Most Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma
Most Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma is the Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and Bishop of Enugu Diocese. He tells RAPHAEL EDE about the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Christendom
You were reported to have said it was wrong for the government to stop worship services and that what they should have done was enforce hygiene. However, another report said you denied saying that. Which should Nigerians believe?
I said you cannot shut down the church because the church is not the building. The church is the people and no government or security can stop people from praying either online or in their houses. You can shut the building but not the people because people who believe in Jesus Christ are the church. I pray with my family at home; you can’t come and shut it down.
The bible says ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be’. When I was in Bauchi, they burnt our church building and we were still worshipping before I built a bigger cathedral. They thought the church was dead; you can burn the church building but you cannot burn the church. The people will rebuild the church.
When you reportedly said the last thing you would do was close down churches, even on Palm Sunday and Easter, people were surprised. How have you been observing worship services?
Now I have a chapel in my compound. My family and I worship in the chapel and put it online. We allow our priests to follow the directive of the state government and cooperate with them to fight this pandemic. I just finished a two-storey building which I am offering as a testing centre in Enugu to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to use temporarily.
What do you think about the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 is a pandemic from China which I think God has brought to the world to teach us a lesson like he did in the time of the Israelites because the whole world was in disarray. We had become very disobedient, proud, arrogant, unruly, and immoral, among others. There is bad governance, cheating and so much injustice in the country and the whole world.
Many a time, we think we are greater than God and God has now made us humble. It is a disease that has come to humble everybody. It has come to also teach that some people’s prophecies can be faulted. All these people who make false prophecies and fake miracle workers or healers; this coronavirus pandemic has come to prove them to be liars and God has come to let us know that He is greater than everybody. It has also sensitised us, particularly Nigerians, to be conscious of our health and know that health is important because when it first started, evidence showed that we were not ready at all. Imagine the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, not having a good isolation centre which made the late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, to be taken to Lagos. Why should somebody at that level be taken to a private hospital and not a government hospital? It means we have failed. Nigerian government has failed to take healthcare delivery in the country seriously.
But what some people believe is that the virus has debunked the beliefs various religions have that there is a supernatural power as clerics and other adherents are afraid…
I have already said people who claim to be miracle workers, why are they not saying they can cure the disease and then go to isolation centres and heal people? This coronavirus has proved that those who call themselves miracle workers are fake. I see no reason why places like Lagos, Abuja and Ogun that have so many of these healers have been recording more and more increase in the number of coronavirus patients.All of them and even witch doctors, wizards and babalawos cannot come out to say they have an answer to the problem. It is a big disgrace and it has exposed most of these people; we also believe in healing definitely, but we believe in God’s gradual healing. We don’t believe in deceiving or hypnotising people in the name of healing. So this thing has come to expose them and also some professors and scientists who think they know more. Why shouldn’t there be a research within a short time to develop a vaccine that should be able to stop this pandemic? So it has exposed everybody that we are very much vulnerable.
Some humanists and atheists have also said the virus has caused the evaporation of faith in the supernatural healing powers as Vatican, Mecca and other major religious centres have been under lockdown, what do you think about that?
Well, they may not be correct because they were precautionary measures taken to protect people. That doesn’t translate to evaporation of faith because as far as I am concerned, God is the same yesterday, today and forever. And God sometimes give a time for retreat; it is a time to know that there is salvation in any place like in Mecca or Jerusalem or Rome or wherever you are. Wherever you are, God can heal you and touch you. Like I said, you cannot shut down the churches, you can only shut down the building. The people are the church – the Christians. The people who believe in Christ can call upon the name of God anywhere and God will answer them. That is what I was saying and was misquoted. Nobody can shut down the church; you can shut the building but the church is not the building. The faith is not in the building – the faith is in the hearts of people who trust in God, believe in God and worship God in faith and truth.
You cannot say that faith has evaporated because buildings were shut down because the centre of salvation is in Jesus Christ and our faith and trust are in Jesus Christ. So we should trust in God Almighty.
They say it has debunked the general belief that God resides in those places and that one wonders if those places are not in direct communication with God over cure for COVID-19. How would you respond to that?
It has now shown that that is not a place of salvation. When you go on pilgrimage to those places, it does not mean that God resides there. They give historical perceptive – you have read about these things, so going to those places elevate your faith and make you know that what you have read is not fiction but something that happened because you can see those places with your eyes.
You said what you meant was that God is in us and not in buildings, do you think the virus has demonstrated the lack of potency in the powers associated with religious centres around the world as the atheists claim?
No, the unfortunate thing is that it has more or less kept people away from the church. I believe if many people could go to church, you would see the result of the prayers of the faithful. When the children of Israel experienced this type of thing, they gathered together and found people who stood in the gap for them, prayed and God removed the plague for them. If churches had been allowed to pray, you would have seen the work of the prayers and cries to God. That could have been more effective than just individual and group prayers. Iron sharpens iron.
