Feature Article of Monday, 6 February 2012
Columnist: Dery, Francis
In keeping with my earlier promise, published Sunday, 22 January 2012 on Ghanaweb, our journey continues. Today, I turn our attention to the politics and power of the Phenomenon, or the power and politics of the Phenomenon; or even the political power or powerful politics of the Phenomenon. See, this stuff can get really confusing. However, this confusion is perhaps indicative of the hydra-headed nature of the Phenomenon. To explain this clearly and for guidance, we turn for inspiration from our very own Good Book – the Bible.
The Bible is replete with many examples of simple and complex relationships between nations and religious leaders. To go down the entire litany of instances will take us a lifetime, and obviate the key focus of this matter. So skip all that to the New Testament and to the very life of Jesus Christ Himself, and how His end came about. All the Gospels report in detail the roles of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the arrest and final murder (yes, murder –not to confuse spirituality in this matter, one has to call it murder, not crucifixion) of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Pharisees and Sadducees constituted the top echelon of religion in those days, presiding over the most important spiritual decisions of the time. Religion then was not like a shirt you wore on a special occasion only; it was the very way of life daily. If your child was ill and had to be treated, chances are that the diagnosis and prescription came with input from a man-of-God; if you wanted a loan, there was a spiritual twist to it; if you had education, it was there. If the ruling government wanted to levy a new tax, it sought the advice and consent of the prominent local clergy presiding over matters in the Sanhedrin. Since Rome was somewhat a benevolent dictatorship, this arrangement saved it from alienating itself from the masses of the people, while still controlling them through these charlatans; a people who had strong faith in God (not their pastors and priests). The pastors and priests of that time (the Pharisees and Sadducees) would exploit this strong faith in God routinely, extensively, and later, in the false arrest and murder of Jesus Christ.
It is this toxic environment that Jesus Christ stepped into, one in which the Pharisees and Sadducees had more and immediate access to the rulers, than the people themselves. Being acutely aware, and gripped by the fear, of their own mortality, rulers quickly succumbed to prophesies and proclamations of the Pharisees and Sadducees about continuity of reign or some impending downfall or if they did or didn’t adopt a policy (yes, there were policies then too; they just didn’t call them policies) that was supposedly faithful of faith-filled. By a confluence of historical, current and future events of the time, some of which appeared to mirror these Pharaseeic and Sadduceeic prophesies, rulers found themselves increasingly reliant on the clergy. This close nexus, paved the way for what would be the most telling conspiracy of all time, against God’s Son, leading eventually to His disgraceful death in between two common criminals.
So how does this mirror our experience today? Let’s return to Okomfo Damuah and his ilk for a moment. In those revolutionary days, Okomfo Damuah was probably just a lone wolf, espousing an idea that caught the fancy of the young Flt. Lieutenant who was exasperated by an opulent and a hierarchical society with so much to spend and spare, while many of us credited yorke gari. Still, the fact that Okomfo Damuah had access to the Head of State who was more feared in the wake of summary executions, speaks to the power and attraction of a form of worship that proclaimed the dignity of our local traditions in the context of a single, Christ-centred faith; but Okomfo Damuah didn’t go far enough, and thank God he did not, for the would have been more blood than the Let the blood flow cry of immature university students of the June 4th era. Still, Damuah lacked the hypocrisy, arrogance, power-drunkenness, and most importantly cunning that the current bread of Pharisee-like charlatans have.
Don’t get me wrong – the so-called Orthodox churches have that same conniving history with secular authority as well. For instance, the Catholic Church also had similar relationships with despots like Mussolini, a fascist Italian totalitarian, from which relationship the autonomy of St. Peter’s Square and the Church itself were guaranteed. To date, the Catholic Church is the only religious institution which appoints representatives to countries around the world, with the (yes, you guessed it) Latin-sounding title of Pro Nun Cio, a cute name for Ambassador, whose office is every bit as political as his secular counterpart’s. The principle then, of separation of Church and State, is almost laughable. In the United States, where there are more fights over this principle than anywhere else in the world, clergymen and women have parlayed their mission deep into the corridors of power; that none of their last forty-plus presidents have ascended the presidency without some public profession of their Christian faith is testament to this fact. It is also the country in which the election of John F. Kennedy was almost stymied by a palpable fear that because he was Catholic, the presidency would be answerable to the Pope; it is alleged the Catholic vote was guaranteed in an arrangement between Joseph P. Kennedy (JFK’s father) and the Godfather of the five most powerful mafia families of New York. See how messy this gets? But I digress…. To the Phenomenon of our time.
As I implied, our modern Pharisees and Sadducees are more cunning, perhaps charismatic and have a panache for trickery and stealing of people’s souls and money that far outstrips the crude vituperations of Okomfo Damuah’s sermons. These days, our pastoral men and women start first with A Day of National Prayer and Thanksgiving or a similar variation. Automatically, this seals a solid deal with the intrinsically peace-loving side of the Ghanaian. Look around us, I mean at the other countries in the sub-region. Many have gone to, or have been on the brink of, war, for any number of reasons. Ghana on the other hand has remained relatively peaceful, even at one time, embarked upon two revolutions in less than three years, with dire consequences, yet just managed to avoid all-out war. Don’t get me wrong – peace is good, and war is bad. But when our pastoral citizens reach out to this aspect of our character, they are capitalizing on a predictable aspect of our good nature to dupe us massively in the end. Not only that, many a time in our history, some of our rulers have turned to the clergy for assistance in thumping down dissent in the general populace against undesirable government policy or an issue which is embarrassing to the government.
