The ban on televised religious miracles which comes into effect on April 30, continues to elicit mixed reactions as both religious and non-religious leaders take turns in expressing their opinions on the implication of the action, reports Sam Eyoboka.
AS the April 30, 2004 deadline given to the electronic media in Nigeria to stop the advertisement of ‘unverifiable’ miracle healing on television approaches, Nigerians, especially Church leaders are divided on the National Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) decision, to ban the advertisement of miracles on television. A cross-section of Nigerians who spoke on the ban in Lagos were of the opinion that the NBC was right in taking the decision as most of the miracle healings being shown on television were, to say the least, suspect, meant only to deceive gullible Nigerians.
To this school of thought, it is good riddance to bad rubbish while the other school believes that whereas there are identifiable charlatans on the pulpit today, it is not the duty of the NBC to point such out by throwing the baby and bath water away. The latter group argues that the decision should be seen as an infringement on the freedom of worship of anyone and explained that it would be wrong to make people believe in false miracles.
To this end therefore, the NBC’s decision is hinged on the need to prevent viewers from being misled by some self-acclaimed miracle workers.
Director-General of NBC, Dr. Silas Yisa who announced the decision in Abuja argued that the ban was in line with Section 4 (46) of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code which states that “religious broadcasts shall be particular in terms of content to its creed and shall not be presented in a manner to mislead the public”.
Reacting, the Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria and two-time president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Dr. Sunday Mbang said that religious leaders have abandoned the message of salvation and now dwell more on miracles because of money and cheap publicity.
He said he does not know why those who advertise miracles believe that the miracle section is the most important aspect of the Christian message, adding “few minutes ago, we have talked of quality Christians. Why don’t they let’s spend our time trying to get Christians to be after God’s heart. What has miracle got to do with making Christians good people?”
“The miracle aspect is not the most important aspect of religion. They use this miracle for something else…popularity, money and sometimes I am ashamed myself when I look at some of these religious bodies with a lot of houses, some of their leaders even fly in private jets and they tell me that if Jesus Christ were here, he would have flown in aeroplanes. So this is my problem.”
Mbang, however, cautioned the NBC about keeping to its own rules. “Why don’t they keep to their rules? Why will you throw the baby and the bath water away all at the same time. I believe they would talk to me and major stakeholders in the religious sector before making any rule pertaining to the sector.,” he said.
From the Catholic Church the ban is good riddance to bad rubbish. The Catholic Director of Social Communiation, Lagos Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Gabriel Osu said that it was regrettable that government was late in taking the decision. “I am not saying that I don’t believe in miracles, infact my life is a miracle, but my concern is that it is being bastardised,” he lamented.
The president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Bishop Mike Okonkwo appears to have thrown his full weight behind the ban, arguing that the main culprits of miracle healing do not actually belong to any of the blocs in CAN, they are not registered so it is difficult for you to regulate people like that. According to him, it is only when government intervenes by recognising the different blocs in CAN and empowering it to de-register non-members and ask such to close shop that we can get hold of them because before any person joins PFN we want to see your credentials, your background and where you are coming from. We don’t harbour bastards in our fold, people who have failed in other businesses and who see the Church as a better option.”
On his part, the National Secretary of PFN, Bishop Joseph Ojo agreed with his president, arguing that as a senior clergy man in the Pentecostal ministry, “I will support the ban. The issue of miracles, I was saying the other day, that if not addressed quickly, will be worse than the case of the (fake drugs).”
According to him, the nation has reached the level where people now have billboards with messages like: ‘Come for treatment of all blood diseases.’ “That is unethical, that is unhealthy, that is ungodly,” he said, adding, “I think probably the fear we have is that they shouldn’t have a carpet ban. Jesus said we should allow the chaff to grow with the wheat until harvest time when God will sift the chaff from the wheat.
“I am not saying they should stop TV evangelism. No, but let them preach the Word. Let them forget about this frivolous, ‘this man was blind…’ I am not saying there is no miracle. I believe in miracles; I have seen many miracles. God has used me to do many but I’m against the way they are using same to exploit the poor masses of this country.
According to the bishop, when you visit some of such faith healers, they will tell big crowds of people that nobody should give less than N500 as offering, if you want God to hear your prayers quickly. “That is fraud, that is complete fraud,” he said, emphasising “if there are people that can see to it, like the advertising practitioners or whatever they should see to it. This thing is ungodly, that is not the gospel, though the Bible says go heal the sick, but when you read the Bible, Jesus said to many people He healed not to mention it to anybody. ‘Go to your home, go and thank God for the good things he had done for you.’
