Marcus Bell Nash, is the Africa West president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, oversees the activities of the church in West Africa.
In this interview, he enjoins Nigerians to embrace religious tolerance as a tool for averting religious crises.
One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that Christ died and resurrected. Do you share in this belief?
Absolutely! We believe Jesus Christ is the only begotten son of God. He died and resurrected and his resurrection continues till this day. He is glorified and perfected.
What is the church’s view on the Trinity?
We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. These three beings make up the Godhead. They preside over this world and all other creations of our Father in Heaven. However, each member of the Godhead is a separate being.
Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass the Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.
What about marriage and family?
We believe marriage is only between a man and a woman. It is a union ordained by God to fulfill his purpose for his children. We believe marriage is vital to time and eternity. We believe strongly in family. The family unit we create is sealed and family can be eternal and our children bound to us for all eternity. We believe how we can bless all those we can possibly bless is to help them to have the kind of marriage they would want to be together forever.
Does the church believe in ordination of women?
The priesthood is the authority and power of God to minister in his name. Only men are ordained and conferred with the priesthood office. The women participate in the highest levels in the running of the church.
What is your message to Nigerians?
My message is simply this: Come unto Christ and be perfected in him. Lay aside anything that will interfere with your relationship with God. Learn to love God, love your neighbour and serve one another.
Do you share the view that the lack of expression of genuine love is the root of Nigeria’s problem?
I would say living with love is a practical issue for all mankind. To be a little less quick to condemn and more quick to forgive, a little less to say, ‘what is in for me?’ and more quick to say, ‘what can I do for you?’ To be more selfless and less selfish is a practical problem worldwide. It is not unique to any nation.
I think we can learn by looking to the perfect model, Jesus Christ. He came as part of his purpose to show us how to love, how to forgive and how to serve.
How can religious crises be averted in Nigeria?
A free and productive society is a society that preserves the freedom of religion. The government can open conversations that can encourage respect for all religion and for them to treat each other fairly. We are not going to force our religion on anyone nor should anyone force his religion on someone. There should be religious freedom and tolerance.
We have many things we have done with the Muslim faith. We have worked with opinion leaders who are Muslims. Every point in time, we reach out to them to see how we can improve the society.
Could you tell us how the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints came to Nigeria?
The church unofficially began in 1962 in Nigeria. There were some people who wanted to receive information about the church, in the light of what they heard. They had written to the church’s headquarters asking for the church to come over officially. The church did not come into Nigeria until 1978. We have gone from basically zero member of the church in 1978 to now over 163,000 members. We are a rapidly growing faith throughout the world, especially in Nigeria. The church is organised into different sizes of congregations. Members are required to attend the congregation nearest to them, which is called a ward. A group of wards is called a stake.
In Nigeria, we have 53 stakes, about 550 wards and over 500 meeting houses – buildings where people come to worship – across the country.
What is the mission of the church in Nigeria?
Although multifaceted, it is primarily to help people come unto Christ. In other words, it is to come unto Christ by what you say, how you feel and what you do.
How does the church practically impact on the people of Nigeria?
We do so from both sides, the spiritual and physical. On the spiritual side, when someone comes to the church and decides to be a member, they learn principles of righteousness. It is our expectation that members of the church live the commandments of God. That means living honest lives, serving their fellow men, couples being faithful to each other and treating other people with respect. And children will see a model of how we should exist in society. Rather than shouting and manipulating each other, we learn to talk to each other, to love and to forgive.
In addition, we are involved in humanitarian efforts to bless lives. We have given a lot of assistance in the country. The value of the assistance we have given since the church began until today is over $15 million. We do it quietly but very efficient. We support during natural disasters, have clean water initiative, wheelchair donation, and healthcare delivery, among others. We partner with non-governmental organisations to assist those in need.
What does the church do to empower members?
We have self-reliance programmes for members of the church. Also, we have a strong belief in education. Because of this we have founded Brigham Young University in the US and we have an online programme from the university, PathwayConnect, that is focused on members and non-members.
What makes your church different from others?
We do not believe in criticising other churches. We are grateful for every righteous effort anyone does to bring people unto God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what we call the restored church of Jesus Christ. Rather than be created based on someone’s interpretation of the Bible, our church began in 1820. There was a boy prophet by name Joseph Smith. He was confused by the versions of Christianity and wanted to know which one was true. Reading James 1 v 5, which says “If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask God,” he went to his farm to pray. He had a vision, though he did not ask for it, of God, the father and Jesus, his son. They told him the churches had parts of the truth but were lacking in the complete truth. He was told that if he remained faithful to God, God would restore the truth and priesthood authority back upon the earth again to him. And this is what happened. In some years, Joseph was given the priesthood authority and power.
A practical difference of that authority is the sense of peace and hope experienced in our assembly, which signifies the presence of the Holy Ghost. Another practical difference is that the leaders of the church are not paid. It is voluntary. And when you go to our church meetings, you will never see us passing round an offering basket.
How do you fund your humanitarian efforts, if you do not take offering during church service?
We believe in the law of tithing. We invite people to live the law of tithing, which is one-tenth of your increase you give to the Lord for the rebuilding of his kingdom. We have a community of saints who pay tithe and that is what funds us. We also raise fund through members’ fast offering. Fast offering is a tradition in the church where we invite all the members of the church who are medically able to fast for 24 hours once a month.
This is an agreement in the church and the money they would have spent on food for themselves we ask them to donate to the poor. We collect this from our church members from around the world to bless the poor. We also bless the poor at the local and global level from the freewill donations of the members, having seen the impacts we are making as a church. Our motivation is because we love God and he loves his children.
Non-members can also donate to the humanitarian fund of the church to further our outreach to the world.