The government must have realised it made a mistake by saying,
‘Don’t meet in the church,’ whereas you allow markets to open. People meet in the market and stay there for a long time. They go to banks and so many places. People still go to the pharmacy and many other places where they meet and congregate but the place where we can call upon the name of God to save us, you say people should not congregate there.
Meanwhile, we had already arranged some of our church seats in line with the social distancing protocol. For Holy Communion, people use separate cups and people who come are not more than 50. We have sections for prayer and services and even different buildings where people can hold services without coming together in large numbers. But the government is making a mistake by saying markets should open. People move in large numbers on the roads, but in the church where people can call upon God, you have relegated it to the background; that is the problem. You have now made the spiritual aspect of healing to be more or less neglected, which is unfortunate. This is where the government has failed.
But atheists have been asking what has happened to the healing powers of the supernatural and deities that humans have been worshipping?
Atheists themselves know there is a spiritual part of healing, only that they expected that these things should have manifested in a real sense more than ever before; and that is why we must examine ourselves and find out if we truly have the spirit of God. When Peter and John came out of beautiful temple, they healed a cripple. They only used the name of Jesus; they were already spiritually prepared to use that name. But now, many people are using the name of Jesus and are not spiritually prepared and sanctified to make effective healing happen. That is where the problem lies.
So you find out that many people are just worshipping Jesus Christ and commercialising the church; that is why people have begun to laugh at the church because there is too much commercialisation going on in the church today. Rather than feeding the sheep, people are feeding on the sheep. God will still perform miracles if you offer yourself spiritually and you are righteous, but how many people are righteous today? We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God; that is the problem. In the church today, we have envy and jealousy; people don’t even want to love one another as it should be. We just perform outward religiosity and formalism. There are too much sycophancy, hypocrisy and cosmetic worship in our churches today.
Some people believe that when this is over, it will change how many people worship as they will believe if they can stay from religious houses during the pandemic, then they could do so after the pandemic. How would you react to that?
After Stephen was murdered, the Christians in the Diaspora went with their faith, believing in Jesus and they were able to plant churches in many places. God may use this to say, you have been congregating in one place, now, go out.
The church, under the power of the Holy Spirit, should be outgoing and not static. Many of our members have grown used to seating in one place and not moving out. Probably with the house fellowship families do now, more men will make themselves the pastors of their homes.
Your wife should be like an assistant pastor to teach your family. So it has now shown that we have a spiritual family responsibility to perform for our family, which is very good. That will make us to be more spiritual and closer to God by the time the whole thing is over.
Do you think atheists will have the final say in this matter if religious leaders do not show proof of the power the supernatural being they follow possess at this time?
Atheists cannot claim anything because everybody, as far as I am concerned, are subjects to God’s control. Atheists, you and I do not have the power of God; it does not mean that you have lost control. Many a time, people fail to know that God is the one that is in control. You cannot manipulate God; nobody can manipulate God. We should stop this type of manipulation and thinking we can operate God like a computer. God is the one who knows how and why the thing (pandemic) happened and is the one who is going to make it go away at His time.
We should leave God to do His thing at His own time; that does not mean that the church has failed because when we pray to God, God can answer yes, no, or say wait. Those are the ways He answers prayers and that does not mean that God has turned a deaf ear to our prayers. Really, we have sinned against God. It is a time to repent, humble ourselves and turn away from our wicked ways as it has been said in 1 Chronicle 7 :14 ‘that if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and turn away from their wicked ways, that I will hear their cry and heal their land’. Simple!
The Federal Government has said it has been giving palliatives, how would you assess that?
They are going to the sheds of the Nigeria Customs Service to bring out rice seized from innocent Nigerians and call it palliatives. You seized something from somebody and you are distributing it; it is a sin. The Federal Government should know it is a sin. You are giving out the rice brought in by traders without their consent; God is not happy about it.
Secondly, the palliatives they are sharing don’t belong to the government. The government is also sharing money without equity and justice because most of these things are done in a one-sided manner. For instance, the South-East is marginalised. Then you find out that these palliatives do not go far because the population of Nigeria is bigger than the palliatives. They are giving people peanuts and they think they have done something, but what they have done does not satisfy the yearnings of the people.
People are hungry; there is ‘hunger virus’ now because somebody who used to go out to look for food has become a criminal now because idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Many of them are not even bothered about your palliatives but need their freedom. Some palliatives are even contaminated.
You said that you have a structure you want to give to the government to use temporarily. When are you going to do that?
It is ready; I am calling on the government through you to come because the building is available. They were asking people to donate structures for testing centres and I am helping with that because we must work with them and complement their efforts. People should not be discouraged; they should worship in their homes and online with their pastors.
Source: Sunday PUNCH