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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Columnist: Kech Simon/Facebook

The reason I quit religion Part 3 (Why I left KICC - Mathew Ashimolowo's church)

Mathew Ashimolowo Mathew Ashimolowo

The dawn of 2004 had just broken, to everyone's excitement. But it was no less for me the dawn of the bleakest moment ever. I had carried out a self- diagnosis, taken stock of my progress in the past year, especially in relation to the aftereffects of my affiliation with that church of Chris Oyakhilome. And the storm of regrets and despair now raging in my heart for the woes and losses I observed was, to put aptly, of brain-wrecking proportion, and of a volume that could suffice to drive a monk to suicide.

To start with, in ruins I now found my once robust spirituality, as I could no longer relate deeply with the Immortal, nor effectively break the code of incidents that played around me. And I could hardly identify with the Scriptures like I used to. Besides, the strong flame of agape love that once shone forth from my heart, now remained only but some flickering embers. And of the pristine faith and courage that I once embodied, nothing could be said. Ditto the remainder of the noble virtues that once ruled my personality. What with my once sublime consciousness about God, Christianity, and spirituality, which now had proven debased and polluted, cross-pollinated with those illusive doctrines and heretic dogmas of Christ Embassy. In deed, it was a total debacle.

And I perceived, worse still, that I was now partially plagued with the deadly Christ Embassy syndrome - (a set of noisome traits and idiosyncrasies which had proven to be the lot of every soul that drank from the cup of Chris Oyakhilome). This very syndrome, which to this day is still verifiably endemic in that den of heresy, had been the albatross of curse and failure in the lives of the teeming church members. (And the major manifestations of it include - having a bloated ego, and a distorted sense of reality; living on heavy delusions; being unconsciously arrogant, incurious and narrow-minded, whimsical and non-serious, acquisitive and materialistic; and having a vague and ill-defined approach to issues of life. Other indications include - being deceitful and two-faced; and having an abnormal inclination towards treachery, double-dealing, embezzlement and promiscuity)

In all honesty, not a single member of Christ Embassy I closely knew then, and even now, could be certified negative of at least half of those lethal manifestations, not even the Czar himself. And I had thought, by virtue of my primed consciousness and detachment, I was immune to psycho-spiritual contagion of such kind, thus my lengthy association with the afflicted church. But alas, my psyche had now proven partially positive to the deadly syndrome, with everything falling flatly apart as a result. From my once promising business which now was on the brink of collapse, to the most treasured courtship affair of mine which had recently gone asunder, having suffered numerous seizures, and to the nerve-racking ejection notice on my place of residence. In fact, almost every sphere of my life I found on the casualty list, my physical appearance inclusive. And worse still, no gleam of hope there appeared, as bereft of every sense of orientation, my eyes couldn't puzzle out a feasible exit from the morbid maze.

Much like the kidnapped Chibok school girls, I realized I would need for my afflicted psyche a complete rehabilitation, and an asylum for my fatally wounded spirituality. And to ward off the constant lure of suicide, I would require a high dose of strong motivational sermons. My comatose business too I would want to see back to its feet. And of my social values and skills a major overhaul was of great necessity. Only a Bible-based church so oriented towards life advancement, and a practical approach to Christianity would bail me out, or so I thought. And for these reasons, I would set sail once again, in search of a church with a configuration that fit the bill.

In no time, I had settled for Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC), for a few considerations. Aside for its adjacency to my base - Ikeja, the church bore an outlook of a perfect sanctuary for impaired psyches, or perhaps for my long standing infatuation with the church's popular telecast - Winning Ways, I was biased to so think. Long before I parted ways with the Roman Catholic though, I had been so seduced by Ashimolowo's seeming insightful dimensions to the many anecdotes, parables, and counsels that dot the Bible, much as his rationalist philosophies on money, business, marriage and politics. In fact, I'd say the bedrock of my reasoning and outlook in life then were the many self-help theories the punk-hair style wearing preacher had propounded on Winning Ways, as nothing else resonated better with common sense and reason. Moreover, his inspirational catch phrase then - 'It's not over, until it's over' - had a way of chipping away at the root of every despair. And so, without much ado, I would trace and find my way to 4 Oki Lane Mende Maryland Lagos - the Lagos branch of the UK-based church, to sign up for the rehab classes.

