Olu of Warri (Photo: from the Guardian)
Christianity continues to bear the end-time wrath of a desperate devil, as the Scriptures have fore-warned. On one hand are the constantly ongoing unimaginable direct physical attacks, either as official state persecution in the hand of repressive communist regimes like North Korea, or dastard terror actions in the hands of Islamic Jihadists, operating virtually all over the world, However these attacks, though terribly hurtful to individual Christians, only end up strengthening the Christian faith in general. It is after all quite true that the blood of the martyrs only goes on to fertilize faith!
Far more detrimental to the faith, however, are the indirect assaults. In the western world, these are often in forms of ideologies and practices stemming from the forces of secular humanism. For instance, in Europe, America, Canada and elsewhere, ideas like atheism, evolution theory, homosexuality and general immorality are dealing considerable blows to Christianity. In the rest of the world however, it is the religious forces of polytheism/paganism that is dealing much havoc unto the Christian faith via the promotion of syncretism.
The secret behind the devastating effectiveness of these indirect assaults is that they goad Christians to continue with their faith, but only subtly demand “slight” modifications to the central tenets of that faith. According to 1 John 4:4-5 however, nothing - not even the harshest direct persecution - could be more fatal for a Christian than compromising on the faith! Instead of trying to endlessly appease these forces by tampering with our core beliefs, (and thereby becoming Laodicean lukewarm), what the Church ought to be doing is to highlight and speak boldly and clearly against the multitude of profitless practices these forces promote.
The latest demonstration of this kind of struggle in Nigeria comes from the city of Warri. On Wednesday September 4, the traditional king of the oil city (Olu of Warri) published “The New Order of Iwere Kingdom” - a set of new rules to govern religious practices in the palace. The hottest point in the document was the King’s decision to renounce one of his traditional titles, “Ogiame” – which means ”King of the River.” In the words of the royal father:
“I also repent for the name and title of Ogiame that my ancestors and I have borne, as it connotes our allegiance to Umalokun (goddess of the river) and other deities of the sea, all of which are false gods.
“Today, I renounce our allegiance to Umalokun and other gods of the sea, land and sky.
On behalf of the royal bloodline, the throne, the people of Iwereland, I publicly enter into a new covenant with God.”
The outrage against the king’s declaration was momentous, and dominated national news for days, Calls for his abdication of the throne were freely made - even by professing Christians among his courtiers!
The statement by The Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, summarises the position of the opposition: “The part of the Olu’s statement which alleges that the Itsekiri religion is fetish and that Itsekiris are non-Christians is a misrepresentation of the well-known documented historical fact that Christianity actually started in Warri/Benin region in the early 16th century and about eight of the 19 Olus got baptised as Christians.
“Itsekiri as a nation cannot be said to have covenant with Umalokun. There may be pockets of Itsekiri people who do. Everyone has freedom of worship as it is done everywhere. Religion is a personal matter.”
The reference to the 16th century kings who accepted Christianity but remained subservient to Umalokun is instructive. The King was able to maintain his position - until a protest march by an expected 5000 women was announced. (see details here: Peace returns to Warri as Olu embraces Ogiame title http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/national-news/132559-peace-returns-to-warri-as-olu-embraces-ogiame-title)
At least the Olu of Warri has made his point, and hopefully, his subjects will abide by the implied agreement that he will be personally free to worship God the way he chooses. Furthermore, the public renunciation by the throne, (and subsequent affirmation by the general citizenry) of any corporate allegiance to the Umalogun is a positive development.
This is a story that is constantly being played out in one location or the other all over Africa. One of the first cases to gain national attention, at least in recent times, was the celebrated case of the Obong of Calabar in March, 2001, (see CA! Vol 7 No 3). One irony in these stories is the contradictions inherent in the people insisting that their king must accept he is a deity, while at the same time they insist he doesn’t know enough to determine which other deities are worth the sacrifices and worship of his people! If the people truly accept the king as deity, why can’t they also accept he has more real insight, (not to talk of stakes) in these matters, than them?
For instance in Yorubaland, even though it is generally accepted that “any god that does not justify the adoration given to it with tangible dividends should be thrown to the bush” (royal fathers like the Ooni of Ile-Ife has had a constant battle trying to put this to practice!), academic apologists of the dead gods would insist that royal fathers (and as is even more common, high priests) who take such decisions do not really know what is good for them or their people; but must have been brainwashed. What utter naivety!