Perhaps, pastors understand politicians better than we ordinary citizens do, because after the Day of National Prayer and Thanksgiving, the only other people who get a free prayer service from these thieving clergy are the politicians. The Catholic Church does it hierarchically, beginning and ending with the Pope, with the rest of us, including the politicians, falling in the middle. The other churches just go straight to the point – they pray for our leaders; some even mention them by name, and to give a semblance of non-bias, mention both incumbent and opposition politicians. With this strategy, they hedge their bets wisely, immediately guaranteeing that they can tie their religious and political fortunes to the winning party in the next election; at least the record will show that Pastor XYZ prayed for their success too, and thence commences the next tactic for exacting maximum influence over the next incumbent government.
The rest of us do not get any free prayers from these pastors. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, they have a price tag for their prayers. Special Prayers can range from at least Fifty Ghana Cedis (500,000 cedis) to Five Hundred Ghana Cedis (Five Million Cedis). These are merely conservative estimates; I am told that prices far exceed these estimates running into tens of millions. The Cadillac brand of special prayers have their own category and include a very special Holy Oil. The price tag for a quantity that fits a small vial is a million cedis (100 Ghana Cedis). Again, I digress… this is supposed to come under the economics part; I just couldn’t help myself. Please pardon me….
An observed fact of the trajectory of these independent churches is that they have come full circle. In the late 1970s to early 1980s when they burst onto the national scene, their loudest criticism of the orthodox churches, in particular the Catholic Church, was that they were too structured and hierarchical. In very public gestures, they disowned the titles and priestly vestments worn by the clergy in these churches. They claimed Catholics worshipped the Pope, instead of God, and that sitting atop the Catholic Church in a lifetime capacity, the Pope became too powerful. They said these vestments set the clergy apart from their congregants and were excessive. These arguments resonated well with many a Ghanaian faithful who had the coincidence of a revolution that itself condemned neo-colonialism, materiality and hierarchy. It was probably about time that the orthodox churches were held accountable for their management, or even mismanagement of the collective Christian faith. Indeed, it is now clear that many of the problems in the Catholic Church today, were then being perpetrated.
However, as the membership in the new churches swelled and their message of a more puritanical, tongue-speaking and so-called more charismatic form of worship flourished, these churches were suddenly confronted with two very important problems: (1) How to manage their growing numbers; (2) How to tap what was apparently a vast human resource which was practically waiting to zombie at every pastoral command. The answer to both these difficult questions lay in one word – Structure; and with it, the realization that the very structure they had criticized the orthodox churches for, was the only solution to their gathering and growing problem of mass followers.
Suddenly, words like International and World slipped into the name tags of these churches, which in reality were little more than a motley congregation of people in rented school and other premises over the weekends. For many of these pastors, these words were grand and sounded impressive to current and potential members; they also conveyed order. They missed the memo on the fact that the words themselves conveyed an overarching control over subsidiaries, and therefore structure or hierarchy, which hitherto was a forbidden word, now featured prominently in these new churches’ names. Similar appendages were made to the pastors themselves. Pastors suddenly preceded their names with titles such as General Overseer, Main Missioner, etc., but many of these titles still lacked the kind of punch they would have liked. At least, if one looked up these phrases or individual words in an English Dictionary, their definition lacked that specific religious definition and connotation which conveyed power to, and commanded obedience from, church memberships, much like the way the orthodox churches did it. So in the end, the pastors could not help themselves. They just co-opted the word Bishop. Aha!! Now they had arrived, even though none of them to this day has a bishopric (in proper definition). And they were unwilling to stop there – some self-absorbed arched their congregations – declaring themselves Archbishops. If one closely examines the way they use this word in particular, you find that the title is used to mirror their large egos, exemplified in the grand structures which now house their churches. Take a drive on Spintex Road and you will get a real sense of what I am trying to describe here. Still the Bishop/Archbishop title aren’t enough; they have gone further to co-opt the entire set of orthodox church priestly vestments – the Bishop’s staff, episcopal ring, garments and mitre (hat) to match; soon, I think they will transcend these as well. Now when they don these vestments on any occasion, even the Heavens take notice – there’s a new Bishop on the block!!! Only thing is that they look like old wine in new bottles, still shouting, drumming and still enthusiastically stealing from their members, and with more power to boot; and still looking like the pudgy, puny, old orthodox priests they previously criticized. They have indeed come full circle.
One curious little development is the word Daddy. This word used to be a word of endearment used by kids of educated parents, especially, parents who had tasted some foreign, particularly western, lifestyle. Daddy then commanded respect, indicated sophistication or invoked fear, depending on the type of family setup one had. These days, virtually every pastor in any church is called Daddy, and the meaning is nothing close to what I have described above. The word is bandied about between arrogance, benevolent control, lasciviousness, total subservience and plain ignorance. Still it is amazing to behold even grown-ups who could easily mother or father a pastor, refer to him as Daddy. Do they call the women pastors Mummy too? I am yet to find that out.
At this stage, these pastors don’t play in the little leagues anymore; with that kind of power, they now play with the big boys, usually, their political friends, for more power. To be fair pastors are citizens too, and have an obligation to vote and exercise their civic rights and responsibilities. But where do they draw the line between their religious calling and their unabashed meddling in power politics? How many of us ordinary citizens have the luxury of responding with a non-tactile solution to a real, physical problem? How many of us have the advantage of foisting our spiritual view, however ludicrous or convoluted, on another person, with the routine assumption that they must listen and accept that view, and that any action otherwise is in the wrong direction? This is a pretty arrogant presumption that only flourishes because of our individual and collective bondage to these pastors, who are focused on nothing else than the material comforts of this world.
For now, I rest my case on the power and politics of this Phenomenon. We shall return to the subject in due course. Stay tuned for the next installment on the Grand Papa of the series – MONEY.