BBC Profiles Sunday Adelaja


“My whole mission in the Ukraine is to impose God on the whole society.”

BBC Radio 4’s ongoing Crossing Continents documentary series looks this week at a pair of religion stories; the second segment of the programme introduces us to Pastor Sunday Adelaja of Kiev:

Pastor Sunday Adelaja arrived in the Ukraine from Nigeria on a Soviet student scholarship in 1993.

Twelve years later he is the head of the “GodEmbassy” [or “Embassy of God”], the largest evangelical church in Europe, with flock of 25,000 Ukrainians in Kiev, and churches in 32 countries around the world, all originating from Ukraine.

Adelaja (now 38 years old) claims that his church has baptised a million Ukrainians, and the segment begins with a baptismal service in the river Dnieper, where Prince Vladimir mass-baptised his citizens a thousand years ago. Adelaja has 700 Ukrainian pastors under him, with rehab centres and orphanages across the country. His congregation includes high-profile politicians, and he claims to receive a thousand new members a month. Plans are now underway for new a $10-20m building that would be like a “sports palace”.

Presenter Julian Pettifer also encounters a couple of critics: a disaffected ex-member named only as “Edgar”, and a grumpy Orthodox priest called “Father Alexander”. Edgar suggests (with the help of some leading questions) that Adelaja is appealing to an authoritarian nostalgia left over from Communist days, and claims that he lives in luxury; Father Alexander dismisses the GodEmbassy as “nothing more than showbusiness”. He also charges Adelaja with misusing religious freedom “to actually take away people’s freedom”, and notes the church’s emphasis on tithing 10% of income.

Pettifer puts these accusations to Adelaja, who heartily laughs them off. His church members are not “zombies”, he tells us, and he lives on modest means. He sees his teaching on money as being about empowerment, and he rejects the Prosperity teaching found in some US churches; indeed, he says he has even preached against it in Nigeria. He took the “showbusiness” complaint as a compliment.

Obviously, such a short introduction can only scratch the surface. Although Edgar complains that members are encouraged to vote in a particular way, the political dimension is more or less completely absent. This is a shame; as I blogged just recently, the officially recognised Pentecostal head in Russia has warned of “outsiders” encouraging politicisation, while Ted Haggard boasted to Jeff Sharlet at Harpers that evangelicals connected with his Colorado New Life church had been foremost participants in the recent “Orange Revolution”. Haggard and Adelaja actually collaborated on a CD for Americn Christians on the subject, which was published by Focus on the Family, and Haggard wrote in Ministries Today that:

Mr. Yushchenko is in favor of democratic reform in Ukraine and had recently contacted [Pastor] Sunday requesting input on how to structure the relationship between the evangelical church and his would-be administration. He recognized it is evangelicals who most ardently embrace, promote and protect the core ideas of freedom and personal responsibility.

…Acutely aware that an entire generation of Ukrainian adults knows only atheism, totalitarian government control and state-planned economics, Mr. Yushchenko has been deliberate to connect with those in his country who embrace freedom and have a platform to persuade others. The significance of Mr. Yushchenko’s overture to the Ukrainian evangelical community cannot be overstated. The fact that this reformer is turning to the church for counsel bespeaks the influence God’s people are wielding in Ukraine.

ASSIST Ministries noted in May that the new president’s Personal Adviser, Leonid Chernovetskiy, is a member of the Embassy of God.

The Embassy of God’s website can be seen here; on one page Adelaja can be seen hobnobbing with a couple of other friends of Haggard: Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Further details about Adelaja are available from this site.

UPDATE: Always nice to get a bit of inside perspective: missionary David Tinney, who knows Adelaja, has left a comment.