The controversial founder of one of Europe's largest Protestant churches is battling some in his church leadership over his reaction to multiple affairs.
Sunday Adelaja, a Nigerian pastor who leads the charismatic Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, has admitted to having affairs with parishioners. The confession came one month after he posted a video on his blog titled “Sexual Sin Is Not Enough to Take You to Hell.”
The female parishioners revealed the affairs to other area pastors, who then took the information public, according to the Council of Bishops of Christian Evangelical Churches of Ukraine. (English version here.) The leaders warned Ukrainian Christians about Adelaja, also noting previous allegations that he bilked investors of $100 million in a Ponzi scheme called King's Capital.
Earlier, a website called ZimEye claimed to have exposed Adelaja by having an undercover reporter pose as a “prophet” and secretly record a February phone call with the pastor. The elders of Embassy of God publicly dismissed the report as a prank.
“If you have listened to the audio recording which was fraudulently obtained, you will notice that Pastor Sunday never once admitted to any wrong doing as the caller was suggesting in his prophetic utterances,” stated the elders. “It was the prophet that was rather putting words into Pastor Sunday’s mouth. If Pastor Sunday had anything to hide he would not have taken the call with his wife present.”
The elders—which include Adelaja’s wife Bose and three others—noted that Adelaja has already acknowledged that he “has had several sexual challenges and has by God’s grace being able to overcome them.”
“Pastor Sunday has always shared with the world that he is in a position to help minister to the world only because he himself has had his own share of trials including sexual trials, problems and victories,” stated the elders.
Then last month, Adelaja confessed to the affairs at a meeting of more than 200 pastors. He was “defrocked” and removed from preaching (among other leadership duties) after confessing to “fornication,” according to the Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (ROSHVE).
“Although we have had a long time to notice warning signs in the life and ministry of this man, what we talked about and to him personally and publicly in official statements of the Union, we did not want until the last moment to believe that there are such serious sins in his life,” the Spiritual Board of ROSHVE wrote. They questioned whether Adelaja's affairs might have been covered up by those close to him.
“We have serious questions to the ministers, who were and are members of the Council of the Apostles and the elders of the church ‘Embassy of God,’ to the closest aides and deputies [of Adelaja], about their actions (or rather—of the criminal inaction) in this situation,” the board wrote. “After all, the timely and rigorous exposure could prevent this tragedy!”
In a Russian-language press release on March 24, ROSHVE stated that Adelaja would enter a season of “recovery.”
An Embassy of God administrator told CT that the church has not issued a public statement because it is “regarded as an inside matter.” The administrator said Adelaja has voluntarily “decided to step down” for six months due to the recent accusations and the ongoing “strenuous lawsuit” over King’s Capital.
He was also planning to move from Ukraine to Nigeria. “He needs this time to recuperate and prepare,” said the administrator.
The six months would also be "enough time" for some critics within the church to “cool down and find answers.”
Several of those close to him have accused him of thwarting attempts to help or discipline.
“I am not a professional psychiatrist, nor profess to be one, but you never addressed the sins you committed against those innocent women, many of which are married,” wrote Ulysses Tuff, founder and pastor at The Way, The Truth, and The Life Christian Center in Georgia, to Adelaja in a letter obtained by CT. He has been Adelaja’s mentor since 1995.
“If I had to use words to describe and give a very general perspective about you, I would choose such words as hallucination of grandeur, narcissistic, or sociopathic behavior,” Tuff continued.
“Yet, you said that according to 1 Cor. 2:2-10, everything you are going through is connected to your Apostleship,” he wrote. “Not Paul, nor any of the apostles in preparation for apostleship were found to have defiled 20, 30, or more women (this number of women was what you said on my first night meeting with you, you also said there could be more, you don’t remember). It is damaging to the integrity and laws of scriptural interpretation, how you have twisted the scripture to paint a picture of your sainthood and my life as one that was so grievous.”
Tuff said he was officially withdrawing himself as Adelaja’s “spiritual father.”
“It's true you have mastered the technique (voice control, communication skills, strategic planning, etc.), but what you have failed to recognize, like many others, is that what makes or breaks ministers is not teachings, but what goes on within your soul,” he wrote.
Tuff declined further comment to CT.
Anatoly Belonozhko, who is a bishop at the Embassy of God, the director of its missionary center, and the leader of the “spiritual church administration,” announced his withdrawal from the Embassy of God last month.
“For 22 years of service at the Embassy of God, I went through a lot of different tests, and have always remained close to Pastor Sunday, pastors, ministers, and churches,” he wrote. “I also stayed with Pastor Sunday in this last time, despite his fall, which strongly contradicts the Christian and my personal values.”
But as the church elders began to “heal and restore” the church and Adelaja after he stepped down from leadership, Adelaja “in writing categorically rejected our help, humiliating us and saying that we have no power to tell him what to do and how to do it and that he knows how and what to do.”
Adelaja accused the elders of being “intoxicated by power” and told them to let “me do what I need to do,” according to Belonozhko.
“I talked to Pastor Sunday [after the affairs were revealed to church leadership in December], trying to help, remaining in the church in the most difficult time for all of us to save and restore the church and souls of men,” he wrote. “But as I understand it—the pastor does not need my help. I clearly understand that my service in the Embassy of God has come to an end.”
Last month, 11 evangelical leaders declared that since the church has not removed Adelaja from control, they are complicit in his sin. Sunday, the church, and any religious communities that remain in his sphere of influence “cannot be regarded as churches,” since they “have turned away from the truth of the gospel,” the leaders said.
Adelaja’s independent charismatic church, which he founded in 1994, is tied for the third-largest Protestant church in Europe, according to Leadership Network. He is considered one of the best examples of Nigeria’s exporting of fervent charismatic faith.
Adelaja left Nigeria for the USSR when he was 19 and newly born-again, according to his Facebook bio: “After communism persecution, he started a church in Kiev at age 27. By the age 33, the church was the biggest in the history of Europe, passing 15,000 members in year 2000.”
The church just celebrated its 22nd anniversary.
“With all the attacks that I have and with all the criticism, I know that I will not be here forever,” Adelaja told CT in a 2008 interview. Later that year, charismatic leaders in Ukraine accused him of operating King's Capital as a Ponzi scheme.
CT interviewed Adelaja for a 2008 cover story on Ukraine, which examined how Eastern Europe's most missional church was rethinking tradition and the Great Commission.
[Photo courtesy of Sunday Adelaja – Facebook]