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Opinions of Saturday, 3 January 2015

Columnist: Cudjoe, Alfred B.

Corruption in Ghana: The Church Can’t Be Exonerated

By Dr Alfred B Cudjoe

It is gradually becoming a fact that the church in Ghana today is turning into a controversial institution which is busy promoting illegitimate and illegal seeking of wealth and affluence. Christianity in contemporary Ghana is so neck deep in the type of unethical seeking of wealth that Jesus himself preached against (Luke 18: 24-25), that it is mere understatement for secular commentators like Kwesi Pratt Jnr to assert that “the church is indirectly contributing to the rise in corruption by continuously preaching about riches for members to be recognized” (see myjoyonline 15/11/2014).

In what people would consider as coming from the horse’s own mouth, Rev Prof Emmanuel Martey, Moderator of the General Assemble of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG), in a sermon at the beginning of June, chastised pastors who are only in the holy ministry to milk the flock and amass wealth at the expense of the needy and the poor. In Ghana, unfortunately, the prevalence of hypocrisy easily prevents people from seeing things as they are. It is for this reason that some, if not most, people who followed the Moderator’s sermon would feel so uncomfortable that they were likely to comment: “but why does he talk so? He’s disgracing the church.”

It is not known whether Rev Prof Martey backed his comment with any Biblical quotations, but Jesus Christ, who many Christians in Ghana see as a religious role model, in fact Lord and Saviour, unequivocally condemns the unprincipled hunger for wealth, saying it is virtually impossible for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God (see Biblical quote above). This is even only one of the many statements made by Christ on the subject of acquisition of wealth and repeated throughout the New Testament by apostles.

The prevailing view of many pastors and other preachers in today’s Ghana is that wealth is a sign of God’s blessings and that poverty is a sign of faithlessness and God’s displeasure. These preachers are not different from the Pharisees of Biblical times who thought the same and derided Jesus for his poverty (Luke 16:14). Although some religious leaders may put up arguments to support a contrary view, it needs to be repeated that Jesus Christ soundly rejected the amassing of wealth by committed Christians (see Luke 6: 20; 16: 13; 18: 24-25).

Are Christians of today turning a deaf ear to the Bible’s identification of the pursuit of wealth or covetousness with idolatry, which is demonic (see 1 Cor. 10: 19-20; Col. 3: 5)? Because of the demonic power associated with possessions, the desire for wealth and the pursuit of it often generates controversies. The arrest of Nayele Ametefe at Heathrow Airport on 10 November for carrying 12.5 kilos of cocaine in her hand luggage is a typical demonstration of how the search for wealth has distorted our Christian principles. Had Nayele not been arrested she would have made fortunes to come and display in this society that lays claim to Christian values. It is even likely that she would pay a handsome tithe from it, earning her a pride of place in her church. It is to avoid this contradictory situation that Jesus said man cannot serve God and Mammon (the false god of riches, see Matthew 6: 24).

The bad news for pastors, evangelists and men of God with all kinds of titles is that wealth acquisition as we see it today is likely to serve as an obstacle to salvation. Riches are, in Jesus’ perspective, an obstacle both to salvation and to discipleship (Matt 19: 24; 13: 22), they give a false sense of security (Luke 12: 15 onwards), they deceive (Matt 13: 22), and they demand the total loyalty of one’s heart (Matt 6: 21). The rich are often arrogant and think they don’t need God. In our search for riches our spiritual life is chocked (Luke 8: 14) and we are led into temptation and harmful desires (1 Tim 6: 9), resulting in the abandonment of saving faith (1 Tim 6: 10). Often, as is typical of the Ghanaian society, the rich take advantage of the poor (Jas 2: 5-6). This being the case no Christian ought to desire to get rich at all cost (1 Tim 6: 9-11).