KICC Lagos I'd say I joined formally around february 2004, and I did with every serious intent to make it my final bus stop. It was then still a fledgling fellowship, with a somewhat snail pace growth rate, thus everyone could recognize almost every other fellow committed member. That, coupled with the close-knit classless fraternity between the clergy, and the rank and file, dealt me in some sense of belonging. And unlike Christ Embassy, it was a congregation predominantly peopled with mature serious-minded folks. The resident pastor then, Femi Faseru, a deep-dyed rabble-rouser with a little of firebrand makeup, did grasp at all straws to play the best Shepard. And from time to time, Ashimolowo himself would breeze in like a rainstorm, to dynamize the flare with some hyped conferences, seminars and outdoor crusades of sorts, mostly co-hosted with local and international preachers, top-notch motivational speakers and songsters, with a large crowd in attendance. In fact, so titillating I must admit I found the fellowship, so much so that the nostalgia for it still makes me want to visit the church.

And I equally must admit the fun and revelry of the church services were about the grandest. On the menu were lots of lively religious festivities, and a sprinkling of secular recreational activities finely blended, garbed and effected in some gospel motifs. From assorted genre of tunes rendered live by the church choir, to thrilling drama presentations, stand up comedy, karaoke and choreographic dance shows, there was in deed never a dull service. That of course did add to my obsession for the church as I literally lived for the thrills and blast their services and seminars promised. And I would fanatically sing praises of the pastors at any given moment, recommend the church to many, and even drag a couple of fellows into the fellowship. To say the least, every of the church's ways and doctrines appeared at first to me aptly biblical, Christ-like, and altruistic. But beneath the surface of the whole arrangements I would eventually find an assemblage of error and smoke screens, fool-proofly spun to lure in, misdirect, and stealthily fleece as many.

Well, about three years I'd say I spent as a devout member of the mesmeric church, blindly and fanatically following every of its tracks like a dog. And within those years, my psyche, I must admit, did metamorphose from the hopeless wreck it had been, into some freaky wonder. Perhaps for the push I got from the church, my brain had grown to become a great repertoire of knowledge, as I had buried myself in many a book of wide ranging subjects, from metaphysical to philosophical, common to esoteric. And my confidence, enthusiasm and outlook in life appeared to have been better for it. My little business too proved to have departed from the rocky path it was headed to. And quite remarkably, the theorist and pragmatist in me I found budding out like finger nails. But alas, the very ailing spirituality for which I had desperately craved healing, and for which I had basically set out to pitch in with the church, I found still lying in coma, visibly emaciated.

Too much to my horror, I realized I was practically growing so independent of the Immortal, drifting far from the true ways of Spiritual Christianity, and onto the safety of my logic and cosmic knowledge I found myself leaning on. KICC had by virtue of their self-help sermons and over emphasis on rationalist approach to life, unwittingly gotten me trading my deepest Christian convictions for rationality, and sacrificing the Spirit on whom I had depended for direction, for my intellect. The realization of this freaky fact it was that got me taking a second and deeper look at the whole persuasions of the 'Christian center', if only I could establish the reason they were only Christian in outlook, but much secular in their approach. And the revelations that came to my consciousness in the process would come to mark the genesis of my wrangling with the church.

Now, the church teachings, I'd say, were the first dancers that opened the floor. At the beginning, they had appeared convincingly as sound and practical gospel of Jesus - so motivating, commonsensical and cogent. In fact, for years, I had thought no other gospel could be as deeply rooted in Bible, and expressive of true Christian principles. But on closer inspection, I found of them a mere codification of mundane philosophies and capitalist theories loosely percolated in disjointed Bible references. Even so, the values that underpinned the sermons I found no different from that of worldly ideologies, much as the contents of the sermons which all seemed to derive more from mental reasoning, as against the foolish-seeming transcendental principles of the Bible. And nothing easily passes for a parody of true gospel of Christ than teachings that to all intents are in total agreement with the tenets of human intellect. (The little of Jesus words and ways I know are forever at variance with human logic and secular systems.) But lo, the church teachings proved to conform mostly to the ideals of secular systems, more to the dictates of human intellect, and little to that of the Spirit.

Moreover, I figured the major themes of the church's teachings to be money, wealth acquisitions, profiteering and self-indulgence; so much so that material blessings appeared in the church the sole objective, reward and measure of true Christianity. Matter of factly, any moment Ashimolowo blew in, all we got as topics of his sermons were no less '' 7 keys to wealth generation'', ''10 rules of Money'', and '20 laws of prosperity''. So glaringly, every of his exhortation proved rather capitalist and self-serving by texture, much as his 'prophetic utterances' which all gyrated around material prosperity and instant miracles. And I'd convulse to watch him turn the Bible upside in defense of the whole madness. If anyone would think the real fruits of Christianity are love, faith, kindness, humility, meekness, and perseverance, dead wrong they are, as the church overtly re-defined the fruits to be avarice, money-consciousness, sensual cravings and worldly smartness.

