Chimamanda’s reflection on Nigerian Church tender, uncompromising

Award-winning writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has urged the Nigerian Church to take a hard long look at its practices and imbibe some of what Pope Francis admonishes in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

Adichie who wrote an article that was published in the Vatican newspaper pointed out some of where the Nigerian Church had deviated from its core purpose and responsibilities. The opinion piece titled ‘Dreaming as a single family’ was featured in the latest edition of the L’osservatore Romano weekly bulletin, released over the weekend.

The central theme of the encyclical Fratelli Tutti is the openness of Christian love, and Adichie has tasked the Catholic Church in Nigeria to imbibe Christian ethics and to translate the universal summons of Christian love, and the universal norms of human nature, into concrete duties and rights.

In her article, she frowned at several practices of the Nigerian church that do not conform to standards and urged them to depart from the old ways of doing things.

Read also: That Chimamanda essay and the outdated single story of social liberalism

She noted that the church has abandoned its primary task and instead turned to a money-spinning organization. “I have seen church doors locked to prevent people from leaving during fundraisings. I have watched a priest announce his account details to a funeral congregation and then prance about the altar, phone in hand, waiting for alerts from the bank to appear on his phone screen. It is unbecoming.”

“My family’s experiences during my parents’ funerals served to reaffirm, if not renew, my reservations about the Nigerian church. So much could have been handled with compassion for the grieving but was not. So many opportunities to show dignity were left unused. Our communication with the local church was more of an exercise in priestly power than anything else; we begged and negotiated for a suitable funeral date, with exaggerated but insincere deference shown to the priest lest he changes his mind and not agree to the funeral.”

Adichie’s message to the church is to reject any version of extreme individualism that fosters selfishness and indifference to the plight of others. She longs for a church where everyone belongs to one another and holds a sacred duty to contribute to the wellbeing of others.

She also took a deep dive into the Church’s failures to attend to the structural causes of gendered oppression, and to the male appropriation of power within and outside its walls.

“On Sundays, women of all ages were often harassed, men barring their entry into the church unless they wrapped themselves in shawls to hide their shoulders and arms (which apparently would cause men in the church to sin.) Entire homilies were dedicated to the wiles and evils of women. How unsettling to sit through Mass feeling as though one, simply by being born female, had become inherently guilty of a crime.”

Nevertheless, Adichie is hopeful that this encyclical from the Pontiff can spark real change and the Nigerian Church will retrace its steps. “I imagine a church filled with respect for clergy but free of that ever-present cowering air. I imagine a church where the warden is not mean-faced and does not bang joylessly on the pews, where children are not treated harshly, where the priest does not smack a Mass server at the altar during Mass.” writes the bestselling novelist.