Ghana’s capitalist preachers

BY: Maximus Attah
A billboard advertising miracle church service
A billboard advertising miracle church service

It is 6.15 a.m. and vehicles are pouring into the traffic jam that has become characteristic of daily commute around the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange in Accra.

The early morning sunrises and reflects onto a spectacular outdoor advertising billboard that adorns the frontage of the Villaggio Condominium building, a 24-floor executive mixed-use property, unarguably Accra’s tallest building.

The professionally designed billboard is advertising a ‘miracle’ church service to be hosted by one of Ghana’s latter-day ‘men of God’ who is assembling other world-renowned evangelical preachers from North America for a three-day ‘miracle encounter’ in Accra.

As I drive through the clogged traffic, the billboard reminds me of this and other ‘end-time miracle workers’ who have emerged, ‘calling people out to be saved by Jesus Christ, ahead of the Second Coming and the impending Armageddon.’

Growing customer base

The last Population and Housing Census put the number of Ghanaians subscribing to Christianity at a little above 71 per cent. Moslems place a close second, with about 18 per cent, while traditional and other religions constitute the rest.

The cliché that Ghanaians are religious is, therefore, statistically evident. Of course, there is a clear distinction between being religious and being spiritual.

Several commentators have stated that the number of people subscribing to religion does not translate into good moral behaviour, which is why crime, corruption and greed have continued to feature highly in every spectrum of national life.

Two major events

This takes me to two major events that have altered the history of humankind in general and changed Africa’s history. First is that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade did not just happen. There were willing elites in Africa whose appetite for imported vanity Western manufactured goods and services lured them to actively cooperate with and support the slave masters.

The elites and our chiefs (custodians of power and tradition) exchanged the cream of our peoples — the physically strong, intellectually adept, aesthetically endowed and resourceful women and men — who were drafted and shipped to work on plantations in the New World.

Again, colonisation did not just happen.

Religion was one of the most potent tools in the Trans-Atlantic Slave (Trans-Atlantic Caravan) and colonialism in Africa was actively supported by religion.

The slave masters carried with them religion, which offered a sensory element, ecstasy and a celestial experience. Every religious ritual, be it African Traditional Religion or Christianity, comes with music, dance and of course, sacrifice.

All these offer the participants various levels of fulfilment. During the ‘rituals’ (or church services), the ordinary people are separated from the elite; chiefs sit in state in traditional religion, there is animal and other sacrifices, people make merry and there is excitement among participants.

In the Christian church service too, the rich and famous occupy the front row. There is music and dancing, there is ‘deliverance from the evil spirit,’ and there is joy and satisfaction for participants.

Herein comes the capitalist preachers.

The names of their churches are often decorated with the suffix ‘International’ as the ‘qualifier’ is believed to offer a sense of belonging, which makes members of the church feel special that ‘they are now members of a church with a global appeal.’

Latter-day preachers

The latter-day preachers in Ghana possess the solution to all the woes that plague all of humanity.

The preachers possess the eyes to see into the future of patrons. One popular Accra based ‘seer’ charges consultation fees ranging between GH¢200 and GH¢2,000 per person.

He sells all manner of oddities believed to possess the ‘Christian magic’ to ‘open doors’ and connect the user to the next miracle.

Every morning, people queue to ‘purchase’ cures for ailments ranging from their leaking pockets to village witches chasing them from their dreams. From the pulpit, he delivers gifts and blessings as the ‘spirit’ inspires him.

The prosperity messages are laced with evidence and testimonies from real beneficiaries of past miracles to ‘actors’ who have been coached and planted in the congregations to authenticate the healing and money ‘ritual’ miracles.

The relationship between spirituality and wealth in the Bible is complicated. On the one hand, riches can be a sign of God’s blessing (Genesis 24 v. 35; Deuteronomy 8 v. 18), while poverty can symbolise divine judgement (Jeremiah 8 v. 10 – 13).

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were God’s friends and were very wealthy – as was Jacob, one of the godliest figures, according to Old Testament records. David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13 v. 13 – 14), was also very rich.

On the other hand, the luxuries and benefits wealth afforded altered Solomon’s early devotion to God (1 Kings 11 v. 4).

Through the prophet Amos, God blamed wealth for leading Israel into idolatry and moral decay (Amos 3 v. 13 – 4 v. 1). On several occasions, Jesus spoke harshly about the rich who ignored God and the poor (for example, Luke 12 v. 13 – 21) and compromised their commitment to God (for example, Matthew 19 v. 23).

Jesus declared that the love of wealth can steal hearts away from God (Matthew 6 v. 24). Paul told Timothy to warn people about the temptations of wealth (1 Timothy 6 v. 6 – 10, 17 – 19), and James wrote stern words on the same topic (James 2 v. 5 – 7).

It can’t be said that people who are poor are necessarily in a better spiritual condition than those who are rich.

Rather, our spiritual health depends on how we steward our blessings, view our possessions and serve God and others with them. The Bible commands, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ (Matthew 6 v. 19 – 20). We are to work so that we will have resources to share with those who are poor (Ephesians 4 v. 28).

We are also to give quietly, generously, thoughtfully and cheerfully (Matthew 6 v. 3; 2 Corinthians 9 v. 6 – 7).

Since the social welfare system in Ghana has proven to be perpetually epileptic, charlatans will continue to fill the void.

We cannot continue to criticise the ‘preachers’ because the potential market will continue to grow.

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