Critical thoughts on the ‘Jesus Industry’ and matters arising!

First of all, let me emphasize that this opinion piece is not to bastardize the church in general or any pastor in particular. It is to sound the wake-up alarm because the time is right. It is to point us in the direction of where the problems are, or have been, and to get us to figure out cogent solutions. These days, it does appear that “God’s call” to do His work (depending on how you see it), and the acceptance of that ‘duty’, comes rather easily, compared to the times of Moses, Samuel, the 12 disciples and all the other great workmen or women of God. In fact, Ghana has sometimes been thought of as a complete Christian nation and not a secular one with multiple religions. As a result of this, Ghana is not in short supply of churches of various degrees, because they spring up everywhere like free weeds. Yes, weeds! I am referring to that kind of super-fertile unwanted flourish that used to be the preserve of drinking spots; popularly known as blue kiosks, indomie joints, mobile phone call centers or “space to space” and the likes. The churches are usually very active, with up to three or five meetings per week, depending on what the founding pastor and leader prescribes. Now, for each of these churches, there are self-taught ‘pastors’. Or even better, ‘pastors’ who have had the easy misfortune of reluctantly or spiritedly taking a 3-month instruction from a non-accredited ‘Bible school’ at some obscure location. They cap their supposed training programme with a clerical collar bestowed upon them at an almost covert ordination. At that ceremony, they take some photos depicting that they are ordained ‘men of God’. And then, they are awarded certificates that have no bearing in the space they operate, save inside their churches. They have bodyguards (if the people’s offertory can fund it), and so many acolytes, suited up to follow them around. One or two of the acolytes double as backing preachers who read scriptures aloud, during preaching in a very condescending manner. Some have called them all sorts of names: magicians, charlatans, comedians, fashionistas, etc… Well, they have also protested and, in response, have arrogated titles unto themselves; sometimes lacing them with insults to their accusers. These titles include: “bushop”, cardinal, apostle, prophet (often shortened as “prof”, and sometimes mistaken as academic achievement). The abundance of these churches and their leaders, be they in magnificent or make-shift structures or even school buildings, dazzle and woo their congregants and prospective congregants with their jaw-dropping antics. Their ability to rattle a few Bible verses and of course, their dress sense plays a major role. The message of prosperity is key in these churches, but juicy prophecies are most central. Prominent prayer points are usually concentrated around the acquisition of wealth, marriage, child birth, supernatural breakthrough, breaking spiritual attacks, etc…  For them, serious prayer means screaming on top of the lungs and clapping aggressively. And guess what, profane language or the use of unprintable words, even on national television and radio is not wrong in their eyes. In short, the madness in their methodology is legendary! Surprisingly, most of them come onto the pastoral stage, as gainfully unemployed people, ‘hungry’ to profiteer on the gullibility of those who choose to believe them. Yes, I know this because of how they ‘blackmail’ and forcefully extort monies from their congregants during church services.  Now, that got me curious and which is why I want to know which of Jesus’ disciples was jobless, prior to being called to do God’s work? And which one of them went around demanding for money from those that came to listen to them preach? Yet, what do we see now? People with no work experience, no qualification and background just pop up, start a ‘ministry’ and quickly go ahead to fatten themselves on the people’s offertory. Their lives change overnight while majority of their congregants wallow in poverty. They control huge sums of money daily; spending them as easily and quickly as they come. Their managerial skills are in the province of bankruptcy and that has severe consequences for the people under that leadership. Today, the church is a big market place where all things including water, oil, salt, candles, etc are sold.  Could that be why some persons are advocating that the church should be taxed? Think of the economic implications it has on our country. Then I ask myself, do we care about who starts a church in Ghana and how these churches are managed? Some churches have strong decision-making bodies like the synod and conferences which decide who pastors which branch, how monies are used and for what purpose and so on. In addition to that, church funds are audited and the checks and balances system is effective. In those churches, nobody is above the law. The presiding elder, district pastor, the superintendent minister, parish priest, archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, cardinal or pope can all be called to order by the members of the church! Sadly, most of these husband and wife establishments clothed in religious garments as churches, have thrown the rules to the dogs. They collect it all (including seeds that are sown willingly or by coercion), spend it all and collect some more to buy flashy cars, big houses and fine silk. They create fear and