Chris Oyakhilome, charismatic pastor of 30,000-member Christ Embassy church in Lagos, Nigeria, has sparked an online debate after insisting that it is "never mentioned anywhere in the Bible to keep a child from a woman who was raped!"
Christ Embassy Naples in Italy shared on its Facebook page remarks reportedly made by Pastor Oyakhilome during a question-and-answer segment during a church service on Sunday, March 2.
Considering the question, "Can a baby that is a product of rape be aborted?" Oyakhilome was said to have responded:
"No child should be brought into this world by force, if a lady has been raped, it is left for her to make a decision of whether to keep the baby or not. If you have never been raped or someone close to you haven't [sic], you may not agree with this statement.
"It is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible, to keep a child from a woman who was raped!"
Vanguardngr.com, the popular online portal of the Nigeria daily newspaper, reports that Pastor Oyakhilome's comments have been trending on Facebook after various responses were posted online "swinging in and out of his favor."
Among the nearly-200 responses to the news item were comments from Nigerians expressing disagreement with the Christ Embassy founder, usually referred to as "Pastor Chris," that the Bible was silent on victims of rape who conceived having to keep the baby.
"If really Pastor Chris made such [a] response, then it's just unfortunate. The Bible is clear on murder — abortion irrespective of how the pregnancy came about is a murder," wrote Fred Otone Olomuro.
"Wicked as rape may be, it CANNOT be a valid ground for abortion. Beware of human rationalisation. If we accept this, I can assure you that there will be a sea of human reasons why we will be committing murder in the name of abortion," added another commenter named Valentine.
There were others, like Stanley Chukwu, who agreed with Pastor Oyakhilome's assessment.
"It is perfectly the best thing to do. Pastor Chris is absolutely right, keeping a baby conceived out of rape is morally reprehensible," wrote Chukwu.
Another commenter, perhaps speaking from personal experience, said she "totally agreed with Pastor Chris," and added, "If you are not been rape(d), shut up your mouth."
Although the Bible does not specifically address the issue of abortion, the intentional termination of a pregnancy, Christians, which amount to 40 percent of Nigeria's population, often cite passages like Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, and Exodus 21:22-25 to argue against the act, even in cases of rape. The Roman Catholic Church, which claims nearly 19 million adherents among Nigeria's 168 million residents, also cites passages like Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:15 in its doctrinal position on abortion as a "moral evil" in all cases when a life has formed.
In Nigeria, ranked as the second-most religious country on WIN-Gallup International's "Religion and Atheism Index," abortion is only legal when the mother's health is threatened. The Guttmacher Institute, which reported in 2004 that rape accounts for 1 percent of all abortions in the U.S., also revealed in a 2008 study that there are at least 760,000 abortions carried out yearly in Nigeria, most of them illegal and resulting in the deaths of thousands of women.
Pastor Oyakhilome, whose Christ Embassy is ranked as Africa's 10th largest church by the Leadership Network, is considered controversial due to his prosperity teachings and faith-healing claims. The Nigerian minister was compared to a "false prophet" and a "charlatan" in a 2012 opinion post by journalist and author J. Lee Grady. Grady cited Oyakhilome's ministry's alleged "cult"practices, gnostic-like "New Creation" theology and connections to T.B. Joshua, another popular and controversial Nigerian minister and self-declared prophet.
According to Grady, "Oyakhilome already has 16 churches in the U.S., mostly attracting African immigrants in cities such as Dallas, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. He has 39 churches in the United Kingdom (where many Nigerians live) and 18 in Canada, and his daily devotional books called Rhapsody of Realities are supposedly available in 70 languages."