Proceeds of crime: How churches manage members and resources
The church is meant to be a spiritual sanctuary for all, especially those seeking intimacy with their Creator. No one is therefore, expected to be turned away from a place of worship, regardless of his or her status in society, as the church is meant to preach the message of salvation, win souls and encourage sinners to forsake their evil ways by embracing a better way of life. And in these places of worship, hardened criminals have repented of their sins, while many have also been saved. However, some ‘shrewd’ criminals, who want to have their cake and eat it, have sometimes used the church as a platform to portray themselves as good and responsible citizens, by donating large sums from their crime proceeds and even go as far as donating churches in their communities and elsewhere. But is there any mechanism in place for churches and leaders to know when a gift/tithe/offering or donation is coming from the wrong source? What can be done to discourage such? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.
‘It’s Duty Of Church Leaders To Verify Before Accepting Gifts’ (His Eminence Dr. Samuel Uche, Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria)
I believe that God has given us the spirit of discernment. For instance, if you were poor before being elected as a local government chairman or councilor, but after two months, you tell me you are coming for thanksgiving in the church and you are bringing a Coaster bus and such things, then I should know that that is corrupt money, as I know you cannot afford that with your salary. I might tell you to look for another church; I might not even open my church for you. Some orthodox churches are not after prosperity, as we are after the salvation of souls. Some people could be enticed by a donor’s affluence. For instance, if somebody is building a church to the tune of N100m, it is the duty of the church leaders to find out the source of his income before allowing him/her to continue.
I agree with Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo that churches should help in the fight against corruption. He said we are at the grassroots and know our members. As such, we should be able to know their sources of income, even before we accept gifts from them.
Remember that sometime ago, a young man who was a cashier in one of the hotels paid N65m as tithe to his pastor and I thought the pastor, who received the money should have said to him: “You are a cashier in a hotel and I know that your salary may not be up to N300, 000 a month. So, how did you get N65m to pay as tithe?”
It is high time churches started asking such questions; otherwise, it will lose credibility. However, this does not apply only to the church, but also the traditional rulers, who are very close to the people in the villages, they should stop giving titles to people without finding out what they do for a living. They should find out their sources of income before getting carried away by what they bring as gifts. That is my candid opinion.
You may not believe that criminals run away from Methodist Church, because we are very meticulous. And even if they were coming before, once they start making dubious money, they don’t come again, because we don’t believe so much in prosperity that will lead people to hell. So, we ask questions and we are bold enough to ask people how they came about the money they donate.
For instance, when I was a junior minister, some members came to fulfill their obligation as children of God. One gave N600, 000 and another N5m. But we asked the one who gave N5m how he came about it, and he showed me the contract he did for the federal government, how much he was paid to execute the job and his own gain before we accepted the tithe. That was during Sani Abacha’s time and not now. Our members know we are going to ask such questions, which is why they can’t bring such stupid money to the church.
‘God Does Not Need Fraudulently Acquired Money To Do His Work’(Dr. Cosmas Ilechukwu, General Overseer, Charismatic Renewal Ministries)
The church is an open forum that welcomes whoever appears at its doors. It is not within the church’s mandate to reject people, just because they are deemed to be bad. While on earth, our Lord was mockingly nicknamed friend of sinners because of His non-discriminatory attitude towards them. He explained the overarching motive of His presence on earth after He paid an unscheduled visit to Zacchaeus, a notoriously fraudulent tax collector, saying, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9). This attitude of Jesus set the benchmark for the church’s relationship with people of questionable character. The church welcomes them in her midst with the hope that, as they continue to hear the gospel preached and practised by the true disciples, they will somehow begin to change their negative lifestyles and tend towards Christlikeness.
Beyond this evangelistic motive, the church needs to be careful in relating with people who are known to be of questionable character and those whose sources of wealth are amorphous. Granted it is difficult for the church to monitor how its members make their money, however, when a person begins to bring large sums of money to the church, the leadership of the church in question is bound to take note of such a person and should seek to know what the person is doing for a living. Where the leadership discovers that the person is not doing a legitimate business, his gift or donation should be firmly rejected, and such should be counselled to repent and mend his life.
