Former President John Dramani Mahama may have a point in his widely reported admonishment for his successor to tread cautiously when it comes to the heated ongoing national discussion on whether to start taxing churches whose leaders are living lavishly but not significantly contributing towards the development of society in the traditionally charitable mode/manner of the mainline churches When we speak of the “mainline” churches, we are talking about established Christian denominations like the Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Seventh-Day Adventists and the AME Zion churches. These religious establishments have a multigenerational track-record of positively and massively contributing to the uplift, materially and morally, of the dirt-poor or destitute in Ghanaian society.
On the other hand, the so-called prosperity churches are more into the use or appropriation of the Christian Gospel as a veritable tool/instrument of business, with the primary and, oftentimes, sole objective of making money or creating wealth for the leaders and shareholders of these one-man/one-woman churches. Now, what clearly distinguishes the mainline churches from the so-called Afrocentric charismatic churches is the fact that when it comes to the modernization of Ghanaian, and African, societies in general, the mainline churches have pretty much been at the forefront of the establishment of educational and healthcare institutions with a non-profit motive. The overwhelming majority of the so-called Government-Assisted elementary, secondary and tertiary academies were originally established by the mainline churches. The leaders of the charismatic churches, on the other hand, have tended to be fully, if also inordinately, focused on the preaching of the Gospel According to Instant Gratification. Recently, some of the leaders of the latter category of churches have started getting into the education and healthcare businesses. But their primary objective appears to be more focused on raking in humongous profits, as opposed to charitably facilitating a remarkable improvement in the living standards of the poor and destitute.
The leaders of the charismatic churches also tend to live lavish lifestyles which they cavalierly attribute to the grace of Divine Providence and Divine Promise in the Bible. For instance, many of these charismatic church leaders, pastors, bishops, archbishops and prophets own and drive some of the most luxurious and expensive automobiles. Some of them even own jet planes and helicopters which they primarily use to travel from one location to another around the globe, preaching prosperity and collecting huge speaking-fees in the process. The disturbing irony here, though, is that the congregants of these prosperity-gospel retailers are among the most impoverished and deprived anywhere in the Christian world. This clearly appears to be the group that human rights-centered leaders and politicians like President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo are aiming at holding more accountable to their primary congregations and society at large.
Now, I just don’t know and see how, as suggested by former President Mahama, the leaders of the mainline churches who have constituted themselves into larger organizations and/or associations like the Christian Council of Ghana, the Ghana Pentecostal Council and the Charismatic Council can be expected to police the leaders of these profit-focused/-oriented one-man/one-woman churches; more so when the country’s democratic Constitution enjoins the inalienable right of every citizen or groups of citizens to freely assemble and worship in any way that they so choose. Personally, I tend to believe that the most constructive approach to this problem is that which prevails here in the United States of America. In sum, the American Approach is to tax the churches of pastors who choose to openly engage in partisan politics, such as the public and pontifical prediction of which party or individual Presidential Candidate in a particular election cycle has been divinely revealed to be poised towards winning the election or who prompt their congregation members to vote massively for the candidate of the choice of a particular pastor.
Taxing such passionately partisan political preachers or activist-preachers or politician-evangelists is perfectly legitimate under the statutory act of the Separation of Church and State. A similar measure could also be imposed on the leaders of the non-Christian religious establishments who unsavorily and inordinately indulge themselves in partisan politics. The most prominent among these religious leaders can be easily tracked and monitored. They are already, most of them, rhetorical fixtures in the media. For purposes of inculcating a high sense of civic responsibility and patriotism, the Government, led by Parliament, could also mandate the flying of the National Flag in all religious worship buildings alongside the flags of those religious establishments themselves. Freedom of Religious Worship ought not to imply an abject lack of discipline in the chaotic manner that presently prevails all over the country. There is apt to be a backlash in the polling booth in the initial stages of the implementation of such edict, by the way.
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