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General News of Sunday, 25 July 2010


Editorial: Genuine Ministries Or Just Money-Making Ploys?

It is never a bad thing for people to seek the spiritual protection of God in their lives, especially in these stressful times. For us African immigrants who, for the most part, have been compelled by necessity to leave the comfort, the familiarity, and even the safety of our native countries to take up residence in some distant land like America, the quest for the spiritual shield of God has an even more profound meaning. Many of us fervently believe that, with God on our side, we can overcome all the problems that we seem to encounter at every turn in this culturally challenging, immensely complex society that has become our home away from home. This explains the phenomenon of African immigrants in America turning to God in increasing numbers these days. Unfortunately, there is an unwholesome dimension to the religious revival taking place in our communities. It is the emergence of false prophets or charlatans who are taking advantage of the miseries of some of our compatriots to feather their nests.

Reflecting an ongoing trend back in Africa where most people live in miserable conditions and therefore see Jesus Christ as their only hope, churches are sprouting like mushrooms in African communities across the United States. The new churches represent a variety of denominations, but the Pentecostal churches appear to command the largest following. Most of the newly-formed Pentecostal churches are headed by people who left mainstream spiritual organizations to establish their own rival houses of worship. Besides their names and the leadership, these churches have everything in common with their parent or original organizations: they subscribe to the same doctrines and share identical rituals or forms of worship, which leaves a lot of people wondering as to why the new churches should be formed in the first place.

There are some half-dozen or more Pentecostal churches within the Ghanaian community alone in the Chicago area, nearly all of them either offshoot of the relatively well-organized, long-established; reputable main Pentecostal organization in the area or, ironically, splinters of the splinter churches themselves. Since there seems to be no real or substantive philosophical differences between the new Pentecostal churches and the old ones, what then could be the actual motivation for the creation of the new churches? Why are established churches being fragmented into so many look-alikes, autonomous factions? Moreover, isn't unity more a Christian ideal than divisiveness?

The breakup of religious organizations into factions could be precipitated by a number of factors such as personal rivalries, inadmissible moral or ethical behavior, materialistic inclinations, etc., among the leadership of such organizations. When factions spring up or a breakup occurs, it inevitably gives rise to all kinds of unsavory speculations among the public as to which one of these moral lapses, or what combination thereof, might have contributed to the rupture, or schism if you like. Lust for money or material gain is frequently cited by people as the most likely incentive for religious leaders to desert their old congregations to found their own churches.

The public's cynicism is indeed bolstered by the fact that there are some religious leaders who literally went from rags to riches soon after starting their own churches. Interesting anecdotes abound about high-living pastors or ministers not only in the U.S. but also all over the world who never had a penny to their names before they became lords of their own little religious fiefdoms.

It is difficult to dismiss financial gain as the real motive for those who break ranks with their old churches only to establish new ones that are nothing but carbon copies of the ones they deserted. Church elders or members who run off to set up their own churches as a result of disagreements with their colleagues on fundamental issues such as church doctrines do have a legitimate reason to take such a step. However, as far as we are aware, few, if any, of the leaders of the newly-established spiritual churches in the African immigrant communities, at least in the Chicago area, can make such a case for themselves.

The AFRICAN SPECTRUM has no bias for or against any particular church or religious organization. However, as a responsible community journal, it has an obligation to address any issues that affect the wellbeing of its constituents one way or another. Bogus religious leaders are one such issue. While we enthusiastically applaud the spiritual revival in our communities, we would nonetheless advise people to be more cautious in their decisions to sign up for church membership. In our various communities, there are some churches, including Pentecostal churches that are led, by very decent, dedicated Christian men and women. In addition, there are also churches led by crooks.