Though he has not asked that the title of Oluaye (Lord of the world) be removed from his appellations, the Ooni over and over has repeated that he is mere mortal, like any other person. But the livelihood and relevance of some ‘experts’ depend on the royal father being a deity; and it should not surprise anyone that these people, like their predecessors in the Bible (see for instance Acts 16:19 and 19:24-25), would leave no stone unturned until the “backsliding deity” return to accept he is a deity. They, of course, remain the chief priests and managers! In Acts 14:11-19, the same people who were ready to sacrifice to the apostles Barnabas and Paul turned round, almost immediately, to stone them to apparent death when those apostles insisted they were mere mortals like other people!
As already stated, Christians make themselves susceptible to these traditional forces when we uncritically accept the fallacy that our culture (which of course must be preserved and promoted) is the same as worshipping some ‘ancient’ deities - slave-masters that kept our forbears in slavery for centuries. One of the outspoken advocates of this concept is Jacob Olupona, Professor of Comparative Religion at Harvard University, who in 2011 published a book on the 201/401 gods of Ile-Ife. The book (and this is not exactly a review) is laced with heavy criticism of the Ooni for denouncing his deity, and in particular his attributing protection and deliverance during a particular episode, to the Almighty God. The criticism of the born-again Christian Olori (queen) was even more vicious and flagrant. The book ended with an entire chapter devoted to reporting on an interview with the Olori, portraying her as a fanatic bent on polluting the palace. The concluding chapter of the book was actually titled: “Ancient Orisa and New Evangelicals Vie for the City of 201 Gods.”
One of the shocking aspects of the book would be the author’s obvious inability to hide his deep contempt for Christians who, simpletons that they are, could not appreciate the culture of human sacrifice that is copiously demanded by the Ile-Ife 201 gods! (see page 64-66 of the book, City Of 201 Gods). There is obviously a wide gap in perspectives if one were the gagged slave/stranger to be beheaded to appease the protection-racketeers that most of the local gods were; or a man enjoying considerable popularity and fame as the expert scholar in the field, operating in the safe comfort of a foreign land, 9,000 km away! It is particularly interesting to note that Jacob Olupona‘s dad was a Christian clergy in that same Ile-Ife, and by his own admission, the author actually rode on the good name and deeds of his devout Christian father to gain access to the traditional religionists. No blames being apportioned here, but it is ironic that Prof Olupona is accusing Christians of abandoning the gods their fathers worshipped yesteryears without any apparent dividends, whilst he himself is abandoning (if he agrees with that) the God of his own direct biological father Who obviously has delivered considerable dividends to that eminent man.
The whole point being emphasized here is that the negative impacts of the “ancient gods” on the land are actually well known, and Christians should not allow apologists of these gods to gloss over these serious issues. From time to time, we continue to hear stories of youths (not necessarily Christian!) demanding an end to the servicing of these ancient gods, on account of the heavy price they exert of the society (e.g. unending unnatural deaths, calamities, socio-economic stagnation, strives etc) which every local person well understands is attributable to the worship of the local gods. While some may smile at our article on the damaging impact on the involvement of Sango during the All African Games (COJA) hosted by Nigeria in 2003, most people are dead serious that Nigeria’s hosting of FESTAC in 1977 brought so much curse on our then very prosperous country, that we are yet to be fully cleared of the influence. (for COJA see www.churcharise.org/archives/6_6.pdf; and for FESTAC, see http://churcharise.blogspot.com/2008/12/ten-years-of-holy-ghost-congress-joy.html).
We close this article with just one example of the latest fiasco in this unending saga – happening as we go to the press. With the headline titled Pagans, Christians clash in Awka North LG, the Nigerian Tribune reports that: “A bloody clash between pagan worshippers and Christians in Oba-Ofemili community, Awka North LGA of Anambra state led to the hospitalization of over 50 persons with varying degrees of injuries, in the weekend of September 21”. According to the Tribune: “Houses, motocycles, cars, buses and household property were burnt down ….. as the pagan worshipers had threatened to deal with Christian adherents, who refused to join them in the festivity.”
The report continues: “When contacted, the Regent of the community, Chief Anaelo Nwanelo, said that the clash used to be an annual problem due to the festival of the pagan worhsippers, as the pagans tried to force Christians to join them amd regretted that peace efforts over the years by the leaders of the community over the issue had proved abortive.” Tribune Wednesday 25 sept, 2013, pg 43. Coming into national prominence in May was the notorious Ombatse cult in Nassarawa state, with an agenda of drafting every Eggon tribesman into membership. (For further reading, please see chapters 18 and 26 of Behold I come Quickly, Book 3).