Should religious leaders and institutions take blame for upsurge in crimes?

Opebiyi

Opebiyi

Last week, we presented responses to the question, whether religious leaders are living up to their billing by impacting positively on societal moral standard. A Deputy Comptroller of Prisons recently held religious leaders responsible for upsurge in crimes, especially among Nigerian youths. Some clerics gave reasons why they are not solely responsible for the rot in the society. CHRIS IREKAMBA and ISAAC TAIWO (LAGOS), SAM OLUWALANA and IYABO LAWAL (IBADAN), CHARLES COFFIE GYAMFI (Abeokuta) NKECHI ONYEDIKA-UGOEZE (Abuja) and AYOYINKA JEGEDE (Uyo) report the concluding part.

‘Bring Back Religious Studies To Schools’

(Alhaji Abdul-Fatai Opebiyi, Chief Imam of Ibara Housing Estate Central Mosque, Abeokuta)

I don’t agree with the assertion that failure of religious leaders in their responsibilities is responsible for the high crime rate in the society. Have they considered that the influence of television, social media, foreign films and government policies are responsible for the worrisome situation?

The Imams are doing their duty by preaching what the Qur’an says in mosques. Aside delivering sermons in the mosques, we also give public lectures. After all these, there is nothing we can do, if people choose not to do what they are told. That crime rate is increasing cannot be laid at the doorsteps of religious leaders. Rather, it should be attributed to the social media, foreign films, government policies and even mobile phones, where people access all sorts of information.

We have lost our value system completely in Nigeria as a result of foreign influence. Africans are now talking of same sex marriage. This is strange. We should go back to the basics and government has a major role to play. It must be decisive in coming out with measures to check the trend. If religious studies are brought back to schools, it will go a long way to check some of these things.

‘Problem Lies With Individual’s
Upbringing’

(Apostle Emmanuel Nuhu Kure, Vision Pioneer, Throneroom (Trust) Ministry/National Secretary, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN)

THE problem lies with the individual. The Bible says in James 1:14-15, that every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed; then when lust had conceived it bringeth forth sin and sin when it is finished it bringeth forth death. The problem lies with an individual’s background, upbringing, orientation and the society that moulded him/her, as well as the people that had charge over his/her life, while he/she was growing up. If you are tracing it to the root, it is the individual, followed by all those involved in the process of his/her growth.

Their role is to speak the truth, expose and expand the scriptures the way God has commanded without compromise. The problem we have these last days is that there is compromised gospel. People preach soft gospel to keep membership. People have developed tactics outside the scripture to propagate the gospel. If we can all go back to the true scriptural ways of doing things, it will curtail a lot of excesses.

The question I want to ask is: What is the basis for holding religious bodies responsible for high crime rate among young people in the country? Do they give birth to these children and did the children go through the churches’ schools? These are questions we should answer practically, when addressing that question. Why would you hold religious bodies responsible, when they didn’t give birth to these youths?

The problem is that we have not really sat down to look at the sources of the problem and how to solve them. He should know that religious institutions don’t keep the child. Are the children housed in the church? Is the church involved in the grooming of the youths? And if people like the Deputy Prison Comptroller, who are in charge of social welfare, such as the prisons, are blaming the wrong people, how can they solve the problem? I think part of the problem is with the orientation of those who are involved in transforming human lives in institutions such as the prisons. I beg to disagree with that Deputy Comptroller; it is a shallow way of thinking because I can’t even see the connection between the church and crime. Are pastors giving guns to people to go and kill or rob? But pastors are not preaching those things on the pulpit. I don’t know how the prison man came to talk like that. I think he just wants to run away from responsibilities.

Jokotoye

Jokotoye

The church is supposed to be an example in purity and perfection. The problem we have sometimes in the church is that some members are found guilty of the same offence and when church members don’t live by example and they are found guilty of such things, what is their sermon to the society? And this is where the real problem is. For instance, the clergy are also human and some of them are also caught up in sin. They too are drawn by their own lust. And when they are caught doing that, the members would start thinking you can escape with sin. As such, they would also take it for granted and try it. But the Bible says the wages of sin is death; whether it be the pastors or church members. Sins are punishable even in the Bible. I think both the church, the people, and citizens should be more mindful of the fact that God frowns at these social excesses and if the laws and nature don’t punish them, one day God will catch up with them eventually. Fighting social vices is a responsibility for all. For example, there are government institutions established for such purposes. It is not the church that runs these government institutions. A criminal is caught; he bribes the policeman and gets released. Is it the church that released him? It has nothing to do with the church.

Somebody paid someone else to impersonate him and write WAEC exams. Is it the Church that paid him to go write WAEC for him? Of course, not. It is an intricate part of man and the way he was brought up. It is the background of most people that leads them to crime, as they believed that if they don’t commit crime, they couldn’t survive. Government has a great role to play in this, by starting a general social re-orientation of the people and make them know they will be held accountable for their actions whether good or bad. Government should also ensure that the institutions that set up to enforce laws are not corrupt.

