Popular preacher and founder of Living Faith Church, Mr David Oyedepo, has responded to criticisms that followed his decision to hold church services on Sunday despite government restriction on large gatherings to combat coronavirus.
Oyedepo on Monday said he allowed Sunday church services at Winners Chapel in Canaanland not in defiance of government directives against physical contact, but to enlighten members who may not have been aware of order.
The cleric said the services were devoted to sensitising and mobilising members of the church regarding the dangers of COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus that has killed more than 10,000 people across the globe.
Oyedepo said the services were held to educate worshippers on the need to comply with the government’s directives.
His explanation followed a flurry of criticisms over his decision to continue holding Sunday services despite worldwide health advisory on social distancing as a primary precaution in curbing the spread of coronavirus.
The popular pentecostal preacher held services within hours apart at the headquarters of his Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel) situated at Sango-Ota, near Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and worst-hit by coronavirus.
Of the 36 confirmed cases in Nigeria, Lagos has 25 while, neighboring Ogun has two. Both states had restricted religious and public gatherings to only a handful of people, but the clergyman left doors of the over 200 thousand capacity Faith Tabernacle open to worshippers, brushing aside the order.
“Shutting down churches would be like shutting down hospitals,” Oyedepo said during March 22 Sunday service that streamed live online.
“There are many, many places that would never have any medical solution but in church.”
But in a statement Monday by his Special Assistant, Mr Steve Ogah, Oyedepo downplayed his earlier position.
He said the church has been pressured to clarify why it held church services against government directives.
“It has become necessary to issue this statement to clarify issues surrounding why Faith Tabernacle, Canaanland, the International Headquarters of Living Faith Church in Ogun State, held church service on Sunday, although with less than half of her regular worshippers,” the statement said.
“There have been diverse responses varying from well-meaning concerns to uncharitable insinuations, misinterpretations, and unfounded allegations that the service was held in deliberate defiance of Ogun State Government ban on high-density gatherings, in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing can be further from the truth.”
The cleric said his decision to allow the service to hold followed a statement on Saturday by Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that “church members who may gather in church premises, many of whom may not be aware of this regulations should be allowed to worship for the purpose of enlightenment on the subject matter.”
“As we all know, the Church is made up of both literate and illiterate congregants; many are not in touch with any of the modern platforms of communication and this is what we did yesterday. Indeed, the service was devoted entirely to sensitizing and mobilizing members of the Church regarding the danger of this deadly virus and the need to comply with government directives.
“The Bishop has since engaged Ogun State Government at the highest level to clarify this issue and any misgivings and reiterated the full support of the church for the State Government’s efforts to ensure public safety, towards curtailing the spread of this deadly virus. He appreciates the opportunity of direct engagement and the understanding of the government. Cooperation to safeguard public safety is not just a moral obligation or civic responsibility; the church also considers it a spiritual duty.
“For instance, to show how law abiding our organisation is and in compliance with government directives, all our primary and secondary schools across the nation have been directed to close down. Also, our students at Landmark University, Omuaran, Kwara state were sent back home, while Covenant University Students, who are currently on vacation were instructed to stay back at home while awaiting further directives from government.”
The popular preacher was however silent on whether physical service would continue to hold.
Mr Abimbola Oyeyemi, Ogun police spokesperson, told our correspondent that officers were at Canaan Land on Sunday to enforce compliance, but Oyedepo and his ministers thwarted their efforts.
“Police officers were there to caution them but they refused and held their service,” Oyeyemi said.
Oyeyemi said the church’s action was inappropriate, but officers had overlooked it with the hope that such would not happen again going forward.
“We hope that by next week Sunday they would listen to the voice of reason and comply,” the police chief said. “Nobody is above the law.”