Two things happened within the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion in the last few days among others. The suspension of the Bishop of Ekiti West Diocese of The Church, The Rt. Rev Rufus Adepoju, and then, the death of the retired Bishop of Ibadan South Diocese, The Rt. Rev. Jacob Ademola Ajetunmobi who according to sources died in the United Kingdom.
But what seems to have generated so much debate and reactions is the suspension of Bishop Adepoju. This is in contrast to the fact that people are more drawn to tragic occurrences than any other thing. In the case of Ajetunmobi’s death, you only find terse statements on the Facebook walls of some groups in the Church indicating he has passed on. Beyond that, do a google search. You perhaps will be straining your eyes to get information on the late bishop.
This is not unusual. Many bishops and priests have passed on in the church without any media mention. That is apart from the great things that happen on a daily basis in the Church. The church over the years has produced strong characters who unfortunately are not celebrated and known to the general public. The media care less about stuff like that.
But then, like any other human institution, the church also has many strange characters whose trade is to bring dishonour to the name of God and drag the Church in the mud.
That is what is being played out now. The alleged sexual escapades of Bishop Adepoju is on the lips of many. It may not even be right to call it an allegation because the Bishop himself confessed he committed the act.
The suspension letter
The letter of suspension from the church authority to Bishop Adepoju dated December 11, 2020, reads, “Advent greetings in the precious name of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ. We write with a deep sense of concern and pain to suspend you from office as the Diocesan Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Ekiti West.
“This is sequel to your conduct giving just cause for scandal and abhorrent sexual behaviour with the wife of a priest under your employment and care. These facts were admitted by you in a meeting in our office held on Thursday, December 10, 2020.
“By this suspension, you are not to partake in any activity of the Diocese as the Diocesan Bishop for a period of one (1) year effective from the date of this letter. Please report and handover to your Archbishop and for further spiritual guidance.”
His humility is commendable
It is interesting to note that the Bishop was humble enough to confess his sin. We should not lose sight of this. It is quite unusual for a Nigerian priest to own up to something wrong. In some cases, there would have been a long media war that would throw up different narratives. Some would allege that they are being hunted by some folks who are interested in their downfall.
But Adepoju made the job easy for the team that interrogated him. He confessed according to the letter. It was a day after the alleged confession that he was suspended. It is not clear why he admitted he had an unguarded libido. But it’s enough to say he confessed.
Did he confess because he was promised a soft landing? Did he confess because he was deeply sorry for what he did and was ready to face the consequence? Those are issues that could be interrogated later. But let’s make do with his confession, at least on the surface and commend him, even if it may be laced with some ulterior motive.
A pending question would be why did he sleep with the wife of a priest under his care? Was is it a case of rape, was it lust, was it just a fling? Was it a case of falling into temptation? Those questions will take a combination of psychologists, theologians, and sex therapist to probe into
When it comes to immoral vibes, it is usually difficult to explain why humans do what they do. It is like trying to explain why David slept with Bathseba and killed Uriah her husband or why Judas denied Jesus. The heart of man is truly wicked, who can know it. But until somebody is caught, everybody looks clean and holy from the outside.
Unfortunately, the day an elephant falls, you see all kinds of knives. And that is what is playing out in the Adepoju case. Some of those who are busy saying things about him are guilty as he is. The only difference is that their sin has not been exposed.
The pain about Bishop
The pain about the Adepoju case is that as a Bishop he would have given sermons on holiness and infidelity only for him to be found a culprit.
If one has not suffered from moral laxity before, it may be difficult to understand how this thing works. But then, it is a human reality that we are prone to fall.
That is why Paul admonished in Gal 6v1 Brothers and sisters if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
The big trouble comes when we harbour certain weaknesses and wait till we are caught. It seems exciting for some of us to discuss Adepoju. But we should interrogate ourselves, examine ourselves.
Are we as guilty as he is? It’s easy to pass commentary the way I am doing. But then we must humbly come to terms that when it comes to moral failings a good number of us have lost ground.
The worry largely is with those who hold sacred office. In the first place, the heaven we ultimately want to go to is not reserved for those who wear collar as it were. It is reserved for those who have been washed by the blood of the lamb, whose sins have been forgiven, and who are able to carry their cross and follow after the saviour in obedience and righteousness.
Priesthood is an office and it is expected to be occupied by those who constantly nail their flesh.
Paul states in 1Cor 9v27: I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
This however does not mean priests, are not prone to falling; it only means that there is a level of societal expectations from occupants of that office.
It is then good for those who aspire to that office to address their personal failings and seek help. They don’t need to be priests in the first place. But if they so desire, they need to guard their loins and control their appetite.
The Anglican Church should be commended for instilling discipline within its fold. This is something that should be emulated by other churches. By asking the Bishop to step aside for a season and submit himself for some spiritual therapy is a good step. it is expected that the Bishop will come out better.
Anglican Church: What is the bigger plan?
The question is, what is the bigger plan? It is not enough to treat issues like this in isolation.
The church may well be dealing with many Adepojus in collar whose sins have not been revealed. So, the solution goes beyond the suspension of the present scapegoat. It is about how the church will get the confidence of the laity in ensuring there is sanity among the clergy,
What is the entry point for those who want to be priests in the Anglican Church? What are the criteria for preferment? Are there background and clinical checks for those who are preferred as canon, venerable, and bishop? Who are the people in charge of the transfer of priests and what are the things they look out for before transferring priests? What are the factors that inform how a priest is treated in the church? The questions can go on and on.
The bottom line is that the church must come to a place of understanding that the world has moved. We are no longer in the antediluvian age. We are not in the analog age either. We are in the age of information. We are in the age where the laity checks every step and action of the clergy. It is now increasingly impossible to bamboozle people with sweet words. People are watching. This is the age where actions are louder than words.
So, the management of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, which has survived well over 150 years has a responsibility to preserve the integrity of the church and ensure that those who occupy sensitive positions are men of proven character.
Weaknesses and wickedness
It is true we all have our weaknesses but then, wickedness should not be taken for weakness. A weakness that is not tamed in its infancy often leads to wickedness. It is cheering that Adepoju owned up. It will be great to see him bounce back and share his experience with the hope that those who are still trapped in the prison of immorality will be set free.
By Gbenga Osinaike