The issue of tithe is a very difficult one in that it might be quite tough for a pastor to discern that the money a member is using to pay tithe was stolen. It is never written on the money that ‘I am stolen.’ And even those condemning the Church for this would face the same problem were they to be made religious leaders. The Church can only preach that God does not receive stolen sacrifice, which can only come from the devil. It is now left for the individual to know that the tithe he/she is giving is stolen money. God will not accept it and he/she is supposed not to give that money.

‘Blame Religious Leaders Preaching Prosperity Without Salvation
Message’

(Pastor Johnson Odesola, Special Assistant to the General Overseer (Admin and Personnel), Redeemed Christian Church)

I DISAGREE with the deputy comptroller of prison, who hinged crime rate in the nation on the failure of religious bodies, vis-à-vis discharge of their responsibilities.

Talking from Jesus Christ’s point of view and as a custodian of the Word of God, I would say that depravity in the life of man leads to all atrocities, such as rape, murder, theft, kidnapping and robbery among others.

Jesus tells us in the Bible that all these evils proceed from man’s heart, as a depraved person and it is only salvation through Jesus Christ by means of repentance and conversion with a brand new heart that can remove them.

We have the responsibility, as God’s messengers to preach against these vices, but preaching alone cannot do it, if the people we are ministering to do not give their lives to Jesus Christ, to get a brand new heart to live a new life in Christ. This is the problem the world is facing today.

Then, where religious bodies may not completely be absolved of the blame is in the case of those preaching prosperity without salvation message and ensuring that the people are first born again.

Jesus tells us that we should seek first God’s Kingdom and God Himself would add His righteousness and all other things we need, such as money and houses, among others.

No one is as rich as God and out of His great wealth, the magnitude of which the heart of any man cannot fathom, is what we are being given. God wants man to prosper and He has clean prosperity, for the Bible says, that He is the Custodian of ‘treasures of darkness and hidden riches kept in secret places’ that can only be revealed to His own that are born again.

Religious leaders are not just to take donations from members or anyone. They should ask for the source of such money, especially when they are colossal. They should be interested in knowing the type of work the person does. They should be inquisitive and not just accept every donation, assuming that the person is righteous. This is a warning to those that set up their religious organisations for the purpose of making money, because they would take the lion share of the recompense of the criminals, whose money they are taking and enjoying now.

‘Crimes Would Have Been More If There Are No Men And Women Of God’

(Father Ezekiel Ade Owoeye, Chaplain, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, University of Ibadan (UI)/President, Nigeria Congress of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care (CPPC)

Akamisoko

Akamisoko

I DON’T want to agree totally with my brother, who made that statement because if not for religion, I don’t think Nigeria will be where it is today. Though there are a lot of crimes, but they would have been more than this, if there were no men and women of God. We instill the teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to combat crimes. We cannot say that religion has failed in the country.

The mandate to preach the goodnews was given by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He said we should go to the whole world and preach the good news. The responsibility was assigned by Jesus Christ, when He wanted to go to heaven and He gave the responsibility of preaching the good news to the church and that is what we are doing up to this moment.

The church cannot be accused of failing in its duties at all because it is always preaching against the vices. We try as much as we can to tell people that come to church how bad, and against the good will of our Lord those various vices are. It would have been worse, if in the churches and mosques people are not being urged to live righteously, and in unity and God’s covenant. We would have been living in a state of anarchy, where everybody will be doing what he/she likes. The society would have been worse off, if there was no religion.

‘Problems Started After Military Took Over Mission Schools’
(Rev. Fr. Patrick Alumuku, Director of Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja)

YOU cannot at all blame the church for the rising rate of crime in Nigeria today. The church has continued to undertake its responsibility within its own limit by telling church members what is right and what is wrong. The issue is that a number of things have gone wrong in our country. Moral education of children was primarily in the hands of parents, as they taught children what should be done and what should be left alone. So, the first stage of tackling ethical issues in the society was with parents.

But now, we have a generation of parents that don’t think they have an obligation towards teaching their children what is right and wrong.

Most of these problems started after the war, when the Military took over ownership of mission schools. Religious organisations taught children moral education in the church, as well as in schools, where children were instructed on moral issues and they know that doing wrong would attract punishment.

To me, the reasons the military took over the running of mission schools was not due to the desire to improve moral standards among students. Then, they took over the schools because they felt the Church was evangelising the young ones through education towards the Christian religion. After this, there was no religious or moral education and the sense of right and wrong was suddenly lost on the entire populace.

The Church has totally lost its duty of teaching moral education to children, but the truth is that it is not exactly the same thing as holding ethical lesson in class and sitting 100 children down to teach them and be allowed to ask questions and get answers. Having discovered they could not run the schools, the state now asked the Church to take over the schools again, after destroying the school structures, the moral fabrics, as well as the teachers that were well trained in strong moral standards.

