One would expect that with the proliferation of churches today, especially, in our country and in Africa as a whole, immoral acts such as, idolatry, adultery, swindling (scamming), bribery and corruption, broad daylight extortion of money in the name of Christ and other forms of moral decadence would decline but the reverse is true; they are rather on the ascendency.
Most of the perpetuators of these crimes are the ‘dream-and-become-a-pastor-overnight guys’. Their victims are the poor and needy, the marginalized in society who are also gullible, desperate to become rich overnight and sometimes the rich and affluent, who want to safeguard their properties. Lots of talk shows and social media platforms have discussed topics on this very issue. However, nothing concrete has been done to safeguard our country and continent from the perpetuators of these vices.
Unfortunately, our economy’s volatile nature has increased joblessness rendered many people prey to these ‘Men and women of God.’ Several people have told their sad stories of how these imposters have dealt with them, yet people keep to scurrying to these ‘lion’s dens.’ As much as many would blame these Men and women of God, the victims also have ourselves to blame; the sad stories from other victims should deter us from their clutches.
These days, in Ghana, we talk so much about cracking down on illegal miners. Indeed, these pastors are equally ‘Religious Illegal Miners’ (RIM). The force and strategies used to fight against ‘Galamsey’ should be same approach for stopping such pastors, priests and prophets.
Gone are the days when we knew only the Orthodox Churches, Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church, and later a seasoned Pentecostal Church. Surely, sins were committed then but they were not so naked and disgusting as we experience today. Sad to add that some pastors and priests of these ‘renown’ churches are being led astray by these ‘theatrical-pastors’ con-prophets, self-imposed apostles and ‘galamsey-bishops’, all because of money. These ‘pastors’ are so vociferous on social media to the extent that one would unconsciously tend to listen to them.
More to the point, the strange and sad part of the story is that, ‘well educated and exposed people’, who should know better, equally fall prey to these pastors, who seem to have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit imbued in one man and women of God. God certainly gives gifts through the Holy Spirit but ‘common sense’ should tell anyone that God would not invest all the gifts into one person or pastor; imagine one person having all the gifts of Holy Spirit. Go to any pastor today with any issue concerning any gifts of the Holy Spirit and he or she has ‘well-cooked answers’ for you. This is absurd in my opinion. Why? Are you God?
Wander into any empty classroom in the evenings or weekends, empty garages and playing fields, all these places have been converted into prayer camps, spiritual centers and churches. You can literally tell the “quackness” of these churches from their names: Followers of the Intimate Love of Jesus International Global Chapel, Enriching Life Ministry Chapel International, Eucharistic Glory and Praise Evangelical Church International, Miracle fellowship Church of God’s Sons and Daughters International Ministry, Divine Word Evangelism International etc. Many times, these names do not add up. Giant billboards with elegant pictures of the pastors and their wives and not Jesus whom they serve as their master, yet people troop to these places to waste their precious time and hard earned money
Running a church or pastoring a church today can be very lucrative: Blessing of religious artifacts (oil, water, pastor’s miraculous stickers), pronouncements of blessing from God, consultation, prophecies, prayers, home visitations and officiating at church members programs by these ‘Men of God’ are for a stipulated fee (exorbitant fees) in some Churches. Another forum where they extort money from the people are the various forms of collections taken (pastor wife wall drop, pastor’s mother in-law’s birthday), tithes, and sowing seeds for a better life. Next to our honorable politicians are our ‘glorious pastors’, prophets and bishops. These guys are un-examinable, untouchable and untaxable. They make huge sums of monies but nothing to show for it in society. They are busily building empires for themselves and their children. After they have been ‘rich enough’ through such means, they pass the baton to another person and disappear. All these extortionists are allowed to operate and walk freely because of freedom of worship or freedom of religion and the fear of hurting God’s anointed. The ‘law is truly an ass’ sometimes. Sometimes, I wonder if there are laws and directives governing religious activity. Many are hiding behind the name of God and committing crimes and atrocities.
The whole essence of religion today has been twisted to something else in Africa and for that matter Ghana. Religion has become the grounds for extortion, making quick money at the expense of some clueless and desperate followers, corruption, killing of innocent people, especially defenseless babies, tearing families apart in the name of prophecies, reproaching and victimizing people publicly because of their sins, levying them with outrageous taxes, dehumanizing exercises for the reparation of their sins and all kinds of atrocities. Women are often the most targeted in these circumstance.
We certainly need more understanding of the correct definition of religion and the ultimate meaning of the word religion. The etymology of the word religion comes from a Latin word “Re-Ligare”. “Ligare” means “to bind” or to “connect”. Adding the “re” before “ligare” causes the word to mean “Re-Bind” or “Re-Connect.” In other words, it means to relate; to relate with God and to relate to one’s neighbor. The book of 1st John gives us a rather practical or concrete way to relate to God. The book of 1st John says, ‘if you say you love God and hate your neighbor, you are a liar’. This certainly, is a more practical way to understand religion. The majority of the problem we have and are running around looking for miracles and healing for are 90% relational issues and if we love the way God truly expects of us, most of these problems will disappear. If you truly love God, it should be translated in concrete terms through you loving your neighbor.
