Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tyranny in our churches!

Marx once said religion is the opium of the masses

by Godwin Yaw Agboka

Have you ever paused to think about the role of churches in the modern-state? Besides the spiritual activities that take place in our churches, what other social role does the church play? I have observed the activities of Apostle Kwadwo Sarfo’s Kristo Asafo (which, surprisingly, many others discredit), and a few other churches that have empowered many people through various activities in and by those churches. I have also observed other churches that use their platforms to dis-empower, or, even worse, persecute people whose only mistake is that they joined those churches!

I am particularly surprised that in the midst of the increasing number of churches, our society increasingly battles with crime and various forms of immoral activities that threaten to—very soon—engulf the country. Given that these same people on the streets—who commit these crimes—make it to these churches, one would expect that our society will see some change—if not changes—in these forms of behavior.

Unfortunately, many churches are no more interested in messages that will hit the core of these issues. They are more interested in prosperity messages that do not resonate with the realities of our time. If I came to your church and you told me that I should empty my pocket and expect a miracle without telling me to work hard or upgrade myself, you have failed to empower me; instead you rather ended up milking me of the little resources I have, and, perhaps, wasted man hours of my time.

Even beyond the issue of the number of churches is the new wave of preachers of these prosperity messages, who have seen in churches an opportunity to amass what—put together—their entire families could not accomplish/achieve in their life time, even if they worked so hard. An elderly friend of mine used to say he would never join a church that was started after he was born.

From hindsight, it appears he made a lot of sense. It is a source of worry to me that some of these so-called pastors are so young (of course people can receive the calling at a younger age), cannot read, let along interpret scriptures, and their calling is more a function of their economic displacement than a true desire to advance the course of God’s work and to help people.

Thus, if these are the people who lead many of these congregations, what kind of society are we building, since many of the people converge in churches on Sundays and, sometimes, on week days? The church is doing big business now. Today, every church claims to have a training school, many of which have become an avenue for promiscuity, noise-making, and social indoctrination. The kind of training that should characterize these schools, does not take place in the first place because the brains behind these schools are as clueless as those who are being trained.

The modern-day prosperity movement itself can be said to have drawn inspiration from evangelist Oral Roberts’ teachings. Roberts’ disciples have spread his theology and vocabulary. However, rather than inspire hope and emphasize realism and hardwork, many prosperity preachers engage in circumlocutory endeavors that further condemn their followers to perpetual subjugation and abject penury. Here is the catch: don’t give them the tools they will need to be self-reliant so they will perpetually follow you. That is the motto of these churches.

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which the activities of these preachers are unregulated. I am sure that, currently, religious organizations and their leaders constitute the only group of people who enjoy endless freedom. They live in a free-for-all world in which they can do anything. I mean anything, including the most unconventional, bizarre forms of surgical operations! The idea behind this level of freedom is that churches and their leaders have a soft spot and can facilitate social grace, religious upliftment, and inject some moral values in their followers. That is the mistake!

Many of these churches, especially, the upcoming ones have failed in this capacity and do not deserve the kind of unregulated freedom they are enjoying in the country. What is worse, many of the churches springing up are founded on rocky foundations, where, most of the times, the leaders are retaliating against their former churches due to some disagreements.

In the USA, a Republican senator, Charles Grassley of Iowa has recently begun a crusade against these so-called prosperity preachers. Grassley is asking the ministries for financial records on salaries, spending practices, private jets and other perks. The investigation, coupled with a financial scandal at Oral Roberts University that forced out Roberts’ son and heir, Richard, has some wondering whether the prosperity gospel is facing a day of reckoning. The move has been met with resistance from these churches who have vowed to fight the senator, using an IRS clause as cover for their decision. However, what is important is the pervasive nature of the extent of exploitation that is going on in many churches.

It appears the modern church has been characterized by a new wave of corruption that is unheard of in religious circles. Rather than instill hope, they are making poverty widespread. Rather than strengthen families, they are tearing them apart; it looks as if people will tear down as many good livable housing to build these huge churches, multiplying the homeless problem in record numbers.

Currently (I think it’s been a tradition for long), there is another form of tyranny that has taken over some churches. There is a practice in many churches where people who are caught in immoral or criminal activities are suspended. Personally, I don’t care about the suspension, because like all other social groups/groupings, churches also have conventions or policies that regulate their operations. What I find funny is the practice where the leadership of the churches invites those “sinners” in front of the church embarrasses them, as if that will prevent other people from engaging in such acts.

What is the purpose of that public disgrace and what do they want to achieve by their acts? Isn’t the function of that to transform those people? What would the churches lose if they invited those “sinners” before a committee, heard their cases, and suspended them, without necessarily condemning them to perpetual shame? Too many times, many churches have shown that they are more interested in using people to cleanse their churches to give a good public image to themselves instead of God himself.

Do churches deserve the kind of privileges they are enjoying in our society? I hesitate to advocate a position that will gag churches or limit the formation of churches, but I will rush to advocate a legislation that will empower some state institutions, say Parliament, to audit these churches—especially the mushrooms ones—who are milking ordinary Ghanaians. The days of religious intimidations should be over! Anyway, I know I will be branded an anti-Christ!

The text for this piece is set to American English

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