A few days ago, I stumbled on the live broadcast of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, the lead Pastor of the Christ Embassy Church. Titled Your Loveworld Specials with Pastor Chris, it was a platform for the pastor to air right-wing conspiracies and loony ideas on global events and issues, with climate change being the main subject in the last broadcast.
According to the Pastor, the global climate change campaign, which is a call to action for business leaders, cities and people around the world to change energy habits in order to stop global warming, is a hoax being pushed by liberals, with climate lockdown on the horizon. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6IC9GESu44
“I told you,’’ Pastor Chris said in a clip played in the programme, ‘’climate change was a hoax, a deception, from A to Z.” He continued: “The unrepentant perpetrators want us to believe they are trying to save the planet. They are not trying to save anything, but the plan is to recolonize the world.” The rest of the programme was spent railing against the ‘climate agenda of the left’, and propagating other pseudo-science ideas.
It was scaremongering at its worst, and a quackery that has no place on a church platform. It is the consensus of scientists that global warming- the idea that the earth’s temperature is rising as a result of human activities – is a fact and that we can do something about it by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which causes the rising temperature.
The impacts of global warming include rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, changes in agricultural yields, and loss of biodiversity. Scientists fear that If we do not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will continue to worsen, with potentially devastating consequences.
However, the science of climate and global warming is not the focus of this essay. It is a how in only a few years Pastor Chris has transformed from one of the most eloquent and authentic Christian leaders in Nigeria to being the conveyor belt of dangerous, fringe and crazy ideas, more fit for QAnon followers than for a religious figure.
It is somewhat difficult for me to repudiate Pastor Chris. I attended his church for more than a decade and formed enduring relationships with people I met there. I also worked in National Standard, a news magazine the church established and rose to be the editor. So, I have great respect for the pastor and how he was able to build a religious conglomerate starting from a university meeting group.
But this person espousing right-wing nonsense and pushing fringe conspiracies from his privileged platform needs to be (fact-) checked. Especially as it portends dangers for the millions of his members and others who are in his sphere of influence. Also, from his broadcast, he appears to be increasingly moving away from orthodox Pentecostal Christianity to something yet undefined but feeds on conservative conspiracies and speculations. And it could get worse.
The descent of Pastor Chris into the orbit of conspiracy theories began around 2020 with the advent of the pandemic. He became the conduit for the silliest and easily disprovable conspiracies. Such as his claim that the lockdowns in Lagos and Abuja were enforced in order for the government to lay 5G cables. 5G, he asserted, was responsible for the pandemic and not the coronavirus.
Bill Gates, the US businessman and philanthropist, also came under his radar, with insinuations that Gates was the leader of the ‘deep state’ interested in foisting a new world order through human culling. He campaigned viciously against the lockdowns, mask mandates, social distancing and of course, the Coronavirus vaccine, which he exhorted true Christians not to take.
Today, all the issues dear to the pastor are right-wing talking points in the US, popular on conservative TV shows and fringe channels on YouTube, which suggests that the ‘man of God’ has been investing too much time consuming these unproven ideas. And, even more worryingly, influencing his vast membership to see things as he does. In his various presentations to his church, he speaks as though he is blessed with special insight and revelation from God. But it is increasingly clear that Pastor Chris listens more to Tucker Carlson, the US conservative TV host than to the Holy Ghost.
We need to sound the alarm now: The agenda Pastor Chris is pushing is potentially dangerous and has nothing to do with the Christian faith. Especially as Nigerians are uncritical when it comes to messages from their preferred religious leaders. The more developed countries have robust social and regulatory institutions that push back or even punish these kinds of dangerous lies. Nigeria does not. In the UK, the Loveworld Television Network, which broadcasts the pastor’s messages in that country has been sanctioned on several occasions for inaccurate and potentially harmful claims about the Coronavirus. (https://www.bbc.com/pidgin/tori-56592932
In Nigeria, Pastor Chris’ messages with inaccurate and dangerous claims are broadcast regularly. This should concern all. His messages are increasingly degenerative, focusing more and more on his fantasy than the redemptive works of Christ. Yesterday, he was against the COVID-19 vaccines, today he called climate change a hoax. Who knows what he will focus on tomorrow?
His church leaders can yet redeem him by nudging him to the primary message of Jesus and to dish the speculation and fringe ideas. But that is doubtful considering how pervasive the influence of founder-GOs is on their churches.
Ogunro is the director of research and strategy of the Future Now Initiative, an Abuja-based civil society