panic, telling people either the angel of death is hovering around them or some severe sickness is about to hit them and that they need to come for consultation. Well, the consultation is not free, by the way. It comes at a price, payable via a well-advertised mobile money number – tax free! But then, what is the quality of this consultation or counselling that the masses pay for? Who regulates that space? What if our people are being empowered to go down the wrong path, which would eventually draw us all back? For example, in June 2004, the Ghanaian Chronicle reported that “Winners Chapelalone, sent over $60,000 monthly from Ghana to the Nigerian headquarters of the church – tax-free!” Interestingly, it took a leadership ‘aponkye ntorkwa” (struggle) between Ghanaian Bishop George Agyeman and Nigerian founder Bishop David Oyedepo  in the church, to expose what would have otherwise been hidden to the average citizen and probably the ordinary church member.  “Consistently and without fail, their tithe and offering money were changed into dollars on the black market and sent to Lagos, smuggled in car tyres and what not, like some drug barons trying to launder dirty money”, the report said. Bishop Agyeman had to wake up one day to say ENOUGH! But What happened after that illegality, considering the fact it happened for many times before it got exposed? Who got punished for offending the financial laws of Ghana? Are there different laws for the church? Oops, I forgot! The anointed cannot be touched, and no harm can come to the prophets. Honestly, I believe we are where we are because of regulatory failures and inaction. People no longer desire hard work and its attendant rewards. They want to be given “akwan kyere” (direction) by pastors to succeed. They would rather spend productive hours in church on a working day, than engage in some entrepreneurial endeavour that will liberate them financially. Mental slavery in the name of God, has become the order of the day. Meanwhile, most of these so-called churches just spring up and are not even recognized by the law. Overtime, the law enforcers consider them as part of society and endorse them with a permit. In some cases, they are permitted to do the ‘wrong thing’ right from day one, because they can afford to pay their way through. Thus, they perpetuate illegality and boldly offend the law in the name of God. Take for example, the discomfort of noise pollution in purely residential areas? They usually start off as cell meetings and small prayer groups. Chances are that those remunerated by the tax payer to call them to order could be members of this fast-growing cell, that now uses loud public address systems to attract new members. How the hell do we expect them to go and enforce the law after all the indoctrination and spiritual gymnastics? That’s certainly not possible, because in Ghana, as soon as an issue assumes religious and spiritual dimension, emotions cloud logic and the matter is suffocated to death! As a nation, are we really concerned about where these pastors train? I mean, where they come from? Or do we assume that because they come claiming that God has called them, they need no scrutiny? The question is, what has God called them to do? And are they doing what they have been directed to do? And how beneficial or lethal are their activities to us as a people? Rwanda recently shut down thousands of churches for their inability to meet modesty standards and for noise pollution. Of great significance to me, is the fact that all pastors in Rwanda now need to have a theological degree from an accredited institute. Without that, you can’t practice. We could start with a diploma and work it up. Why not? Just imagine any of these half-baked ‘pastors’ compulsorily offering counselling to a would-be couple or someone in distress and the after effects. And whether we like it or not, churches are major societal influencers that could lead us all into danger or draw us many centuries back. So, we must begin to push our clerics to “study to show themselves approved unto God” as 2 Timothy 2:15 says. Their sermons and expositions must be of a certain uplifting, reassuring and empowering quality. They must be the voice of reason society urgently requires. We need to swiftly go back to the basics? Because certainly, “I have been called by God” is just not enough. Add to that, the Christian Council, Catholic Bishop Conference, Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council and all other respected pastoral groups or organizations must come to the table and speak up. They must, because even though these Jesus industry profiteers are not part of their groupings, their exploits negatively impact on their image. Finally, can we begin a critical national conversation to have specific laws to regulate the activities of churches and all who desire to play within that space? I am not sure those laws exist, because if it did, we wouldn’t have the impunity of such a hydra-headed monster around us. We cannot afford to sit unconcerned because the activities of these churches and ‘pastors’ have socio-economic and political implications.

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Source: Johnnie Hughes||Ghana The writer is a community rights’ advocate, sanitation torch bearer and host of Community Connect on 3fm 92.7 on Fridays at 9:00 am.Views expressed here are solely his and do not, in any way, reflect that of or any brand under the Media General Group. ]]>