The role of the church is to bring people up spiritually, to love God, to love man and their neighbour. It is the church’s responsibility to teach people what is right and what is wrong, which it has been doing. But the influence around us has become so powerful that members are assailed by other factors. What we see now cannot come to an abrupt end. A programme could be put in place that would begin to slow down cases of rape, armed robbery and other social vices. We need to bring children up in the right way, when they are young.  You asked God to get out of your schools, prayers are no longer said at they meetings and students are not being taught religious education in schools. So, if God has been thrown out of your society, then you need to get Him back in the centre of the society. Messages of true religions should be taught children in schools, whether Islam or Christianity. Children should be taught to avoid societal vices. Parents can do this, but the influence in school is so important; so religious education should be reintroduced in every school, whether private or public.

‘Punishment Would Reduce Crime Rate In Nigeria’
(Bishop Duke Akamisoko, Anglican Bishop of Kubwa Diocese in the Federal Capital Territory)

THE church cannot be blamed for the upsurge in crimes in the country, because it is doing a lot in terms of teaching the fear of God, but you know the church doesn’t punish. In Nigeria, the Church has no permission to punish those that commit crimes, which is left to government.

One major factor responsible for the upsurge in crime in the society today is that offenders are not properly punished. We have laws in this country that are supposed to deal with crime at every point, but you discover that even if criminals are sent to prison, they are soon set free and continue to commit the same crime.  I believe if offenders were properly punished in accordance with the laws of the land, it would reduce crime rate in Nigeria.

Also, the high rate of unemployment in the country has partly contributed to the high crime rate in the country today. So, I don’t think the Church should be blamed 100 percent, though we are part of the society. There are various kinds of churches today, and what most of them preach is a different thing altogether. Government has a lot to do in this regard. Government must be sincere in its policies and programmes to create jobs for people. Also, those who commit offence must be punished publicly. Letting offenders off the hook easily encourages others to embrace crime.

The church’s responsibility is to preach, counsel, guide and teach members God’s mind as spelt out in the 10 Commandments. This we do daily, for people to obey God and live righteously. However, it is noteworthy that even in the Old Testament, despite the laws, God’s Word and prophets’ preaching, the people were still committing offences, for which they were punished accordingly.

‘Even When God Was Directly Overseeing The Nation Of Israel, There Was Crime’
(Pastor Wale Jokotoye, Pastor in charge of Harmony Parish, Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG))

THE churches must not be blamed for the increased crime rate, because they have been playing the role expected of them. However, not all buildings referred to as churches are churches. The fact that people erect a building and put the sign of cross in front does not make it a church.

Unfortunately, because of the socio-economic challenges in the society today, all manner of people call themselves pastors.

I won’t say categorically that the high crime rate is traceable to churches shirking their responsibilities. Even when God was directly overseeing the nation of Israel, there was crime. There are a lot of examples of such in the Bible.

Crime is just one of the social vices. In the Bible, the system of government called theocracy was practised right from the start, when God adopted the Israelites. It was later that they demanded to administer their nation like others. So, even when they were practising theocracy, there was high crime rate.

Although there are now instances of fake churches and fake pastors, but man is a free agent. God has given us commandments to serve as our guide and He doesn’t impose them on us. Religious leaders’ teachings and sermons are merely advisory.

Again, it should be remembered that the church is not a select circle of the immaculates or maybe the righteous, but rather a hospital for sinners. It is a place, where people who have realised that they are spiritually sick come for healing. I have the opinion that perhaps, the situation could have even been worse, if there were no churches.

Just like educational institutions, the church is supposed to guide, instill morals and values in members of the society through its teachings and sermons. Naturally, you will expect the teachings and things done in the church to have a direct impact on members of the society.

The church is also supposed to be agent of peace, serving as check to political leaders and as the voice of the masses.

‘It’s Parents’ Duty To Enforce What Had Been Taught In Church’
(Special Apostle Idowu Alake Famodimu, Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Church, Onikoko, Abeokuta branch)

THE responsibilities of the religious bodies is to preach the right word of God to the congregation and that true word of God will lead the congregation to heaven. But if religious leaders fail to preach the true word, it can affect their daily living and loss of heavenly kingdom.

They also need to pray for their congregation.

Our responsibility is a God-given assignment; is a divine thing. Any Christian leader that assumes the post of a Minister knows that he has been called to do a heavenly assignment, which is very important for him and even if he didn’t know it at the time of his calling, he should go and learn how to preach the true word of God, the purpose of his calling and the duties assigned to that post in order for him to preach the right message to the congregation.

You cannot blame any religious leader for social vices because the congregation spends limited time in the church. Members stay two or three hours at church, while spending the rest mostly at home with their families. It is now parents’ duty to enforce what the children were taught in church. But if the parents fail to do that, there is nothing the church can do because they are not with them at home.

Religious leaders have done their part at the place of worship. When he or she has preached the true gospel to the congregation, it is now left for them to imbibe what they were taught.

In the book of Proverb chapter 3:1-3, the Bible says parents should teach their children the way of God and they will never depart from it. But if parents fail, what can pastors do? If the foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do?



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