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Opinions of Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Diasporian churches cashing in on the wounded souls

No shortage of Diasporian churches: They’re cashing in on the wounded souls.

…… The spirit, word and material mix.

In the age of wounded souls and the quest for answers to emotional baggage, there’s no shortage of mindless Diasporian churches ,which are using “shaky theology “ for financial gain .

Warning: Yes, I know what I’m about to say is not written in stones.(or the gospel truth), I feel sure it will earn me more jeers than cheers. This includes things that people know but refuse to acknowledge because they lack the courage to speak out for the fear of offending others’ sensibilities. Even if they do speak out, they try to sugar the pill, so as not to ruffle too many feathers. I would encourage the reader not to be distracted by all that and instead focus on the substance of what I am about to say.

Relax! I’m not about to deliver a morality lecture .As a matter of fact, let’s ignore the morality factor in this discussion. Let’s be simply pragmatic. You can blame all our problems on our visionless leadership , the lousy politicians, cynical priests, bad parenthood and educational systems and all the ills that force the Ghanaians to seek greener pastures, but ,there is no denying that the Ghanaian churches in the Diaspora , are not doing anything to alleviate the problems of their congregations .

In the North America, there is abundance of Diasporian –led churches, typically Pentecostal and Evangelical who emphasize ‘faith’ through the power of the Holy spirit, to transform lives—a nice euphemism for a Pastor enrichment .Every weekend the Pastors of these churches reassure hundreds of their’ followers’ that “God has a greater Future in store for you”, without emphasizing exactly what that future is or how God teaches us to arrive at that future. Significantly, the majority of these churches have sprung up in inner –city or urban areas, which are home to large numbers of Ghanaian immigrants. Among these immigrants population are the so-called “middle classes” as well as cab-drivers, nurse’s aides, house keepers, hotel and home care attendants who are literally dropping dead from high blood Pressure and other health –related issues. Because majority of these people are engaged in jobs which do not offer health insurance benefits, their only alternative medical attention is through emergency rooms; when their illnesses are at their critical point.

Now, my question is this: what prevents these churches and their pastors from offering these people who are part of their congregations, blood pressure checks every other Sunday in the churches? While we’re on the subject, what about offering financial counseling, low-cost bulk food purchases, entrepreneurial training and tutoring? All this can be done if the churches are incorporated as non-profit organizations. This would enable the members to deduct their weekly donations) tithes, collections, including special fund raising for the pastor, Kofi ne Afua, etc) from their federal income taxes. Not only that, but in United States ,as a tax-exempt , non-profit organization a church could apply for Federal grants for training the congregation, in vocational trades—nursing ,auto mechanic ,computer repairs, and other marketable skills. So as to help these individuals to increase their earning potential.

Dearly beloved, be reminded that, not all Ghanaians who seek greener pastures are unskilled. Many of us brought with us useful skills from Ghana such as, teachers, electricians, mason, plumbers, nursing, and host of others. Yet, we lack the host countries’ CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENT, to practice our skills. This is where the Ghanaian churches as leaders in our communities can play their part. In the US, the churches’ training programs could prepare the congregations to sit for various Board Vocational Certification Examinations or GED, which in turn could offer them health benefits and more money so the offering and tithes could increase ; all to the glory of God. They could also top it off with literacy programs to help new arrivals in reading and filling job applications. What about sponsoring apprenticeship programs or incorporating Sunday school with helping the young members with their school assignments?

These roles are nothing new. In America, Mega Churches have business ventures and have formed ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATIONS ,that revive depressed neighborhoods, run banks, investment clubs, schools, retail stores, and rental housing More importantly, they employ their congregations. Yes, these churches’ membership are in thousands , so I’m not suggesting ours can immediately compete at their level, but I am certain that our churches can start on an enlightened, proactive and positive note to meet the socioeconomic needs and expectations of the Ghanaian in the Diaspora. Hallelujah!

Too often we have been bombarded with admonishments that ’Jesus was not a Capitalist.’ Some Preachers still believe in the how- hard- it’s- for- a rich- man- to -get into- heaven parable. They preach about FAITH and PROSPERITY, but they don’t teach how Jesus meant it for his Kingdom. Faith, Religious capitalism and Evangelical entrepreneurship are good for the soul and the body. Faith without action is like a soundless bell—meaningless.

The fact is, spiritual upliftment without meeting earthly needs is cause for concern, as far as this writer sees it... Even more so when money, has become the only way to measure “success” in our culture. Often times, a lot of resentment is built up when a person suddenly achieves financial gains through propagating the type of Christianity alluded to in this piece. Money is a drug and it can distort the perception of politicians, pastors, pornographers and publishers of bibles alike.

Critics say, most of these churches are based on dubious theology which is used to enrich the pastors, by encouraging the followers to pay tithes they can ill afford and, that Christian ministry is now the fastest path to mobility... However, I wonder how actively our churches in the Diaspora are working to dispel this perception .The number one complaint everyone seems to have about our brand of Christianity is that the churches do not serve the needs of their Flock.

Like it or not, we live in a money –obsessed culture and money –driven market place. The congregations, however, should be seen as the most valuable resource to build and maintain the Kingdom of Heaven. I see the diasporian church as a business and the congregation as its customers. We may say all we want about the afore-mentioned, but in my view being a moral, spiritual and good deserving person alone doesn’t cut it in today’s world. Motion beats Meditation and I suggest that this issue is not merely a moral one; it is about wealth and value. Anyone aspiring to acquire more wealth without providing more value is dishonest and unethical and attempts to defy the laws of life.

Let’s all say, Amen!!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi
NJ, USA


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