BURNING POT BY PRINCE CHARLES DICKSON, PH.D.
Apostle Suleiman and the Logic of ‘Fallen Angels’
While the term ‘fallen angels’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible, it is generally used by Christians to describe one-third of the angelic hosts who joined angel Lucifer in his rebellion against God (,). Lucifer (also known as Satan) and his accomplices subsequently fell from heaven (; ) and are equally known as demons or devils. It is quite common for many people to blame the devil whenever matters of moral (and even criminal failings) are uncovered.
I am not by anyway suggesting that Apostle Johnson Suleiman, founder and General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministry, is guilty of the salacious allegations levelled against him by one Stephanie Otobo, a Canada-based Nigerian, said to be a singer. The allegations provide a context for the interrogation of pastoral failings.
According to Otobo’s allegations, Apostle Suleiman impregnated her and reneged on a promise to marry her. He gave her concoctions, which she drank and which led to the abortion of the baby and her bleeding “for almost a year”. She also claimed that he gave her loads of money. Pastor Suleiman denied the allegations and called her a blackmailer.
There are several observations:
One, pastoral failings stretch as far back as Christian history. When a priest or pastor has a moral failing, especially of the sexual nature, some people are naturally excited by the room for gossip that it creates. Many will be curious to know if such a lapse is conclusive evidence that the pastor’s moral espousals in public are at variance with his private life. This is a legitimate concern. People will want to know how much of the pastor’s public persona is masked and how much is real. But concluding that someone is a hypocrite because of one moral misstep is not as straight forward as it seems. There is no one that has a 100 percent one-on-one correspondence between the morality the person preaches and what is practised – not you or I.
For the religiously inclined, for as long as we continue to inhabit in the human body, there will always be a tension between the flesh and the Spirit of God in us (God’s DNA in us by virtue of the fact that He is our Father and we are created in His image of God). This is why we often excuse the gap between our own moral standards (or the good things we want to do) and what we often end up doing with the phrase “we are only human”. Certainly many of us have experienced a moral failure or been on the other side of a moral breakdown.
The question of how wide the gap should be between what we preach and what we are able to practice to make us hypocrites is a personal judgement. As Romans 7:19 (ISV) would put it: “For I don't do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don't want to do.” This is why in a typical church, some will conclude that the Pastor is a hypocrite and leave once one moral failing from him is uncovered while others will try to offer the pastor support with the hope that the grace of God will restore him. Yet others will want to know if the uncovered moral failing is a pattern or just a one-time derailing before they can make up their minds. I am of course not suggesting that a Pastor’s moral failings are excusable. The point I am trying to make is that serious attempts at righteous living (not just in matters of philandering) will show how difficult it can sometimes be to tame the flesh. And it is often the main reason why some people tend to be compassionate towards failing pastors. No one prays with glitteringly clean hands, not me, not you.
Two, does the above mean, as the religious would say: “Judge not, that ye be not judged....” (Matthew, 7:1-3) or “Don't touch my anointed or hurt my prophets!” (Psalm, 105:15)? I don’t think so. Pastors are individuals striving for righteousness. They live in a secular world and are therefore legitimately judged both by the codes of the secular world and that of the ecclesiastical world they aspire to inhabit. Whenever they fail short, they will be treated just like others that have fallen short of such codes and got caught. Being empathic of their situations when they fail is not the same as condoning their sins.
Three, it may be germane to interrogate the reasons for the apparently increasing cases of pastoral and leadership moral failings (especially on adultery). Some of the factors here include first, the loneliness and isolation that come with the job. While solitude is a gift from God, our expectations of our leaders and pastors often force them into a life of isolation, without that inner circle they can comfortably and honestly share the ups and downs of their life. Secondly, it is often said that pastors who regularly confess their sins to God with contrite heart - including for small sins and impure motives are often in a better position to forestall slipping into a moral abyss. Thirdly, many pastors begin to derail when they become ‘pastorprenuers’ – when they have made too much money, become famous and turned their churches into business empires. Managing success can sometimes be more difficult than living with poverty or managing failure. Fourthly, burn-out is another important reason why many pastors derail. There comes a time when many, including people in leadership positions burn out and begin to look for escapism or entertain doubts. Wise pastors could sense when this is happening to them and will discuss their options with people they trust.
Four, despite pastoral moral failings, religion still plays a largely ennobling role in our society. This is in spite of the episodic problems it creates in the society. The desire for righteous living, the spark of the divine in all of us, cannot be allowed to die just because of a few charlatans or because some people who were probably truly called, slipped along the way. The core teachings of most religions are virtue – honesty, love thy neighbour, forgiveness and do not bear grudges. Religion also gives hope to the hopeless. Have we wondered what the society would be like without millions of our people striving regularly to live up to the moral precepts of the religions? Even Pentecostal churches, sometimes ridiculed in the mainstream press, have, among Christians, played a noble role in re-awakening a general desire and love for the Bible as the written word of God. Pentecostal churches played a big role in Christians no longer considering the Bible as a book meant only for the clergy and equally helped Christians to aspire for experiential communion with God in prayers.
Five, what do we make of the specific allegations against Apostle Suleiman by Ms. Otobo? I find a lot of gaps in her allegations – just as I expected a more robust rebuttal of each allegation by Apostle Suleiman. For instance, why was Ms. Otobo unable to name hotels in which she claimed that Apostle Suleiman lodged with her since the hotels would have records of room reservations? Since she claimed that Pastor Suleiman promised her marriage, did she really expect a public figure like Apostle Suleiman to secretly divorce his wife or was she angling to be wife Number Two? Did she have any moral unction that she could be labelled a home wrecker? And what manner of a Nigerian woman would regale the media with stories of sordid amorous relationship with a married Pastor? As for Apostle Suleiman, hinting at divine punishment for his accuser and her lawyer or suggesting that he is being targeted for speaking out against herdsmen's attacks on Christians is just begging the question.
Six, how do we resolve issues of moral failings by Pastors? The allegations levelled by Ms. Otobo against Pastor Suleiman are another powerful justification for a non-governmental body that will regulate the religious sector. Since the allegations against Apostle Suleiman are largely moral (adultery), it is only a non-governmental body such as the Christian Association of Nigeria or the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigerian (PFN) that can really effectively handle the intricacies of such an investigation. The concoction story and alleged bleeding for one year seems to me an addition for effect. A non-governmental regulator for the religious sector, properly constituted, can also play a good role in punishing incitement by some preachers, the swindling of vulnerable Nigerians through brain washing and faked miracles as well as the misuse of church collections for personal vanity by some unscrupulous pastors. However, like in everything in life, the fact that some pastors are failing the moral test should not becloud the fact that several are dedicated to what they are called for and are generally forces for good in the society.