Elsewhere, Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” or, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” I don’t see people taking those verses of scripture at face value!

I had promised myself I would pay no mind to the Dame, and even though I knew it would be excruciatingly difficult to do so, I would have kept this promise had she not brought God into the matter. However, in truth, this discussion extends beyond the Dame’s assertions alone, for there are many others in Christendom who condone unquestioningly the notion that all authority is ordained of God. In a discussion with a pastor recently, he said something similar to what the Dame said on Children’s Day. I advanced the argument that there are no absolute biblical injunctions which deny us the right to use our God-given faculties to evaluate leadership, and that biblical precedence from both the Old and New Testaments actually suggests that Christians should resist ungodly leadership. Therefore, by implication, how can all leadership be God-ordained?

When I read what the Dame said, I thought it a good opportunity to bring this discussion into the open. I know that matters of faith can be highly contentious, but I believe we need to be bold to discuss issues that make us uncomfortable because ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

The article which appeared in The Sun newspaper on May 28th stated: ‘Dame Patience Jonathan, has urged Nigerians to obey biblical injunction of praying for leaders and pray for her husband as the head of the country. Reminding one and all that President Goodluck Jonathan was ordained by God, she described those abusing him as ungodly…Her words: “It is bad to abuse our country and the president because God has made him the head.”’

I agree we should pray for our country and for our leaders. But I do not agree that all leaders are God-ordained. The Good Book says we shall know them by their fruit. In other words, life is not complicated. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck! Why do we then accept the notion that every leader is ordained of God? That would mean that Hitler, who organized the killing of six million Jews, was ordained of God. That would mean that Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader of Cambodia who oversaw the genocide of close to 25% of his own people was ordained of God. That would mean that even Sani Abacha, who is said to have stolen more than any other leader in our country’s history, was ordained of God.

Biblical examples abound of God-ordained prophets like Elijah opposing kings like Ahab who, incidentally, was married to the godless woman Jezebel. In fact, the people actually suffered a horrible famine during Ahab’s rule because it was during his tenure as king that Elijah commanded a drought for three years. If every leader is ordained of God then so was Ahab, and the Israelites should have been praying for him! So was God confused and is He the Author of confusion?

I can’t understand why we think that faith requires a suspension of reason. Faith begins where reason ends. It doesn’t negate it.

I’m assuming the scripture the Dame and others like her draw their authority from is Romans 13:1 – 2: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. / Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

A preacher I enjoy listening to said that every scripture must be examined within its context. When you take the text from context, you are left with a con. The reason why we have fanaticism is because people are conned into accepting beliefs that are taken out of contexts. Elsewhere, Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” or, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” I don’t see people taking those verses of scripture at face value!

In Acts 4 where the “rulers of the people and elders of Israel” commanded the disciples to stop preaching, what did Peter and John say? “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye, but we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Vs 20 -21).

What happened here was that a precedent was set: when a man made law or proclamation contradicts a divine directive or injunction, divine directive supersedes. How do we know if governments of the laws they introduce have the seal of divine approval? Let’s return to Romans 13. In the next two verses, verses 3 and 4, the writer continues: “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil…For he (the ruler) is the minister of God to thee for good…a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.’

In other words the nature of God-ordained leadership can be determined. It’s not mysterious. God-ordained leadership is characterized by goodness, not evil. It is concerned with promoting and protecting the rights and wellbeing of its citizenry and punishing evildoers. It is not motivated by greed or avarice for elsewhere in scripture we are warned that “the love of money is the root of all evil”.

When a government lacks or has lost the will or the ability to carry out its God-given mandate, then we have a duty to challenge it. It is this principle that informed the philosophy of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela; and it underpins the concept of civil disobedience which may become necessary when a government fails her citizens. If we accept that opposing constituted authority is ungodly, then these men were ungodly.

Isn’t it time we start to think for ourselves? Isn’t it time we start to trust our own ability to read and understand the bible? And isn’t it time to say to whoever needs to hear it: Do not use religion to intimidate me into silence. It won’t work.

Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, and an educational administrator, is a member of the Premium Times editorial board. She writes from Abuja.