Christians of today and even pastors view miracles as the essential reason why Jesus came. Mind you, Jesus performed miracles out of compassion for the people he came in contact with. He was not by that fact coercing them to follow him. I guess that is why after some of His miracles, He told the people He healed not to tell anyone. He possibly wanted a relationship which came from the heart and not because He favored them. In His miracles, Jesus did not create enmity between those He healed and their relations or friends. I believe, that is why St. John referred to miracles in his gospel as signs. As a matter of fact, signs point to a reality. In other words, miracles are not ends in themselves but means to an end. Miracles are things hoped for and not events we plan to receive: things we paid for, with time lines, dates and worse of all generating strife among families.
Prophecy, on the other hand, is also misunderstood by our men of God today. Sometimes I tend to wonder the difference between a soothsayer and a prophet of our time. A prophet in simple terms is a messenger of God, who brings God’s message to His people. It is God’s message and not your message. It is directed to His people and therefore don’t get personal with it.
Primarily, in God’s prophetic messages, which we read in scripture, He often intends to alert, remind and correct His people so as to strengthen the relationship that exits between Himself and the person or people and obviously not to scare, frighten, threaten, destroy or give you some absurd punishments. I know and believe this because of His ever faithfulness and compassion. God certainly punishes but he does that to correct and not to destroy.
Honestly, what makes you think anyone would be spared of suffering in life? Anyone who makes you think that way, certainly hates you! Changing churches, pastors, priest, prophets or bishops would not solve your problems or eliminate the sufferings you are going through. A better deal, however, in my opinion would be to check your attitude to life, be positive and open minded. Religion is gradually being reduced only to a problem solving enterprise; painfully and annoyingly, we create such problems ourselves through negligence, laziness, pride, self-centeredness, unforgiving spirit, arrogance and useless hatred. I am not God though, but believe me, you have a long way to go in whatever church and prayers you are engaged in. The million dollar question is, what makes you think God does not love you the way you are? The truth of the matter is, mostly, we do not love ourselves the way we are; we preoccupy our minds to thinking how we want to be like the other person, as oppose to how probably God wants you to be; we are never content with what we have and who we are. We spend a considerable time of our lives trying to change things we cannot obviously change.
The continuous message of prosperity can be gained on a silver platter and the mindset that suffering is intrinsically evil have gained grounds in the minds of many Christians today. This certainly makes a lot of people, especially the youth to be rest on their oars. Invariantly, Christianity today is promoting laziness but enriching others for the wrong moves and reasons. Churches have now become showrooms for showcasing our fancy and new dresses, a place of entertainment and opportune moments to pay lips services to God. The Christian sense of holiness before God today, takes place in the church but does not travel to other areas of our lives. Holiness, strictly speaking is wholeness; the entirety of our lives: from our bedroom to the church, to the office or workplace, to your friend’s house, the way we talk to others and our attitudes in our relationship.
Believe me, a good number of these pastors, priests and prophets are wolves in sheep’s skin; they use any tricky way possible to siphon money from their members, create prophecies which tally with people’s predicament and sometimes encourage their members to kill human beings for quick riches. Idling young people are often used to carry out these killing and rituals in the name of making money within a short time.
God has high regards for human dignity: that is why He loved us to the extent of sacrificing His beloved Son Jesus Christ for us, that is why He has compassion for the poor and needy and that is why it is His joy to see us return to him from our sinful ways. Anything short of these ideals is from the evil one. Be on your guard!
A passionate appeal to the ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, Christian Council of Churches and Ghana Pentecostal Council of Churches to help instil sanity in the country regarding these dens of thieves called churches that are springing up in every corner of the country.
There should be a constitutional review on Religious activities in this country; put certain criteria in place to stamp out some of these tricksters and their churches. Pastors and priests should be made to attain certain level of education with certified degree from well-known and established Universities, to be allowed to function as a man or woman of God openly.
Arguably, some would ask if Jesus’s disciples went to school. Surely!! They did. That is why they are called disciples and Jesus, a Rabbi (Master or Teacher). That was a form of schooling at the time. Those who have not gone through formal education should pass through some of training.
As a country and a continent, we should not trivialize this matter all because of respect for God’s anointed. The atrocities that are caused each day, all in the name of serving and worshiping God is rather appalling. Many Christian or better still citizenry are going through hell in some churches, all because of the respect and fear of God, which makes them revere some pastors, priests and men and women of God. Such atrocities in my view should also be treated as criminal issues and something done about them real quick before they degenerates into a National Tragedy.
Nicholas Nibetol Aazine, SVD
(Coord. for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, Ghana-Liberia Province)
Divine Word Missionaries: A Catholic Missionary Society
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