Opinion: One-Person Churches In Ghana Are Real Businesses – By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

My maternal grandfather, the Rev. Theodore Henry (Yawbe Aboagye) Sintim, of Akyem-Asiakwa, Akyem-Begoro and Asante-Mampong (and Asante-Dwaben, as well) worked for the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, all-in-all, as a teacher-catechist, minister and manager of local schools, and a mentor of newly trained pastors, prominent among them the late Very Rev. I. H. Frimpong, for some 60 years and preferred to be identified with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana than with either his Akyem sub-ethnic identity or hometown. This is primarily the reason why I am often interested in discussing matters of relevance to the propagation of the Gospel, as it were, and the charity work of the Church as an institution, and its profound impact on the intellectual, professional and cultural development of Ghanaian society at large.

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You see, Dear Reader, the difference between the established mainline Missionary Churches, such as, of course, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Methodist Church of Ghana, and the Roman-Catholic Church of Ghana, on the one hand, and the latter-day one-person franchise-oriented churches is that the missionary churches prioritized both personal and collective sacrifice as their raison d’être for the greater benefit of society at large. The latter-day one-person (or one-man) churches, to varying degrees, often concerned themselves with the primitive and acquisitive profit-making motive, as well as self-glorification in ways that the ordained and often far better academically and professionally trained operatives of the missionary churches could only envy with a remarkable modicum of barely hidden private jealousy and envy. This means that the mainlined churches, so-called by scholars and critics, tended to envisage themselves as veritable divine instruments of general social uplift.

To be certain, most of the leadership of the one-person churches, often self-styled as Pastors, Bishops, Evangelists, Archbishops and Prophets, among a host of other pontifical titles, are products of the mainline churches. We must also quickly underscore the fact that the one-person “charismatic” churches are also offshoots of their European and Western antecedents. In the precolonial era, religious devotion and/or worship tended to be ritualistic and culturally organic or undifferentiated; each major cultural group had its own set of religious principles and observations that were not proselytize-able or transferable to cultures and polities that did not closely share the same set of religious and theological and/or philosophical principles. They were “ritualistic” in the sense that these precolonial indigenous African religions tended to be intimately associated with life as it was practically lived by the day.

The living and the dead shared communion/communicated daily and in times of crisis, such as epidemics and rampantly mysterious deaths and plagues, when the entire society rallied together with their priests and priestesses of the various animistic deities and performed purificatory rites. And when any perceived dangers were deemed to have been successfully negotiated, members of the concerned society or societies went about their businesses as usual, with occasional homages and tributes paid the recognized deities of the concerned society or societies seasonally or on collectively determined festive occasions. Many of these festive occasions revolved around such agrarian milestones as Annual-Harvest Seasons. In other words, all religious devotions and/or rituals may be clearly envisaged to revolve around the promotion of existence, survival, good health and sustenance in the long term.

Beyond the Here-and-Now was the even greater or vaster realm of the metaphysical or spiritual. The latter realm was of greater significance than the primarily material realm of the Here-and-Now, because things metaphysical and/or spiritual were invariably more mysterious and overwhelmingly intractable and inscrutable. This was where “deism” or the philosophical concept of God or the Supreme Being forcefully came into play. In the precolonial indigenous-worship system and era, the priesthood was specialized but it was not necessarily a full-time occupation or professional enterprise. For the most part, religious leaders had full-time jobs, even in early Christian times. With the rapid development of society and industry, science and technology, to be certain, the propagation of the WORD or the Gospel became a full-time job or occupation, as literacy catalyzed cognitive development.

In other words, no longer were humans simple-minded about questions of Existence and Being. If religious practices and worship were to survive and become relevant or be deemed as such, the reflective appreciation and the propagation of the Gospel needed to be equally raised to a higher rationalistic standard of appeal. This is where one-person charismatic leaders like the Otabils and the Duncans come in. With rapid industrialization and occupational specialization of society, the mode of both individual and collective survival gets elevated to one of economic development, with the introduction of money and banking. Then as more effective and efficient ways of acquiring wealth became the natural order of the day, money or the legal tender quickly supplanted barter as the new form of commercial exchange or trade. This is where we presently find ourselves.

We are presently faced with the proverbial Brave New World of Dog-Eat-Dog dystopian cultural dispensation. And this is precisely how the contemporary Gospel Retailers are to be seen and understood. “Tithing Technology” of the kind reportedly assimilated by the Rev.-Dr. Mensa Otabil is a matter of course. By the way, Pastor Otabil has significantly “mainlined” his evangelical praxis to incorporate the development of educational institutions in the manner pursued by the Missionary Churches throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For the most part, the latter-day Gospel Trader or Retailer is pathologically fixated on the primal law of self-preservation. The social significance and cultural respectability of the Gospel Retailer come first; and then the establishment of social-welfare services becomes a matter of course. In the old mainline religious culture, self-sacrifice, both morally and materially, was the paramount objective. Heaven is no longer a philosophical abstraction of the After-Life lucubrated upon existentially in perpetuity. The new credo and mantra are: Instant Gratification without let or hindrance.

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