Imagine this headline: “Bishop Confesses to Murder in Nigeria! Perhaps you’ll be surprised when I tell you: “Not hard to imagine at all.” In fact, I am the Bishop.
Lavone and I just returned from our annual trip to Nigeria. Each November we go to see what mighty acts of God have occurred in the year past, especially those associated with our Free Methodist work. We see new church plants—some in regions predominantly Muslim, hear reports of miraculous healings, hold business meetings, conduct worship services, preach sermons, pray away the evil one, teach about the Kingdom of God, the presence of which we can already taste. Along the way we laugh and we cry. At times we wish we could go home ASAP, and at times we could wish we never had to leave! Well, we just left, arriving home to feel the usual sense of deep gratitude for our home, our place, and our kingdom-outposts here.
But this trip was different. This time a headline could have been written about a Bishop committing murder! Here’s how it happened.
Background: The whole country of Nigeria is broken, and “wholeness” seems and feels like a mere dream or wishful thinking. In some ways, Nigeria is like Haiti—nothing works very well, if at all. Corruption runs deep and wide. Unlike Haiti, Nigeria boasts incredible natural resources—within its territory enough oil to finance all the wholeness you could ever want, to the extent wholeness can be financed. But it never happens, or almost never. Let me say just a bit more about this.
Corruption lurks everywhere from top to bottom. Everywhere. With irony and tragic comedy, everyone who runs for office does so on an anti-corruption platform. Everyone decries corruption and virtually everyone practices it. Of course, corruption is outlawed. There is a specific and well known statute that bans corruption and “scammers.” It is “Statute 419.” “Scammers” are called “419ers.” On billboards, in the newspapers, and in casual conversation, residents and visitors alike are warned to watch out for the “419ers.”
Most enterprises are organized to do only what is necessary to sustain the status quo and the power arrangements that some people have within those arrangements. If you are in power you seek to enjoy the privilege and prerogative of your position. You show just enough respect and compliance to those above you to satisfy their needs and maintain their pleasure. You might do something extra for them to enhance your own position. Likewise, those beneath you do the same for you. It doesn’t matter whether your business is oil or batteries or servicing autos or building the Kingdom of God—normally what it is you do, what the actual business you are in, and why you are in the position you are—these are secondary matters. Operatively, the point is the position you have or could have, and what you must do to maintain or enhance it.
Not surprisingly, in such a system, you can get results with a little monetary inducement, or a lot. It is not at all unusual to hear about someone slipping a few hundred or thousand Naira to the Assistant to the Assistant to the Deputy of the second Vice Chair of the Department of Revenue (AADVPDR) for a Local Government Area (LGA) in order to arrange for harassment free travel from one place to another. (And, yes, there are Assistants to Assistants … because it’s all about having a position) If you’re trying to go somewhere and you didn’t offer any “inducements” you can expect a very long trip and it can make you angry, angry enough to qualify for a place on death row according to Jesus (see Matt. 5:21-22).
The next President of Nigeria’s first name is “Good Luck.” Indeed. Good Luck is exactly what Nigeria needs, because you can’t count on anything else to work.
Certainly I knew it was this way before our most recent trip. But this time …. So, here’s the confession.
An unscrupulous, former leader in our church fell from his position and suffered disgrace when he was subsequently expelled. Two years ago, he organized a gang of thugs and used them to high jack one of the best private schools in the region, a Childcare School called Hope Academy. This man with armed criminals (or criminals in the making) seized the school, stole the money in the safe, and has been there ever since. The church took the matter to the police and the courts. A judge ruled in our favor (which was the only valid ruling possible!) and ordered the thug off the property. But this is Nigeria. The thug got to the right people and eventually to the judge. Consequently, the judge has refused to have the thug arrested. And now the judge has decided to contrive a ruse whereby he listens to all parties involved repeatedly, seeks clarification for this and that, asks for multiple examinations of the “authorities” (i.e., legal precedents)—and he has been at it for nearly a year! Clearly, he will not render a decision, not even in support of his own ruling.
This made me angry. Seriously, now, blood boiled. And, if Jesus is serious, I belong on death row. The headline could be: “Bishop Commits Murder!”
This is only one instance of several I could tell you about, all frustrating and maddening enough to foment conspiracy to commit murder. I am shocked to realize this about myself, and compelled to confess it. Rest assured, in my official capacities, I said the right things, even asserting that in this matter we are actually fighting not against humans but against spiritual powers of evil. We had extended prayer over this as well. Still, I am confessing that if an accident occurred, if some misfortune befell the thug, if his own conniving set a trap that boomeranged back on him with lethal force, or … I would as likely feel like celebrating what got him more than grieving the incalculable loss of a brother who came to act like a thug. And in the throes of these conflicting alternatives, my murderous complicity emerges in ways that shock my mind.
One day back and I’m confessing my potential homicidal complicity in whatever misfortune could befall this man, this brother gone terribly wrong. On the one hand, the injustice of what is going on and the apparent hopelessness of legal and law enforcement systems that are run by fully empowered but compromised incompetents—drives me crazy, and in the extreme even killing-crazy. On the other hand, homicidal madness and creatively calculating strategies to provide some “grease” to the system to effect better results would simply suck me into those systems and make me a part of the problem.
So, what do we do?
First, confess our homicidal tendencies and renounce them for the sin they are. Give up all pretenses that we are really any better due to our superiority. (For, to be sure, thugs, incompetence, and graft thrive here as well!)
Second, do what we say we do: Follow the One who stood up to the unjust systems of his day and, when necessary, embraced the consequences of not yielding to the system. That is, if necessary become the object not the subject of the murder. Become the murdered in the hope that on the third day murder meets its Master.
Third, wait, work and hope. Because we know that nothing we do in the name, and for the cause, of the Lord who masters murder will be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).