By Olakunle Olafioye
When Karl Marx declared religion as the opium of the people some 175 years ago, he probably may have not put some religious sects into his reckoning.
Today, certain extreme and controversial practices in some religious circles, rather than lessen the severity of the adherents’ burdens, are fast escalating them, thereby sending many to their early graves.
One of such controversial practices which was on parade a fortnight claimed the life of a Lagos-based socialite, Kayode Badru, during a prayer session in a church in Lagos.
Reports claimed that the deceased who arrived in Nigeria from Dubai to celebrate the graduation of 40 students he bankrolled their training at the Academy for Innovative Art and Technology (ACIATECH) died penultimate Wednesday, May 5, 2021 after suffering severe burns at a Celestial church where he had gone for prayers.
During the prayer session, the late Badru, reports claimed, was surrounded by a group of seven candle-bearing prayer intercessors and was sprinkled with spiritual perfumes.
Badru’s garment was said to have caught fire in the process. The victim later suffered serious burns and was rushed to a hospital in Gbagada, Lagos, where he later gave up the ghost.
A chemical scientist, Mr. Sola Atitebi said poor knowledge of basic science on the part of those in the church at the time was responsible for the incident. According to Atitebi, “Perfume contains combustible properties and anybody with basic knowledge of science should know that bringing it too close to fire could result in a serious fire incident. It was very unfortunate that it claimed somebody’s life. I blame the incident on ignorance on the part of everybody at the scene of the occurrence.”
Reacting later, the Celestial Church of Christ, in a statement, blamed the tragic incident “on the misuse of spiritual perfumes” and directed its Pastor-in-Council to come up with a policy document to curb what it describes as alien practices that have been introduced into the tenets and doctrines of the church.
The statement read in part: “Due to the incessant abuse of spiritual perfumes within the Church, His Eminence has found it imperative to state for record purposes and correction that henceforth, spiritual perfumes intended to be sprayed, sprinkled, or poured with a lighted candle should be diluted with water.
“The spraying or pouring of undiluted spiritual perfumes in its volatile state with a lighted candle is an imported culture not originally part of the tenets of the Celestial Church of Christ. The laid down usage of spiritual perfume within the spheres of a lighted candle by the Pastor Founder, Saint SBJ Oshoffa is by mixing it with water. It is high time we retraced our steps for a greater Celestial Church of Christ.
“We are all advised to adhere to this directive, any parish or member that goes against this directive will be solely responsible for the resultant effect.”
The statement also directed the Pastor-in-Council to come up with a policy document to curb alien practices that had been introduced into the tenets and doctrines of the church to safeguard the church’s divine culture as instructed by the Spirit of God through the Pastor Founder.
Like the late Badru, a similar tragedy claimed the life of a woman identified as Joy Owoyele at a church premises in Isheri Olofin area of Lagos State few weeks.
According to reports, the deceased had sought spiritual help regarding her matrimonial challenges at the church and was said to have been placed on 14-day fasting and prayer.
Things, however, took a tragic turn as she reportedly collapsed after the morning prayers inside the church on the 10th day.
The deceased, Sunday Sun gathered, had been breaking her fasts during the previous nine days with honey and water as it was the practice in the church before collapsing on the morning of the tenth day.
The resident pastor, one Alfred Sunday, was quoted to have said that the deceased lost consciousness during the spiritual exercise and was rushed to the Igando General Hospital for treatment, but she died in the process.
The pastor explained that he later went to the Idimu Police Station to report the incident, adding that during investigation, the police detained him and the General Overseer of the church.
He stated: “When I reported the incident, the police took my statement and that of the victim’s daughter. But the General Overseer and I were detained for three days and the police also visited the church to conduct an investigation.”
Following Owoyele’s death, the church reportedly came up with decision to ensure that anyone who must fast in the church must be ready to break the fast with pap instead of the usual honey and water.
Although fasting is believed to have both spiritual and health benefits, medical experts warn that fasting for long periods of time could be dangerous.
A medical practitioner, Dr. Rachael Iwedike said that Mrs Owoyele’s death could have arisen as a result of certain underlining heath condition which was not made known to those around him.
“You don’t embark on fasting because you think you have the strength to do so or because you have been fasting before now. You should be able to consider yourself fit before embarking on it and where you think you do not have the grace due medical reasons, you should be able to tell whoever asks you to fast. More importantly, our God is merciful and gracious and He knows our limitations. He is not a man that can punish unduely,” she said.
She noted that the body needs vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from foods to stay healthy.
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“That is why you must break your fast with adequate nutrition; getting fruits and foods and not only water and honey as we saw in this case. If you don’t get enough nutrients, you can have symptoms as dizziness, fatigue, constipation, dehydration and not being able to tolerate cold temperature. Fasting too long can be life threatening. People with certain medical conditions such as diabetes should not even fast at all,” she warned.
Pastor Oluwafemi Aina, the Shepherd-in-charge Faith-in-Prayer Evangelical Mission, described the deaths of Badru and Owoyele and the circumstances of their deaths as sad occurrences not only to their families, but to the entire Christian family.
“Ordinarily, a church is expected to be a place of refuge where people seek protection against the evils in the world. Ironically, however, in these cases where the refugees, so to say, met their untimely deaths at place that ought to serve as their havens, one can only blame ignorance for their deaths. The book of Hosea, Chapter 4, verse 6, says my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Our God is the only source of knowledge and anyone who claims to serve God, but fails to embrace knowledge is a confused person. So, what happened in these cases is just a crass display of lack of knowledge, to put it mildly. If those concerned had shown some understanding about the situations and circumstances that led to those unfortunate incidents, possibly these tragic incidents would have been avoided,” Aina said.
He, therefore, called on religious leaders without basic education to seek basic knowledge of education, saying doing so will help to forestall similar occurrences in future.
“God does not consider your educational qualification when calling his servants. But when somebody without basic education is called by God, he should be able to take it as his personal responsibility to improve himself in order to make his divine assignment easier, otherwise he will continue to find himself in avoidable embarrassing situations such as these ones,” he said.