Worse still, I nosed out the fact that every of Ashimolowo's sermon had as a point of convergence some persuasive solicitation for one form of heavy donation or jumbo offering. And every of his theory came complete with some monetary price tags as the only precondition for accessing his many prophecies and theories. For instance, to experience his signature product- '24 hour miracle', all one needed to do was to simply bestow 24,000 bucks to him, or to his church. Ditto the '48 hour miracle' elixir. And to finish a long drawn out project, some 55,000 bucks -a 'seed of completion' - was all that one needed to part with. In fact, for every miracle, blessing or promise of God I found the pastor had affixed a jumbo fee. These of course were aside the non-negotiable religious obligations which included tithes, offerings, first fruits and prophet offerings, and on which he maintained no prosperity-desiring member ought to default. Anyone who wasn't prospering wasn't giving enough to the church, we were made to believe. And for years, I had partially bought into the sham, as I had unconsciously ascribed some of my good luck to obliging him. But lo, a day there came when he bravely dared us to multiply our biological ages by a thousand bucks, and surrender to him the total sum by way of 'a prophetic seed'. And the obvious cock and bull only landed a slap on my intelligence. And that was to become the last straw.

Yet again, I realized that the church pastors traded so ruthlessly in the art of mind control and manipulation. Much to my indignation, I found most accounts of miracles and promises of victory in the Bible grossly distorted, misrepresented, hyped, and used as references for the many illusions and false hopes the pastors sold to the people. So many admonitions I found deviously invoked out of their contexts, and harped upon to transport people to either fear, hysteria or submission. And in propaganda too the pastors formidably excelled. In fact, no sermon in the church was ever complete without some short stories of people who had made overnight success, or whose money-spinning ideas came as a result of identifying with one of the church's elixirs. Mathew Ashimolowo himself would never complete his sermons without boasting about his recent achievements, or passionately endorsing some rags-to-riches stories of some celebrities, or persons who had obliged him in the past. And on the euphoria created by those eulogy he would ride to spin series of illusive declarations by way of 'prophetic utterances'. And the congregation would jump and scream 'Amen' to it all, and blissfully part with some money to gain access into those hogwash.

Long story short, I'd say I came to identify so many craps that indubitably indicted the church's major persuasions and configurations. The most bizarre of it all being the fact that the god of Ashimolowo manifested more in the light of some ruthless and opportunist blackmailer and bribe taker - a god that would require the poor to service the wildest cravings of an already super rich man before he could grant their prayer request. And even at that, the same god panned out a gambler, as to only a lucky few he seemed to deliver, amid the thousands that sheepishly obliged to every of Ashimolowo's elixirs. In deed, more like a 'try your luck' lottery the whole of Ashimolowo's theories and 'prophesies' appeared. And moreover, the 'Christian centre' proved to be not only a private enterprise much like Christ Embassy, but a distinct tribalistic entity. In deed, Only yorubas appeared to be more qualified to be in charge of the church's mega branches. And much of the church projects I found in the economic interest of Ashimolowo himself, and in the clutches of his relatives, kinsmen and tribesmen.

Nevertheless, for the simple sake of identifying with a church, I would still keep up with the phony 'Christian Center' for some few more months, but only as a guest, showing up randomly for a few services and seminars. The mundane teachings of the church would grow more repulsive by each day, much as their unending distasteful appeal for hefty 'seed' offering, but I would turn a blind eye. Ashimolowo himself would make the scene more often, and his charges for instant miracles and breakthroughs seemed to have been marked up. This I would later trace to the University project he had recently found his fingers on. Somehow too, he was rumored to have had some rumblings with the UK Charity Commission over some allegation of misappropriation of church funds, and thus he had obviously resorted to coming home more often to feast from the Lagos branch. Gradually, the whole chain was dropping off, and my eyes were becoming the more opened to the sheer business venture, scam, and parody the modern day pentecostal Assemblies were, and still are. Frankly, the whole of the mental slavery and manipulations I contemplated to disengage from.

And thus by mid 2008, my mind was finally made up to bolt. In every way, my stomach wouldn't brook being in the ship of perdition anymore. I had longed to be spiritual, but KICC had left me more worldly and religious. If I had wanted capitalist studies, I would have stayed, for the 'Christian Center' appeared more like an Institute for money studies. But I needed to be spiritual. KICC, I tell you, stands for nothing but Kingsway International center for capitalist studies.

To be continued!