for Christians and other religious adherents?
Yes, we are not surprised. Why? Because, according to John, Chapter 16, Verse 33, Jesus Himself said - In the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. So what I can say is that what we are passing through like you have catalogued, are part and parcel of the world; part and parcel of the tribulations which have been said to be the lot of man on this earth.
But the joy is that we look beyond this physical world and should be able to say that in the end, evil will not win; that in the end truth will win, love will win and the glory will be God’s own. In the end, decency will defeat ugliness because God is still firmly in control of the universe He has created. We are not running a dualism.
We are running a world that is firmly in God’s hand. Whatever the power of evil may have been permitted to do, in the end they still come under the judgement of God. So going by that, the joy of the Christian, the hope of the Christian, the victory of the Christian do not depend on outward circumstances.
There can be safety in an insecure environment because God is the safety of his people. And that is why He says, some trust in safety of chariots, some trust in horses but our trust is in the name of the Lord our God.
So the message is that no matter the upheavals all around us, we should trust in God because he holds the world in his arms.
So those who trust him can never be put to shame. So, the people should be encouraged and look forward with hope. Hope in God can never be defeated because nobody can defeat God. In Psalm 24... it said that the Lord is mighty in battle.
And the battle against cosmic forces, human mafia or terrorists and so on; in political failure, corruption, unemployment and poverty, God has answer to all of them. Particularly, when we compare what we are told in the scriptures that in the latter days we will have many types of evil coming. But God does not sleep. The victory of Easter is there.
A little over 2,000 years on, the message of Christ has witnessed significant distortions – both in doctrines and its essence. Would you say that a crisis of faith exists currently in the house of Christ?
After 2000 years, the Church has known the emergence of different denominations. And with these denominations, you have different emphasis, here and there. But in the main, they are still saying the same thing. There are quite a few which one can say that have been emphasising things out of proportion, as a result of which they cannot be accommodated within the mainstream belief of the Church. Such people have branded themselves with all sorts of names.
But if you go by the traditional groups from the beginning; the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans and all the churches that came out of the reformation of the 16th Century, you will come to see that essentially their teachings are, plus or minus, the same. The Pentecostals who came much, much later have their own emphasis.
But invariably, they toe the line. Whatever their teachings, they still follow the calendar of the Church which has been before they came to be. So I would say that it’s true that over the past 2000 years, a lot of denominations, a lot of new teachings, a lot of emphasis have come in; but essentially the substance remains.
In a fundamental sense, Christ was a revolutionary. If he returns today, would he recognise the present day disciples that teach in his name?
Frankly, many would not be recognised. This is because many are canvassing their own agenda rather than Christ’s. What’s more, there is a kind of deregulation in the Church. Some people have their own churches and have their own teachings.
And as long as these serve their own interests and purpose, they are carrying on, whatever you say. So there is an element that is selfish or self-serving than genuine faith of the Christian Church. But by and large this is marginal.
In the old Biblical tradition, we recall that prophets of God often spoke truth to power, to kings then without fear. In the Church of Christ today, it appears this has been lost?
The first problem in modern times – remember at that time, there was a bureaucracy, the government of God; a direct government by God, the prophets or the kings were the only representatives of God in the leadership of the people. That philosophy or leadership principle was understood even to those kings, even to the prophets. So when the prophet spoke, he was speaking the mind of God to under-Sheppards who were the kings or leaders.
They understood that God had the right to speak in order to correct them. Although, they were not in all situations sympathetic to what was said. In our situation today, we are in a state of flux; a situation where there is so much change that everybody is saying different things.
One person will proclaim what he calls the truth; another will say there is no truth there. In other words, they try to relativise, in which case they will say that truth as you saw it is not the whole truth. So, his own view has to be accommodated also in a kind of truth. So you are speaking the truth, I am speaking the truth, this man is speaking the truth, everybody is speaking the truth. In the end, everybody is telling lies.
So, that is one of the problems of our modern times – relativism. If we learn to follow the absolute truth which the post-modern man denies then we will be able to challenge the authorities.
We have come to see that in politics, because of party partisanship; it blinds people to the elements of truth. As long as your party is involved in it and you are a stakeholder and it is serving your own interest, they see truth from that perspective.
