A tyranny of the righteous?

The subject of this piece has been brought to the front-burner by the recent drama surrounding an Abuja-based pastor and accusations of sexual offences from some members of his flock. Watching the testimony of two of the accusers is a troubling experience, as is the Jekyll and Hyde character of the ‘man of God’ himself that comes from watching a video clip where he ‘confesses’ that he was a cult leader in University, before he was ‘born again’.

There is a compelling necessity to drill down to the bottom of all this, determine if there is culpability, and what consequences, if any, should follow. Gathering evidence to prosecute ‘historical sexual offence’ is a daunting task for even the most sophisticated police forces in the world. For Nigeria’s much-derided Police, it may look like an insurmountable challenge, but it is one they would have to rise to. ‘Prosecution by media’, attractive as it may be, is not a real alternative, and does not give justice in the end to accused or victim. Everybody becomes a victim.

The following stories, hopefully, would help to illustrate, how the pursuit of a popular ‘righteous’ sentiment may lead ‘right-thinking’ citizens to persecute not just the offending principal, but anyone who dares to raise their head above the parapet in a dissentient stance.
Rugby is one of the most popular spectator sports in Australia. The country is a world leader in the game. One of the current super-stars of Australian rugby is a young man named Israel Folau. He plays for the Sydney-based New South Wales Waratahs, as well as the national team. As recently as last February he signed a contract extension with his club to play for them until 2022.

Like many people of his age, Folau is a regular user of social media. Some weeks ago, he placed a message on his Instagram page. It was, according to him, a quotation he got from the Bible. The message of his posting was simple. All ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters’ would go to hell, unless they repented.

The post immediately went viral.

Then all hell was let loose.

He was spreading anti-gay sentiment, his critics screamed. He was guilty of anti-LGTQ+ hate-speech.

In short order, his employers – Rugby Australia, queried him and set up a Board of Enquiry to probe his conduct.

Folau was advised by friends to remove the post from his Instagram page and apologize for its content.

But he felt he had done nothing wrong in sharing his honest opinion.

Troubled, he had a conversation with his father.

The Polao family were devout ‘Born Again’ Christians. The Church they belonged to believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible and its strictures.
‘Don’t do it’, his father told him. ‘You’ll go to hell’.

With that admonition, the young man’s hands were tied, and his fate sealed.

The upshot is that Israel Polao’s playing contract with Rugby Australia has been terminated. His career, which appeared to be at its zenith, has come crashing down.

Though his employers averred they were only showing they abhorred discrimination based on sexual orientation, there was a strong suspicion that their action was based on the fear of a backlash from gay activists.

The questions then arose – was the expression of a religious belief that was probably shared by many ordinary people, even if they were in the minority, tantamount to ‘hate’? Should a promising career have been destroyed because authorities feared a backlash from activists?

Was this not a modern form of thought-control, even tyranny?

The second story concerns Ronald S Sullivan, a Professor of Law at Harvard University, and until recently the Faculty Dean of Winthrop House, one of the twelve Houses for undergraduate accommodation in that famous University. The Dean-ship is a position of considerable prestige, and Professor Sullivan is the first black scholar to have occupied it.

Sullivan is something of a liberal in his views. One particular pitch he is fond of making to his students is that even a ‘bad’ person deserves to be represented and defended by the Law. It is a notion that should be straight forward, but which can sometimes be emotionally troubling for people to accept. For instance, it might provide a justification for vigorously defending the legal rights of Adolf Hitler or a Colombian drug baron.

Professor Sullivan, unfortunately, is now in trouble with his employers. The trouble started when it was disclosed that he was on the legal defence team of Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein, remember, is the Hollywood mogul charged with several counts of rape involving some famous actresses. Weinstein has lost his job, and his company has collapsed, but he is yet to be convicted on any of the charges made against him. The Harvard students, however, influenced by the #MeToo movement, are incensed that one of their teachers could be standing up in court for a ‘rapist’. They have demanded his sack. Sullivan has now been sacked as Dean, though he remains a Professor at Harvard.

Many people would probably agree that the rights of homosexuals and the LGBTQ+ community need to be protected, although even that may be a controversial notion in Nigeria with its draconian anti-Homosexuality law. Many would agree that Harvey Weinstein is at least an exploiter of the female sex who took advantage of actresses on his ‘casting couch’.

For anyone who truly cares about human freedom, the fate that has befallen Israel Polao and Professor Sullivan should raise some troubling questions. There truly is an increasing tendency all over the world to public lynching, principally in the social media, and especially in ‘sexual’ matters, not just of alleged ‘culprits’ but anyone who raises a voice for caution and due process. This is not exactly evidence that the world is moving towards the just and caring society that everyone is striving for. Or is it, really?

 

Femi Olugbile