It is not being suggested here, even remotely, that the Christian does not deserve to be rewarded for hard work. If laziness leads to poverty (Prov. 6: 10-11) then the Christian needs to toil and expect to be rewarded. In fact, from the strength of one’s hands comes abundant harvest (Prov. 14: 4). However, the true riches that our church leaders need to promote consist in faith and love that express themselves in self-denial and following Jesus (1 Cor. 13: 4-7; Phil. 2: 3-5). Thus wealth, if it is properly acquired, should not serve as a source of pride and arrogance but properly used to further the work of God and provide for the needy (Eph. 4: 28; 1 Tim 6: 17-19).

It is therefore a tragedy of our time that the church of all institutions is deviating from these Christian principles in its search for wealth at all cost. According to the 5 November edition of the Daily Heritage, Nana Abena Esi, the Akonedi priestess in Larteh, Akwapem, revealed that some pastors travel to faraway India in search of powers to work in their churches. Such powers are used to convince vulnerable poor Christians into believing that the pastors involved are so powerful that they can help them solve every problem of theirs. Revelations such as this only show how far men of God can go in their search for wealth. In Ghana any pastor considered to be powerful has a large following and therefore more payment of tithes, good patronage of fundraising programmes, and so on.

Ghana at the Spiritual Crossroads

The time has indeed come for us as a nation to remind ourselves of the role of the church and its overseers, namely pastors, evangelists, apostles and the rest. The church, by Biblical definition, is presented as the people of God (1 Cor. 1: 2; 10: 32; 1 Pet 2: 4-10), the company of redeemed believers made possible by the death of Christ (1 Pet 1: 18-19). Contrary to what we are witnessing today, the inherent nature of the church is separation from the world and this is rewarded by having the Lord as one’s God and Father (2 Cor. 6: 16-18). Unfortunately, most churches in Ghana today, if not all, have become so worldly that it is hard to tell if they are truly living by these Biblical standards.

The worldly nature of our churches today is explained by the type of leaders they have; they are more materialistic than spiritual. They hardly measure up to qualities of overseers as defined by the word of God. Overseers, it needs to be stated here, are church elders who are appointed by spirit-filled believers who sought the will of God through prayer and fasting, in accordance with the qualifications set down by the Holy Spirit in 1 Tim. 3: 1-7 and Tit 1: 5-9. Thus the high standard set forth by the Holy Spirit is that the overseer must be a believer who has steadfastly adhered to Jesus Christ and his principles of righteousness, and who can therefore serve as a role model of faithfulness, truth, honesty and chastity. His character must reflect Christ’s teaching in Matt 25: 21, that being faithful over a few things leads to a position of being ruler over many things.

However, the great contrast that now exists between these Christ-like standards and those that our religious leaders have set for themselves demonstrates the extent to which we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3: 23). Veteran journalist Kwesi Pratt Jnr must have been expressing the concern of many (see introduction) when he said most churches treat the rich and the affluent in a special way, thereby persuading others to go out of their way to do things which might make them appear rich in order to get similar treatment. The question then arises: How can the church summon courage to check the rise of corruption which is threatening to destroy this dear country? The age old question then follows: If gold rust, what will iron do?

Take for example the case of the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ms Lauretta Lamptey, who is being investigated for high level corruption in the form of living in a $456.25 per night hotel, among others, at the expense of the tax payer (see Daily Graphic of 20/09/2014). In spite of the negative publicity she is attracting and the public outcry the lady does not give a damn. One cannot even ask if she has any Christian values because she is probably a prominent member of her church since she can afford to pay for the prominent position that Mr Pratt is talking about.

The church is therefore at the crossroads since the scramble for wealth and other material things like titles and various secular achievements have replaced the principles that the Lord would like us to strive for. It is, however, encouraging to hear some lone voices within the clergy like that of the Reverend Patrick Hans Avettey, Chairman of the Takoradi Presbytery, calling on the clergy to be bold and condemn the upsurge of corrupt practices and stealing in the public sector (GNA report of 29/12/14). Since charity usually begins at home, Rev Avettey and other members of the clergy who think like him should preach to their colleagues. If they begin to live by the principles Jesus Christ set for Christians, they will be setting the best examples for Ghanaians to emulate.