I have personally rejected such donations on at least two occasions. The truth is that God does not need fraudulently acquired money to do His work. Our Lord admonished worshippers who bring offerings to the altar to make sure they reconciled with people they had offended before presenting their offering. If God would reject an offering because of unreconciled minor misunderstandings, how much more would He frown at those who offer Him stolen money or money acquired through illicit business dealings.
The church, as a matter of principle, should reject all known offerings and donations from people of dubious character, whose sources of wealth are suspect. The church must be wary of the undue influence of the “unrighteous mammon” these days. God is still the owner of the universe. Gold and silver are still His, and so long as this truth subsists, the church will continue to march on triumphantly against the gates of hell.
‘Church Leaders Must Reject Gifts/Donations That Are Clearly Questionable’ (Rev. Francis Ejiroghene Waive, General Overseer, Fresh Anointing Missionary Ministries Inc/Senior Pastor, Church of The Anointing)
The church cannot verify the source of every fund that comes into its coffers, as the church does not have either an investigative mandate or skills. However, ministers of the gospel are expected to know their parishioners, to the extent that they can verify their means of livelihood. Jesus speaks of the Shepherd knowing the sheep and the sheep knowing the Shepherd. Under this premise, ‘strange offerings,’ which are clearly forbidden in the Old Testament, will hardly make it to the church’s account. Gifts from non-church members and members in Diaspora are more often the challenging ones, and church leaders must develop the moral courage to reject the ones that are clearly questionable.
The big time cases of proceeds of crime that make it to the church are clearly with the knowledge and consent of the respective church leaders involved. Where an individual gives to the church an amount that is above his known means of livelihood, the church has a responsibility to ask questions and thereafter reject the ‘offering.’ The only exception is where the donation is done by an anonymous bank transfer to the church account. Here, the church leaders are not liable before God. Otherwise, donations coming from corrupt politicians, drug trade, theft, prostitution and every criminal activity should be outrightly rejected. Ministerial ethics teaches God’s servants to do this. Donations in kind are easier to reject, so the society wonders why the church accepts such.
Permit me to add that today; the church sadly reflects the larger society. It should, however, be the other way round. Our elevation of materialism, favoritism of the rich and despising the poor, downgrading of things of moral and eternal values have made the church a laughing stock in a corrupt nation. Leaders of larger denominations are in the best position to ensure that standards are maintained. These will become a shining example to the others and make the exception obviously evil. May these show of shame wake up church leaders across board to change and become the light to a dark society.
‘Not All Churches Ask Questions About Source Of Money Members Bring’ (Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, Senior Pastor, Trinity House, a group of churches)
It’s a tough one. Some churches, though not all, have no barriers, no boundaries with regards to the kind of people they honour, elevate and so on. Some churches have a strong or what you may call monetary or if you like, prosperity drive, and in that manner, they tend not to discipline members. In those days, if you came home to your parents with a new car or you built a house, they would ask how you came about it.
I think churches should take more responsibility, by asking people who make huge donations, who bring their tithes and offerings, how they get such. For instance, they can say: “My friend, you are a civil servant, or you are a corporate person or you are in the military or armed forces. Does this donation reflect your earnings?” Churches should question and challenge people, and not just turn a blind eye to all manner of gifts and donations that people bring. Even in the Bible, there was a man called Simon, who wanted a gift of the apostles and was ready to pay them. Previously, he was an idol worshipper, who had used magic powers to bewitch people. But Peter and other apostles rejected his money, saying you cannot buy the gift of God with money.
Similarly, Elisha also rejected the gifts Naaman brought all the way from Syria. Elisha said this business is not about receiving money, but about doing the will of God. So, I think both of them are asking churches to be more responsible and a bit stricter, in terms of ensuring we are also not blinded by filthy lucre.
Not all churches are doing this. Some are asking questions about the source of money members bring. To a lot of people, churches need money here and there. And then again, people are entitled to their privacy. In fairness, sometimes you don’t even know, because when people are dropping their tithes and offerings, you are not there; they just drop it in the offering bags and after counting, the ushers pay into the bank. You don’t know exactly who has paid what, but as a pastor, if you are close to your people, you can tell by their lifestyle. For example, some people are making good money in an honest way. There is nothing anybody can do about that, but if you know one or two people, whose sources of wealth is a little doubtful, then you need to be careful. However, one also needs to be careful about interfering with other people’s privacy. But as a pastor, you have that right to question.