It was disheartening to learn that Christ Embassy Church in Lagos State, South West Nigeria, imposed N1,000 gate fee on worshippers who wanted to attend theÂ New Yearâ€™s Eve service in their church on 31 December 2010 through 1 January 2011.
Even more appalling was the fact that indigent members who could not afford the money were denied access and sent back by security men at the gate of ChristÂ Embassy Headquarters in Oregun where Pastor Chris Oyakhilome preached.
Prior to the crossover service, Christ Embassy had printed thousands of tickets valued at N1,000 each and sold them to its members and others who wanted toÂ worship with them on the last day of 2010.Â A ticket only admitted one person to the church premises.
The leadership of Christ Embassy explained that it imposed a toll fee on worshippers to control the crowd and allow only genuine members who wanted, againstÂ all odds to be in church on that last day of the year. We find this explanation preposterous.
Since the report was published in several media, many Nigerians, at home and abroad, including prominent pastors, have condemned Christ Embassy for thatÂ shameful act. The pastors who spoke to journalists on the incident described the collection of gate fee by the church as a sacrilege and commercialisation ofÂ religion.
A prominent pastor in the country even said days ago during a sermon that the religious class in Nigeria has sold out. According to the fiery preacher,Â pastors have become worse than politicians in terms of morality and uprightness in Nigeria.
No wonder, he said, the church is having negligible impact in the society, especially in terms of positive behavioural changes.
It is very offensive that despite the outcry that the ill-thoughtout act caused, Christ Embassy has not deemed it fit to refund the money it extorted fromÂ members or issue an apology to Nigerians, especially Christians, who felt bad about it. We also find it disheartening that the Lagos State Government hasÂ remained silent on the issue despite the revelation.
Christ Embassy has branches all over the world and no fee was imposed in other countries includingÂ the United States and the United Kingdom where the churchÂ could have been shut down by the government had a gate fee been requested.
In more developed countries with strong institutions, the church will be compelled to refund the illegal money and issue an apology. It will also beÂ requested to guarantee that such an act will never occur again.
When there are strong institutions, even pastors are extremely careful on how they get donations.
Journalists are not law enforcement agents. They can only expose evil in the society, but it is left to the government and law enforcement agents to takeÂ appropriate corrective actions.
The role of government as far as crime is concerned is to discourage it and punish offenders. Government ought to encourage good behaviour that builds aÂ stronger and better society.
When offenders or criminals are exposed by the media, there should be a follow-up by the government. There has to be a symbiotic relationship between theÂ media and the government. It is only then that journalists will have real power and the society will be better.
We call on the Lagos State government to take appropriate actions against Christ Embassy by compelling the church to refund the money it illegally collectedÂ from worshippers.
Failure to do that, other churches may just toe the same shameful path and the church will end up being a business venture instead of a spiritual refugeÂ where God is sought by both the rich and the poor.