August 8, 2007
I can still remember folding my hands,fingers pointed in the shape of a steeple singing, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together,” before a group of 5-year-olds. Every Sunday morning we would gather in the basement of the United Church. I, seeking a connection to something spiritual and they, dressed in their Sunday best coming at the behest of their parents, had fun on those Sunday mornings.
Now, nearly 15 years later, I recollect my church experience with fondness. In fact, in conversation with Ghanaians, who are well known for their church attendance, I’ll often use my Sunday school experience as a buttress to my criticism of how the church suffocates and controls Ghanaian life. "See I was a Sunday school teacher, really, I’m not a heathen," as I growl under my breath at the Christian rock station from Iowa blaring on the taxi’s radio.
I respect those who find time to connect to God, their God, to spirituality. I lose respect when Jesus is marketed like a rock icon, a lover and the answer to every question. Twelve-day spiritual retreats, nightly vigils of intense praying and healing sessions are common in Kumasi. Prayer camps, places where those who believe prayer can heal their ailments, are plentiful. While loud speakers deliver the word of God, people deemed mentally ill or “mad” are kept in chains nearby.
“God has given me a gift, the gift operates within me, so when you see the person the holy spirit tells you what is happening,” said a pastor during a recent interview about why he sees fit to chain a 10-year-old mentally handicapped girl. Without chains, he insists, I couldn’t pray for such people. Or control them, perhaps?
There’s an expression in Ghana that goes: if you want to be rich, become a pastor or start an NGO. During my time in Ghana I’ve met many a pastor, and have sat through a service where I watched millions of cedis or hundreds of Canadian dollars be offered up as an offering to God. The more money the more applause; money it seems can make ordinary men pastors and institutions of NGOs.
Now don’t get me wrong. Faith is a good thing. And granted people who struggle to feed themselves, their families and watch as relatives die need faith, arguably we all do. It’s the blindly faithful that I question.
"God willing" is the answer to everything. “God willing, we’ll find money to build a new prison,” said a Ghanaian born pastor from the UK. “God willing this girl will find money for school,” said the head of an NGO that rescues trafficked children. "God willing, I’ll be here tomorrow,” says the host of a popular radio morning show. God willing Ghanaians will wake up and see how God is being sold to them and the cost of something more precious, the truth.
Living here has further made me question my own spirituality, a pursuit or a belief that I believe is lifelong and evolutionary. Am thinking about reading the Bible too, not because of the armies of Christians who have tried to tell me about its healing powers, but rather to fortify my defence the next time someone uses the Bible to defend their views on the subjugation of women or the evil of homosexuality or how there’s only one true God. (T)