“The African is notoriously religious.” This statement came up once during a table gathering of colleague African graduate students and it’s been r
“The African is notoriously religious.”
This statement came up once during a table gathering of colleague African graduate students and it’s been registered in my mind since. Just last week, it bounced back, awakening all sorts of reflections. The reason for this may not be too farfetched.
The month of July ended its series of “scandals,” and “trenning” topics on a long but due conversation. Dr. Mensah Otabil’s ICGC came under fire for an image that surfaced on the internet during their just ended Flagship, Greater Works Summit.
The initial reaction from most folks was a mixture of shock, disgust and confusion. Shock, because of the brand it was under; disgust, for what it translated into; and confusion because of the contradicting responses, justification and explanation that came from members of the church, people who were present at the event, Christians, and the general public (this is where you insert any group that comes to mind: Atheists, Bible Believing Non-Church Goers, Agnostics, Traditionalists, etc).
I believe rather than run away from the controversy, this provides a great opportunity for some serious religious, cultural, social and economic reflections. I think it’s time we paused our biased lenses and take from this, some lifelong considerations.
The Economics of African Christianity
Until now, many elite upper middle class Ghanaian Christians deemed followers of the “Obinim” brand of Christianity as “irredeemably gullible miracle seekers.” But at this rate, it would be hard not to have realized that collectively, our economic woes, our failed states and malfunctioning institutions drive our faiths. Therefore, the only difference between an “Obinim” follower and an “Otabil” follower is that one has come to represent the educated elite class and the other, the poor, uneducated masses. And you know how we fancy dissociating ourselves from “the uneducated masses” right?
Otherwise, pay attention to how giddy and excited we all get during prosperity, success, double-portion, promotion, money-doubling proclamations and sermons. I have been a member of not only ICGC, but other churches with similar audiences. Yes, our “Amens” are always a little louder, a little bolder, a little stronger.
It is a well-known fact that in most third world countries, the heavy reliance on a mighty God, the call on the supernatural, and the drive for the miraculous is as a result of our non-working human state systems. I quite remember my disappointment with White Christians in America who didn’t seem to have “real” prayer requests. I was so used to exerting so much force and anxiety and expectation in my prayers, that I felt White Christians were too laid back.
But honey, after a year in the US, it all became normal to me. When you live in a society that works, your approach to religion changes immensely. Don’t get me wrong here. I am not implying that a good life should automatically reduce your faith. I would at this point fall on a popular saying by Manasseh Azure, that “it is not for nothing God put brains in our head instead of sand.” When you live in a system with functional institutions, the things you call on God for, and the way you engage God changes.
In Africa, it almost appears, not believing in a supernatural being to watch over your life, is not even an option. Therefore, when it comes down to it, you and I are no different from those who follow Obinim and his like for answers.
My biggest issue, more of a concern, has been the tying of the seed to the dollar. I’m aware the CEO of ICGC has come out to explain the rational as the preacher not being based in Ghana but in the UK or US. Nonetheless, I still find this unpardonable. I have been to international religious conferences and programs, with visiting preachers. How a preacher can miss his context, beats me. Or is the spirit unfamiliar with the Cedi?
I have been discussing with other diasporans how ridiculous it sounds to be in Ghana but have everything priced or equated with the dollar. Our real estates keep surging, hotels are becoming inhabitable by the ordinary Ghanaian, and everything is done with the US dollar in mind. And then we keep lamenting about the exchange rate of the cedi to foreign currencies. Even outside the dollar quotes, there are many ways the church keeps fueling this dollar-crazed environment that keeps stifling our economy.
More improtantly, why has seed sowing been reduced to money/cash? In its plain terms, a seed in the religious context can reference anything of value you willingly give up or sacrifice to see the work of God thrive or advance. In this regard, talents, time, energy, expertise, are all forms of seed sowing. Why do modern churches insist the only way you can “shake” God to bless you is to literally give him money? Not only does it reduce the essence of giving, it also limits our capabilities and contributions to kingdom business.
I was at the Sunday service at Christ Temple after Greater Works, and the people who had pledged monies during the Greater works summit were asked to stand up for “special” prayers and blessings. If all I had during the summit was my transport to and from the venue of the event, this is exactly how it would feel like; being left out of God’s special blessings because I wasn’t privileged enough to pledge.
This approach to seed sowing defies the whole ethic behind the widow’s mite. I couldn’t pledge during the summit but I sacrificed my week-long lunch money to be at the event. I couldn’t pledge but I sacrificed my monthly savings to be there all week. And mind you, this event was week-long with morning and evening sessions. Offertories are taken at each of these services. And I used to be one of the many who went for all morning and evening sessions all week. Yes!
How do you budget for transport and offertories and then special pledges to receive “special” blessings? I want our pastors and churches to be a little empathetic towards their members. There are some offertories that earn you an individual personalized touch and prayer by the man of God, and others just a mass proclamation. These strategies go a long way to manipulate vulnerable believers to believe that somehow, the only way to catch God’s attention is to give everything they have and go begging later.
I personally like to relate with God like I do my earthly father, Lawrence Kwesi Plange. So this is how I approach things: My father has way too much money he doesn’t need. I need some money. He knows I could use a little support. But somehow, for him to know that I am committed to him, I must give him the little funds I have, for him to watch me go hungry for 3 months before he comes in in the last minute to save the day???
Our churches need to wake up to the reality and plight of the ordinary Ghanaian. If you are a committed member, the church has the potential to drain you financially, physically and psychologically. This is one main reason many African Christians find White churches quite relieving when they travel abroad. Seed sowing must move beyond financial commitments, especially in our own context. And churches need to recognize the various ways members can contribute to kingdom business beyond money.
Again, there is the tendency to read every good thing that follows this act as being a “result” of your giving, not because you worked hard, not because you’ve trained hard, not because you deserve it; but because you gave a certain money to the church. To me, this encourages a certain short-cut mentality among many Christians.
Furthermore, the one or two miracle stories that would emerge after this event tends to supersede the tons of unheard and unanswered prayers that get no mention. Seeing results after such commitments is not always that simple, fast, or guaranteed. And members need to be adequately psyched up for this. You cannot “buy” your way out of this hustle. We are all in this together!
The Shade Party
I think this scandal has been quite revealing. The fact that we realize “autonomy,” and personal choices are real, valid and concrete points to aligning oneself to a belief, ideology or lifestyle. If you followed the commentaries like I did, then the irony shouldn’t have been lost on you.
Furthermore, people’s display of passion and emotions in defending that which others seemed not to fully understand was quite admirable. One of the difficulties I’ve had with my social media commentary on gender and feminism is to always have my emotions called out. But in this very debate, we saw the need for “emotions” as much as “logic.” Like I always say, we reason through logic and personal experiences.
What was sad though, is the fraction of apologists who were more interested in defending the reputation of ICGC and Otabil, than the teachings of the Bible on giving and sowing. We should all be sharp on the difference between “idolizing” and “honoring” our religious leaders and institutions. They are not above reproach. If they are, they shouldn’t be.
The ushering of a new month usually insights some resolutions. However, I would like us all, in this new month of August, to do some serious reflections. Collectively, the subject of religion has always been dear to our hearts. Let’s use this opportunity to carefully assess our motives, expectations and knowledge about what we believe in.
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