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Religion of Sunday, 17 February 2008

Source: Mensah, Opanin Kwabena

Bible Society of Ghana should address these issues

The Christian Community in Ghana seems to be divided about certain aspects of our culture that it would be appropriate if The Bible Society of Ghana (Society) came out with guidelines to streamline matters for all concerned. It appears Society is the only organization in the country that has representation from all the major denominations in the Christian Community (Christians) – The Catholic Secretariat, The Christian Council of Ghana, Pentecostals and Charismatic Churches. It is therefore appropriate for one to take issues concerning Christians to Society for redress.

The first of such issues is Christianity and polygyny. It is very heartening to see that present day Christians have taken a hard line stand against the practice of polygyny in Ghana. It is very healthy for the society and those involved. There is concern however, about those who had contracted plural marriages before their conversion into Christianity. In recent times there has been a steady rise in the number of divorce cases of polygynous marriages in the country initiated, supported and supervised by some pastors and their congregations on grounds that such marriages stood against the tenets of Christianity which advocates for one man one wife. If people have been convinced to join the Christian religion on Jesus’ call for “come as you are” why do such pastors turn round to tell them to divorce their wives?

The argument put up by these pastors is that the people did not know and now that they had become Christians the old things had passed away and that they had become new creation. To these pastors and their congregations becoming a Christian is synonymous to divorcing one’s wives. Where is it written in the bible that pastors should encourage divorce based on whatever reason? What then is their take on “what the Lord has put together let no man put asunder?” (Mathew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) Are they saying that because they were not Christians their marriages were not put together by the Lord? Somebody somewhere needs to do some reexamination if all are considered children of God. There is limited record, if any; in the Bible that supports supervision and dissolution of any marriage by God’s men. Not even King David’s adulterous marriage to Bathsheba, though condemned by Nathan, was dissolved (II Samuel 12: 1-6).

Those pastors and congregations who encourage the dissolution of polygynous marriages need to consider the implications of their actions on the affected women and their children. Most of the women involved might have lived beyond their prime age of attracting new partners and would be compelled to lead lives of misery. Would anybody blame them if they became prostitutes? Most of them liked their married live no matter what it was; all of a sudden they became divorcees just because their husband/s converted into Christianity. Would this not be the same as propping some women to go against Christ? Did Jesus ask anybody to use His name to turn God’s children away from Him? Could this also be a ploy by some of these pastors to legitimize their irresponsible behavior of sleeping with some church members’ wives?

In effect it looks strange that in spite of their knowledge, training and standing in society some pastors would stoop so low as to give blessings to the dissolution of marriages because they were not based on the “Christian way.” If in their own self-glory they believed that they were doing the work of the Lord then they should read Malachi 2: 16 –“For I hate divorce, says Yahweh, the God of Israel.”

Another issue the Society needs to look at is Christianity and traditional marriage. It is becoming increasingly disturbing to observe some Churches misinterpret and misrepresent traditional marriage as engagement. In their confusion they have superimposed a foreign form of marriage over ours making a mockery of our tradition. Perhaps they do not know the difference between engagement and wedding (marriage). For the benefit of those people it is being stated here that the Akans use the term “nhunu anim” or “wobo kokooko” when the potential husband’s relatives present a drink or two to the bride-to-be’s relatives with the information that if they sought for and did not see their daughter they could trace her up to their son. This would legitimize courting by the two until they were ready to get married. This arrangement is similar to what the western world considers as engagement when an individual proposes marriage to his girl friend in some obscure way depending on when and where.

One is yet to hear what these Churches say about this aspect of our marital system. Is it their position that such arrangement did not exist or they did not know about it? The difference between our marital system and that of western cultures is that ours is an arrangement between two families. The families play central roles in ensuring the success of the marriage from courtship through the contraction of the marriage. The gatherings of people, spectacular display of wits in negotiations, arguments and actions that are at hand at traditional marriages are the envy of some people who wish they had such arrangement in their own system.

These churches are at liberty to adopt any form of marriage they prefer but they should not be carried away by their own delusions. They want to have the better of two worlds and in the process have become confused and self-gratified. In one particular instance a pastor refused to offer his blessings to some newly weds because to him and his congregation they were not married until they went through a foreign traditional marriage system in addition to what every body had witnessed as marriage. To this pastor and his colleagues, until they started their churches there was no marriage in our system. This means all persons, possibly including their own parents, who did not go through foreign type of marriage did not and have not been married.

Meanwhile the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana in New York, Rev. Yaw Asiedu, has successfully got the New York State Government to accept and recognize the Ghanaian wedding (traditional marriage) as legal with all its attending obligations and privileges just like any other marriage in the State. While others are seriously making sure that foreigners respect and adopt our treasured tradition some are trying to disown and dismantle same.

