The last weeks explored the need to safeguard our authority as a Church and as pastors. I examined the Christological, ecclesiological, sociological, political, moral, and religious reasons.
As a recap, the Christological reason emphasises that the best way to evaluate how we exercise ecclesiastical authority is to look up to Christ’s model. The ecclesiastical reason argues that evangelisation and holistic salvation of souls are at the heart of the Church’s mission, and these cannot be effectively achieved if authority is not exercised properly. The sociological reason maintains that we must safeguard our authority because our influence depends entirely on how much people believe we can exercise that authority. The political reason entails that the Church should do all to safeguard its neutrality because neutrality is the Church’s enviable asset that enables it to mediate in any interpersonal or intergroup conflict around the world.
The moral reason is that since the Church only exercises moral authority, we must be cautious of our moral authority as an institution because it is very difficult to regain once lost. The religious reason is that religion is increasingly becoming a commodity in Nigeria. Hence, simply being the true Church and having the Eucharist are no longer sufficient to keep our members except we actively work towards keeping them.
This saying entails that the leopard’s victories and past successful attacks create a reputation that induces fear among those who wish to attack the animal. This maxim applies to the Church too. Historically, people feared the Church because of its far-reaching influence. Those who fought the Church were excommunicated, put incommunicado or even executed. This influence led to fear of the Church and, unfortunately, favoured the abuse of power and authority. Counter-intuitively, this abuse also pushed people to continue fighting the Church until they broke its back.
Today, the Church is no longer as powerful as it was in Europe and the West in the last centuries. Its global influence has also largely reduced. The attacks we see are essentially grudges of the past, while some are of the present. Scientists recall how the Church held Galileo Galilei incommunicado when he argued that the earth rotates around the sun (heliocentrism), not the sun rotating around the earth (geocentrism), as Joshua 10:12-14 suggests.
Sexual abuse victims and their families also fight the Church for complicity and denial of clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, which has damaged many victims and their families. Pharmaceutical companies are in the mix as Church doctrine is their biggest threat to more profits. Individuals and groups with liberal views on sexuality, marriage, and family also contend for more liberty to follow their ideals. Politicians cherry-pick when to support or fight the Church, basing their choice on how the Church supports or undermines their political ambitions or interests. African traditionalists are in, too, as they argue that Christianity has destroyed our culture.
An institution survives to the extent it can manage internal conflicts. Most empires did not collapse because an external enemy attacked. Instead, internal conflicts weakened the system and led to its implosion. In other circumstances, the internal conflicts weakened the system, making it easy for an external enemy to conquer. The ‘divide and rule’ strategy used to subjugate a people plays out here. The internal attacks are already undermining the strength of the Church. This is the more reason we must ensure we don’t worsen it. We do this by safeguarding our authority jealously, avoiding the abuse of authority that undermines evangelisation, the holistic (spiritual and temporal) salvation of souls, and our overall well-being as officeholders.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