An Open Letter To Pastor Agu Irukwu

by Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

@Alatenumo

Dear Esteemed Pastor Agu,

Calvary greetings, grace, and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father to whom be glory forever and ever. I pray that you may prosper in all things and be healthy, even as your soul prospers.

I have taken the unusual step of writing this open letter because my conscience has left me with no choice. I trust you will read it with an open mind. Be rest assured that I write this letter in love, and please don’t construe it as the ranting of one of those negative critics who always have something wrong to say about men and women of God. If anything in this letter overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me.

On 8 March 2021, ITV broadcasted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex interview with Oprah Winfrey. During the interview, Meghan Markle revealed details about her horrific experience in the House of Windsor after her marriage to Prince Harry. She told the world how she had suicidal thoughts following her ill-treatment. She mentioned how the Royal Family informed her while pregnant that her child will not be a prince. She spoke about concerns and conversations among members of the Firm about how dark her son’s skin might be when he’s born. Prince Harry revealed that his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his calls because he took steps to protect Duchess Markle.

The two-hour interview, which commentators described as the “Bombshell Interview”, generated a lot of discussion throughout the country. As the world waited for a response from the Royal Family, nothing was forthcoming. However, the following day, Prince Charles turned up at your church, Jesus House, to visit a vaccination centre.

When looked at in isolation, it would appear to be just a visit by a future king to a black majority church amid a pandemic. But when one joins the dots of Meghan Markle’s interview a day earlier, and the numerous instances where you have welcomed British politicians, often around election time, one cannot but raise one’s eyebrows. Your intentions might be sincere in playing hosts to these August visitors. Still, Pastor Agu, I believe you allow yourself to be used as a pawn by British establishment figures to score cheap political points and evade scrutiny. Let us revisit history.

On 13 April 2007, I was at the Excel Centre for the Festival of Live programme. After praising and praying to the Lord, you introduced the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to the congregation. He gave a speech, and shortly after, Daddy GO prayed for Mayor Livingstone. He prayed that Livingstone would remain as Mayor as long as he wanted to. The following year, it was the turn of Boris Johnson. In the midst of a busy campaign for the 2008 London Mayoral election, Rt Hon Johnson visited the Novo Centre, a drop-in community group for young people located in the Grahame Park Housing Estate in Barnet, North London, and run by Jesus House. Some days later, Boris Johnson defeated Ken Livingstone to become the second Mayor of London.

David Cameron’s turn was on 17 April 2015 when he came to the Festival of Life event two weeks and six days before the 2015 General Election. As you introduced him to the stage, 45,000 black Christians erupted in joy at the British prime minister’s presence. The crowd got excited when Cameron turned to Pastor Adeboye and said, “Daddy GO.” You told the congregation that as Christians, we are obligated to pray for those in authority. In describing the visit, James Rees, the Executive Director of ExCeL London, said: “Our renowned secure environment meant that The Prime Minister could arrive, have an audience with the General Overseer and address the congregation, before leaving, within an hour, to continue his election campaigning (emphasis mine).”

Three weeks after his speech, Cameron was re-elected as the British Prime Minister. 28 May 2017 was Theresa May’s turn to seek sanctuary in your church. This time, she pushed it a bit to close by visiting you one week and four days before the 2017 General Elections. After you introduced her to the congregation, you interviewed her in front of thousands of your followers. Days later, she defeated Jeremy Corbyn to remain in 10 Downing Street.

While the significance of Prince Charles visit might not be evident to you and people within your echo chamber, to those of us outside, it smacks of an attempt to downplay Meghan Markle’s cry. It comes across as a photo opportunity to showcase to the world that the Royal Family is not as racist as the Duchess makes it seem. Robert Hardman, a journalist with the Daily Mail (a paper known for its vitriolic attacks against Meghan Markle), wrote an article titled, “Prince Charles’ visit to BAME church-goers was a beacon of diversity — and a lesson in what service and duty really mean.” Hardman used the Prince’s visit to your church to have a dig at the Sussexes writing, “Sandwiched between the North Circular Road and the Browning, Jones & Morris plumbing depot, Brent Terrace is, in every sense, a world apart from the gated celebrity estates of sunny Montecito, California. It was here that we found the Prince of Wales back in public yesterday, adopting the time-honoured strategy of royalty in times of trouble: show, not tell.” It is a paradox that the heir of the throne is comfortable posing with black healthcare workers when he did nothing as his relatives allegedly questioned how dark baby Archie would be.

Esteemed Pastor Agu, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in America, you committed to tackling racism in this country. You wrote Christians should, “Speak out! Our faith enjoins us to stand against injustice-sometimes at great cost.” My advice to you is to be true to what you have written on paper. Speak truth to power by telling them what they need to hear and not what they want to hear. As the head of the largest black congregation of Christians in Europe, you have a de facto responsibility to ensure that British establishment figures do not use your platform to perpetuate white supremacy and injustice. Agreed that the church can and should engage with people in authority; however, people in power should not use it as a medium to gaslight us about the non-existence of racism and other forms of injustice.

When David Cameron paid you a “courtesy visit” in 2015, it was on the back his contribution to the instability in Libya which led to the loss of tens of thousands of lives; it was on the back of Britain’s withdrawal of search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. It was also on the back of a destructive austerity programme that decimated poor and black communities. Yet, you did not call him to account publicly.

When Theresa May paid you a “courtesy visit” in 2017, it was on the back of a hostile immigration policy that dehumanised people who look like you and me. It was also on the back of Britain selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which ended up tearing the skin and bones of God’s children living in Yemen. Yet you did not call her to account publicly.

Martin Luther King once said, “Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around, he tells it.” He also wrote the church is “Not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool.” Pastor Agu, you have something that these influential leaders who come to visit you do not have — moral authority. Why not use this moral authority to call them to account? When Prince Charles came to the church, you should have told him, “I watched your daughter-in-law’s interview yesterday, and I am concerned because many of my parishioners who look like Meghan Markle are catching the same hell in the workplace; as she did in your household.”

Jesus House should continue to welcome future Kings, princesses, Duchesses, Mayor’s, and Prime Ministers, but it should not be used as a prop for political campaigning, gaslighting or government propaganda. From the Scriptures, we learn that the prophets of old spoke truth to power whenever the rulers strayed from the path of justice. Somewhere I read about Moses warning Pharaoh, “Let my people go”; somewhere I read of John the Baptist warning Herod Antipas, “You cannot marry your brother’s wife”; somewhere I read about Nathan warning King David, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? … Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own”; somewhere I read about Elijah warning King Ahab, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” somewhere I read about the Master sending a message to Herod, “Go tell that fox, Look, I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach My goal.” Esteemed Pastor Agu, I urge you to go and do likewise.

What I have written could probably be dismissed by your admirers as inconsequential. After all, I am writing to a man who Metro readers voted as the Most Inspirational Black Man ahead of Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. Irrespective of my position in society, the points raised are worth reflecting and acting on.

In conclusion, Esteemed Pastor Agu, I would not be surprised if the British establishment awards you a Knighthood in future. If or when that time comes, you may want to reflect on the reason for the award. Would it be because of your service to the black community or because the British hierarchy was able to use your platform to preach it’s “political gospel” to the tens of thousands of God’s black children living in a country with a structurally racist media, police force, judiciary, healthcare, government, and monarchy?

Selah.

Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

@Alatenumo

suleaos@gmail.com

March 2021

cc

The Board of Trustees- Jesus House

Writer and social critic

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