‘My choice lay not between fidelity and adultery but between honesty and hypocrisy, and I’m no Victorian – I’m a twentieth century man and I have no intention of building my private life around a lie in order to appease the petty demagogues who dictated society’s conventions.’
Cornelius Van Zale in ‘The Rich Are Different’ by Susan Howatch
The fictional character, Cornelius, was faced with a not too unusual dilemma. Trapped in a loveless marriage he had two choices: maintain the charade his marriage was and live a life of hypocrisy in order to ‘appease…society’s conventions’, or, reject the dictates of society in order to live his truth. Cornelius made a decision: he was not going to build his ‘private life around a lie.’
One can argue that ‘society’s conventions’ are what keep it civilized; if we were to live so subjectively by our individual truths and were to shrug off the reins of societal expectations, our civilization would be threatened. And yet, the thought of living a life of hypocrisy in order to satisfy the expectations of a group of people whose values may be tethered in false ideals or anachronistic beliefs is quite frightening. Where then do we draw the line? When is it okay to free ourselves from the cultural, social or religious shackles that may be binding us to lives of misery?
Because we do not want to live an arbitrary existence, we submit ourselves to the norms and expectations of society which are derived from cultural traditions and /or religious principles. They give our world some order and our lives structure. We are comforted by certainty and detest that which unsettles and disrupts the predictability of our existence.
That is why when this order and certainty is threatened people instinctively lash out against the ‘troublemaker’ who dares to disturb the status quo. They do not care to consider whether the act is justified or not. All they know is that it is causing an upheaval to their security, and the nonconformist responsible for this must be wrong.
And so, damn Pastor Anita for unsettling the waters! To hell with her for having the audacity and the temerity to take on the ‘man of God’. Is she the only one? Why can’t she just suffer in silence and continue to spend the man’s money? Ah ah! Na wa for this woman, sef!
I’m not saying he did it. But I wouldn’t have expected him to say he did it even if he did. So his denial comes as no surprise. However, it would be very unwise for Pastor Anita to say he did do it if he didn’t. To make such a grave accusation against a foremost ‘man of God’ whose ministry straddles at least two continents, without watertight evidence, would be sheer madness. Interestingly, in his response through his counsel (Sahara Reporters, 04/09/14), he did not charge Pastor Anita with libel or slander, but he did threaten to take action against the press for distorting what she said verbatim.
There is no doubt that divorce is very, very devastating for all parties concerned. In the same way that we are warned that marriage is not an institution to be entered into lightly, neither is divorce a solution to be sought lightly.
However, there are times when it is more detrimental to stay than to leave and the Church needs to recognize this. Yes, Malachi 2:16 says that “God hates divorce.” But the verse immediately preceding that says that men should not deal “treacherously” with their wives. Jesus reinforced this in the gospels when He emphasized that marriage is for keeps – except in the case of adultery (Matthew 5:32). Putting two and two together, adultery is treacherous.
I would fathom a guess that Anita Oyakhilome knew she would be widely criticized by the Church for daring to seek a divorce. I would also fathom a guess that she would have not wanted to give such an explicit reason for the divorce. I would further fathom a guess that the reason why she did site adultery as one of the reasons is precisely because she knew that the Church would judge her action to be frivolous if she didn’t. The sad thing is even though Jesus considered adultery to be such a fundamental breach of the marriage relationship as to constitute grounds for divorce; many Christians still feel that a woman should endure.
When is it okay to free ourselves from the cultural, social or religious shackles that may be binding us to lives of misery? When those religious traditions make the Word of God of no effect.
In seeking to divorce Pastor Chris, especially on the grounds she has named in her divorce, Pastor Anita has pitted herself not against one man, but against the full force of Christ Embassy Worldwide and the Church in general. She has pitted herself against a community which is almost cult-like in its protection of the perpetrator and its silencing of its victims, a community which all too often advocates that forgiveness is synonymous to suffering in silence.
There are many women who do not have the courage to leave because they are afraid to offend. What Anita has done is unheard of in Nigerian Christianity. She has broken the taboo.
Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, school administrator, and member of the Premium Times editorial board maintains a Friday column on politics, policy, culture, and the Nigerian life. She writes from Abuja.