“But Nigerian preachers say, go publish it everywhere; it’s ungodly. I think by God’s grace, I am in a position to say something about it,” he said.
The Deeper Life Christian Ministry is a little evasive in its response saying that miracles are part and parcel of the church but the major thing Jesus Christ asked his disciples to do was to preach the gospel and the word so preached will be confirmed by miracles. The Church’s Secretary, Brother Samuel Afuwape maintained that preachers who make miracles their pre-occupation are only majoring in minors and deceiving the people.
However, the General Overseer of the Bible Life Church, Bishop Leonard Umunna submitted that it is not good for anybody to throw away the baby and the child simply because the water is unclean.
Said he: “Miracles are a part and parcel of the Christian faith and if you throw it away there will be no evidence to back the message. I cannot support the ban of miracles on TV, because if that is done God will ban miracles in such a person’s life; rather allow the false prophets to co-exist with the true prophets until the owner of the harvest comes to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
According to Reverend Chris Okotie of the Household of God, the Christian faith in itself is a miraculous phenomenon. Said he: “I think that anybody who is interfering is venturing into areas that deal with personal liberty. I don’t think anybody has any right to demand a verification of a miracle because it is a very subjective reality. It’s by faith, it’s not a scientific thing. Religion is super-science and may not be verifiable scientifically. Nobody criticised Jesus Christ because he wasn’t willing to scientifically prove his miracles.” He continued: “I agree that some people go too far, but the concept of placing a ban on miracles on television, to my mind, bothers on fundamental human rights. We have a right to associate with any kind of religion that we desire and Christianity is a religion of signs and wonders. So, I think it is an interference and it’s going beyond one’s authority and I think they should be cautious.”
Okotie, who abandoned his law profession for the pulpit stressed: “I’m speaking objectively. Where do you draw the line between Christian and secular advertisements. Where do you draw the line between what Coca Cola says about its drink and what Pepsi says about its brand. How many of the things they say of their products are actually correct and verifiable? Advertisement is geared towards the mind, to psyche the buyers into buying the product not because that product is necessarily what it claims to be. So it’s a kind of advertisement. That’s why I’m saying that if you want to get into that, then get into everything else. I’m saying it because tomorrow they can wake up and say we don’t want any Christian to speak in tongues publicly because we don’t understand what you are saying.”
Reminded that the Christian message should lay more emphasis on salvation rather than miracles, the astute preacher thinks it depends on the minister. According to him: “To the evangelist, signs and wonders are an indication of the power of Jesus Christ on salvation and therefore if you’re coming to talk about Jesus you’ll have to talk about the signs and wonders that will draw the people.”
“Miracles have always drawn people,” he said, “but when you come to the crusade, then you share the Word of God with them. There’s an instance in the scripture where the disciples of Jesus came with Him and said we heard that some other people are doing this stuff in your name, let’s go stop them; and He said no. No, He wasn’t personally supervising what they were doing but he said if they are for me they cannot be against me. My thinking is; these people are talking about Jesus,” he said.
“For me as a minister, all I’m concerned with is that the name of Jesus is preached and in the Church, if we see what is wrong we need to point it out,” Okotie maintained, stressing “that was why I didn’t think it was good for the state to tell me what to say about another minister who was not doing the right thing. It’s our responsibility to come out and say this is not what it’s supposed to be.”
He believes that the Church recognises that it can examine itself, adding “but if you say Pastor A cannot say something about Pastor B when he recognises that this pastor is not following the precept, then there is a problem. So I think that within the body of the church we can organise ourselves and the leadership can always alert people and say what is not the right thing.”
Okotie is also of the opinion that the Church has a responsibility “to guide the people in our churches, on TV, teach them the right thing and if we see a minister who is a charlatan, we point it out clearly to the Church.”
In his view, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Emeka Okpoko, said that legally, people have freedom of worship but should not hide under their belief to deceive people.
He stressed that government should concern itself more on how to alleviate poverty, as the bad state of the economy was one of the reasons for the proliferation of places of worship in the country.
Another lawyer, Mr. Emeka Onyeokoro advised genuine religious leaders affected by the ban to challenge it in a law court.