A term that is gradually creeping into the Ghanaian marital lexicon is “sikasa”. This is being used by some Christians who avoid the presentation of drinks (liquor) at a traditional marriage. They hypocritically present money (sika) instead of the traditionally accepted drinks (nsa) as a symbol for the legitimisation of a marriage. By their own word, “sikasa” they accept the significance of drinks in the marriage ceremony. Why then would they want to replace it with cash? What difference does the sika make instead of the sa? Jesus Himself accepted and glorified drink as part of marital ceremony by turning water into “nsa” at a traditional marriage (John 2:3-11). If this event had taken place in a Ghanaian village, believe it or not, Jesus would have turned water given to Him into either “nsafufuo” (palmwine), “akpeteshie” or “pito” (local liquor). Jesus’ action was culturally determined. One wonders if it is biblical for Christians to replace the drink in a marriage ceremony with cash.

Why do some Christians lie to our children? Whoever doubts this assertion should attend a naming ceremony. Some of the items normally used for this ceremony includes but not limited to salt, sugar, a glass of water and alcoholic drink. If this is performed by a Christian with a pastor in attendance, the alcoholic drink is replaced with either a coke/pepsi or colored wine. Why this is done is not clear but it is presumed to confirm the Ghanaian Christians’ public display of their aversion for alcoholic drinks. If this was the case then they were not being upfront to the children and thus defeat the purpose of the ceremony. If anything the naming ceremony is the right place and time to show the drink to the children. How is the child going to know the difference in taste between sugar and coke/pepsi? It is not proper to show a non-alcoholic drink to a child and tell him/her to dislike alcoholic drink - something he had not seen.

The rational behind the presentation of both salt/sugar and water/drink is to show the child that there are always two sides to a story and that in life s/he should not rush into judgement until s/he had heard and examined both sides of an issue. That is why two sets of things of similar color, sugar/salt and water/drink are presented to the child to taste and know the difference. Would the finger-taste of the alcoholic drink make the child a drunkard? It is alright for Christians to preach against drunkenness and the use of drinks to pour libation at functions. This however should not be the reason for banning it at functions that it is required as a symbol of legitimacy. Jesus could ask the people at the marriage ceremony to drink water but he did not and rather went ahead to give them even an expensive wine as contained in John 2:3-11 because he found it to be the right thing to do at the time. In this wise the Akan proverb of “dee yede nsa ye no yemfa nsuo nye”- (The function of an alcoholic drink cannot be replaced with water) holds true.

The last of the issues that needs attention from Society is our names. Almost all Ghanaians believe that every child comes to this world with his/her own first name depending on the day he/she was born. This is represented in the following:

Day of the week Name (masculine/feminine)

Sunday Kwasi/Akosua

Monday Kwadwo/Adwoa

Tuesday Kwabena/Abena

Wednesday Kwaku/Akua

Thursday Yaw/Yaa

Friday Kofi/Afia

Saturday Kwame/Amma

This type of naming significantly identifies us as Ghanaians and makes us unique among all others. Churches like the Presbyterian and Methodist have glorified this tradition by creating competition with these names as a strategy for fundraising – Kofi ne Amma.

Incidentally, this beautiful tradition bequeathed to us by our forefathers has been thrown away. Rarely would one come across a Ghanaian without either a biblical or foreign name. Names like Peter, John, James, Paul, Joseph, Charles, Eric and others are common among our men while our women go for Mary, Elizabeth, Theresa, Hilda, Agnes etc

Why have Ghanaians abandoned their traditional names for others? This has more to do with the introduction of Christianity by our colonial masters who believed that they were civilizing the African. Following this, at the conversion of any Ghanaian into Christianity, the individual was baptized and made to choose a biblical name. This somehow made it easy for them to identify and call people by their names with ease.

A look at the choice of such names as a consequence of baptism would indicate that the action is not common in the Bible. Matthew 1:21 states that “And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus” In Matthew 3: 13-17 one reads about the baptism of Jesus by John. These two references confirm that Jesus was born with His name and kept same after His baptism by John the Baptist. The same goes with John himself. An exception to this is Paul whose name was changed from Saul after he had been baptized. One is yet to be convinced that any of the twelve apostles had a change of name. None of the three thousand people baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41) changed or added to his/her name; neither do we read about the Ethiopian Eunuch (Act 8: 26-40) taking on biblical name after his baptism by Philip.

One expected that fifty years after political independence Christians would take the lead as Odinga Odinga did in Kenya and baptise new converts in their own names. Rather it has been allowed to linger on with some Ghanaians going beyond the Bible and taking on names that have no meaning other than their fancy pronunciations. The guilty ones are those in the Diaspora. In an extreme case one woman spent about $2,000 going through the system to add “Jacquiline“ to her name because she was fed up with Americans mispronouncing “Akosua” – a very serious display of inferiority complex. It is hoped that since this started with the introduction of Christianity into the country Society would take the lead by admonishing its members that a christian is not necessarily someone who has adopted a biblical or a foreign name.

In conclusion it must be noted that there are a number of issues which Christians disagree based on each groups’ type (and level) of training, areas of interest and nature of expectations of the congregation being dealt with. However, there are also certain basic traditional values within the society that complement the delivery of effective message which if not properly handled may make Christianity look bad in the eyes of the people.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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