The ongoing controversy about religion in the country may soon be over. The Catholic Bishops Conference last week issued a statement threatening to relocate all Catholic schools in the country to the Vatican City, where they can operate a truly religious educational system without the strictures of a secular state.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that other Christian denominations plan to follow suit: the Wesleyans and Anglicans to move their schools to England; the Presbyterians to Basel, Switzerland; the AME Zionists to America; and so on and so forth.
The statement of the bishops follows a directive from the presidency that forbade mission schools from making religious activities compulsory for all students, irrespective of their religion. The case has taken a perplexing turn, with affected students accusing mission schools of persecution while mission schools also accuse government of persecution. And mission schools appeal to their constitutional right of religious autonomy while students appeal to their constitutional freedom of worship. A confused man called into a radio station and asked, ‘Why can’t God simply speak out of the skies and tell his various followers what he wants them to do?’
The bishops said that their initial reaction was to stand firm against the order from the government. In an interview on Radio Gold, Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu referred to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who had gone through furnaces and dens of lions, because they resisted instructions from political leaders; and he said that God had delivered them. But the bishop said that ‘these days, God no longer performs such miracles,’ and so the Bishops’ Conference had decided to not take the path of resistance. Instead, he said, ‘we would relocate our schools to a place where there is no constitution that may be used to compel us to stop forcing people into our chapels.’
But questions of logistics have been raised. Many have asked how students are going to be shuttled between the country and the new locations daily. But the bishops said that this was the least difficult problem. ‘There is enough space on that chariot of fire which took Elijah to heaven,’ was the reply given to inquiring journalists. That chariot will be used to ferry the students to and from school. ‘The president can even borrow it for his foreign travels next time his jet catches fire,’ Bishop Osei-Bonsu joked.
Meanwhile, a scholar of religion at the University of Ghana has warned that these churches ‘are in for a massive shock if they indeed act on their threats.’ He said that these very conservative Ghanaian clerics will be dismayed to find in the Vatican City a pope who is tolerant of homosexuality. He also warned that the Methodists and Presbyterians, for instance, will go back to their respective homes in England and Basel only to find that all ‘their churches have been turned to either nightclubs or tourist attractions.’
Investigations at the various senior high schools reveal that even the secular ones are not secular enough, as prayers and hymn-singing are integral to morning assemblies. Meanwhile, Helen Ntoso, a minister of the same government that is requiring mission schools to respect the religious neutrality of the secular state, was heard in Ho praying before a crowd ‘in the name of Jesus.’
Celebrity priest, Nana Kwaku Bonsam, has waded into the controversy. He mocked the Christians and Moslems at the centre of this debate, saying that ‘the gods that we Africans serve are more tolerant than these foreign gods that our people are now following.’ When asked to explain, he further stated that neither Akonodi nor Tigare has crossed oceans for the sole purpose of asking others to stop following their deities and worship them instead.
He was reminded that the gods he worshiped were known to demand human sacrifices. ‘At least they don’t do that anymore,’ he replied, with a satisfied grin on his face.
Human Rights activist, and Minister of Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, agrees with Kwaku Bonsam, noting that the rights of the religious disputants need to be protected ‘not because of, but rather in spite of, what they stand for.’ She said that both Moslems and Christians have not hesitated to brutally deprive other people of their rights where they have felt that their god supports such brutality. She emphasised that government will ensure that every citizen enjoys their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and rights, ‘but we shall have zero tolerance for any kind of intolerance.’
But the moderator of the Presbyterian Church and president of the Christian Council of Ghana, Prof Emmanuel Martey, has thrown down the gauntlet. In a spirited sermon, he exclaimed, ‘Individual rights will have to end somewhere!’ He told his congregation that the interest of the community must drown individual rights at all times, ‘except where the interest of the community infringes on the rights of us Christians.’
Kwaku Bonsam has swiftly moved to calm the fears of parents after the announcement by the bishops of relocating their schools. He has promised to build a hundred schools across the country to fill the void that will be created when the mission schools are taken out of the country. He promised that ‘these schools will be completed before Mahama’s community senior high schools are even started.’
Editor’s note: The ‘Inside the News by Mpakoo’ column which appears every Monday exclusively on ghanabusinessnews.com is satire.