That is what has affected the truth of today. And take or leave it, pastors – they may not be politicians contesting for offices – but some of them have their political leanings and they show sympathy to this view or that view. This helps to colour their attitude to governments, attitude to leaders.
Let me bring in here the phenomenon of “Liberation Theology” in South America then which encouraged the Christian faithful to actively fight imposed injustice and extreme poverty. Do you foresee such development here?
You see, theology is dynamic. And it tries to respond to the situation of a particular environment. In fact the liberation theology was coined out from the Exodus story where the people were being oppressed in Egypt and God had to come in to rescue them. And it developed around that. Now that the main challenge in our country is poverty, that why prosperity gospel is selling because a large number of people are poor.
If you tell them that they are going to be rich, you are likely to get a good following. So there is already a contextual response in the Nigerian situation in theology in the sense that poverty has generated a large response to prosperity preaching. Otherwise, prosperity preaching is harmful in the sense that one is truth – that God owns everything and can bless anybody.
But not all the truth because Jesus said the poor you will always have with you. So one way or the other, when you talk about wiping away poverty, it’s relative.
The poor man in America, under certain situations may not be the same as the poor man in Nigeria. So I foresee a situation where the Nigerian can respond to theology according to their own local situation. It may not be even in the mode of liberation theology in the South American fashion. Our own major problem here is poverty in midst of plenty.
What is the mind of God in such a situation? It comes down to the fact that you have oppression; if you have plenty existing side by side with terrible want. That means some people are oppressing others, then there is need for wealth redistribution.
How do we achieve this without employment is a difficult question? Theology is dynamic. Because theology is dynamic, whatever is the condition of the people, theology has to respond to it. In our own case, poverty is the greatest challenge and theology must find an answer to it.
If Nigeria fails today, the Church will surely come in for considerable blame. How should it respond to pre-empt Nigeria’s failure?
If you say the Church will share considerable blame in case of national failure, I will agree with you. But let me expand it by saying if you say the Church, you don’t just mean the Church alone. This includes the Mosques and others. Our leaders come from Christianity, Islam or traditional religion – so religion in general.
You can hardly find anybody in Nigeria who does not believe in God. Why I say I will agree with you is because we all claim to know God but we do not allow the morality that is supposed to go with it to follow us.
We don’t mind regular visits to worship places but when religion makes its fundamental demands of a good life – of honesty, of sincerity, of probity, of accountability, of responsible living, we take offense. There and then, we part ways with God. That is why our society is upside down. Unless there is a marriage between morality and religion which should be the case, it will be difficult for religion to affect the society positively.
Your life’s story has largely been defined by combat. You fought for the unity of Nigeria as a soldier and now you are soldiering for Christ. Which has been the more challenging war?
The more challenging war is where I am now. This is because in the first case, you can see the enemy. You can assess the enemy, you can assess the weapon, and you can assess the movement. In some cases you will be right. But in this case, what we are going through in Nigeria now is one battle that nobody can easily fight. At one level, it’s a battle of words; it’s a battle of intrigues, it’s a battle of dishonesty, it’s a battle of insincerity.
You can’t depend on anybody; you don’t know whom you are talking to. You maybe seating in a meeting with somebody who is making suggestions on how the solution can come, whereas in actual fact, he one of the promoters of evil. So in this type of situation the battle is difficult.
And there is no pain as great as the pain of somebody who is deceived. When I trusted you and it turns out that my trust was misplaced. So, you will suffer not just mere pain but grief. So, the war I have fought earlier appears to be a mere preliminary to the current far more serious one.
Your message to Nigerians at Easter
The summary is that, the events of the Holy Week, beginning from Palm Sunday were really, really things that overpowered the disciples and eventually as it were, they lost out when Jesus was crucified. But from the ashes of hopelessness then came the resurrection on the third day. From the ashes of discouragement, seeming failure and confusion, a new life started.
The Church was born; hope resurrected, a new understanding came to be. In the case of Nigeria, I ask Nigerians to lift their minds beyond the current fog, beyond the darkness of the present and to look forward that tomorrow, God who controls the universe inspite of human works of darkness; activities of friendly enemies, activities of people who gather in secret to orchestrate evil, will protect us.
Evil will not win; truth will triumph. Nigerians should have hope in the Nigerian project. Nigeria will not disintegrate. As long as God is in charge of the universe He has created, the message of victory on Easter Day will be our story in the building of our nation.