Opinions Sat, 20 Aug 2016

Is Obinim insane or Christianity has gone mad in Ghana?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK August 19, 2016

The headline “Bishop Obinim whips teenage members for fornication” appeared on Ghanaweb on Thursday morning but did not read it as news on undesirable, false prophets and so called men of God such as Obinim and TB Joshua are of no interest to me until I saw a video of his barbarity on WhatsApp. I expected national outrage in Ghana over the cruelty on children by Obinim but when I checked on Ghanaweb in the evening, to my shock and sadness, not only was there silence from Ghanaians but Obinim has had the impudence to justify his barbarism. This article is a discussion on the disturbing development of charismatic and fundamentalist religion in Ghana.

For those who are members of Obinim’s church or religious zealots and would want to attack or abuse me for questioning the insanity of Obinim, let me say that, as the “Montie Three” had nothing to do with free speech or press freedom, what Obinim did to the two young members of his church or his adopted children also has nothing to do with religion or Christianity. It’s purely a criminal act, child abuse and a violation of the constitutional rights of the two that must be punished as prescribed by the laws of Ghana.

In fact, it was revolting watching the video and it reminded me of religious punishments in Afghanistan under the Taliban, ISIS in Syria and some religious fundamentalist states such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It made me wonder if Christian fundamentalism is creeping into Ghana. I understand he is relying on the Bible to justify his cruelty (Proverbs 13:24 “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him”). This is a clear manifestation of Obinim’s lack of understanding of the scriptures because the Bible is written is a language that its literal interpretation and application is dangerous. Does this quotation justify the public flogging of the two? Is discipline equal to public flogging and cruelty to children? Would Obinim also cut off his one hand or eye if it causes him to sin as in Matthew 5:30 or Mark 9:43?

Proverbs 13:24 simply means take corrective steps and appropriate sanctions but not to inflict pain or degrade and humiliate the child. Is this the best way to punish the two and is there no civilised or humane method of disciplining them without subjecting them to degrading and inhuman treatment? What stops Obinim from counselling and advising the children on the dangers of engaging in sexual activities at this age, such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, etc?

Is Obinim aware of John 8:7 (“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”)? I guess as the so-called man of God, he is well versed in the word of God and therefore I presume he and his accomplices who administered the cruel punishment on the two young people have no sin. I have read about Obinim’s escapades in the media which are not worth repeating but only to pose the question, who flogged him when he admitted to committing adultery? Did he not go down on his knees to pray to God and ask for forgiveness, and if so, why did not ask the two to do the same? I guess he is one of these religious leaders who tell his congregation to practice what he preaches and not what he does.

So despite the barbarity, degrading and inhuman treatment on two young and vulnerable citizens, why have Ghanaians, especially Christian leaders including the Christian Council kept quiet? Is it because they are scared that Obinim has spiritual powers to turn into a snake and sting them into death? If that is the case where is their faith in God? What about the state authorities such as the police (Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit DOVVSU)? Why did they not act as soon as the video became public knowledge and why is that it’s only the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Amnesty International and a few lawyers who have taken up this matter? Where are the others? Are they all scared of Obinim or what?

Obinim and those who carried out this criminal act would have been arrested in any civilised society as soon as the video was put in the public domain because those degraded and humiliated were children who require the protection of the state from abuse, inhuman and degrading treatment. It does not matter whether the two are his adopted children or not. It even makes no difference if they were his biological children. In fact, Obinim would not have subjected his own children to such public humiliation, cruelty, degrading and inhuman treatment.

What about the leaders of the Church who were in the congregation at the time of this shameful and ungodly act? Have they sold their conscience to Obinim or also scared of him and his chameleon skills to turn into a snake? I saw the girl run to one woman for protection but to no avail. The house of God is supposed to be a sanctuary for sinners and the afflicted, security for the lonely and troubled to seek solace and not a place to dish out severe and cruel punishment on children. I believe that the leaders who were in the congregation should also be held accountable for their failure to act to protect the two from cruelty and abuse.

I understand Obinim says that no one can punish him because the two are his children. He is wrong because parents cannot do whatever they wish to their children. The state through legislation (The Childrens Act 1998, Act 560) regulates the relationship between parents (adults) and children. It is against the law and criminal to flog and abuse children. For these reasons the state can punish Obinim and his accomplices for their criminal act by prosecuting them. Again, Ghana has obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from abuse. What is outrageous is the claim by Kofi Bentil, the Vice President of IMANI-Ghana and a lawyer that, Obinim has committed no crime and cannot be punished because the two went to the church on their own volition. That is not true because they are children. This applies to only adults of sound mind and I do not expect a lawyer and Vice-President of a Think Tank to condole such criminal barbarity.

Obinim cannot hide behind the right to religious freedom to escape prosecution because religious freedom is a qualified right. Moreover, what he did is not about religion and in fact, there is no verse/s in the bible that can justify his barbaric act. Others say children should be disciplined when they go wrong. That is true and I have no problem with that. What all reasonable and rational human beings will agree with me is that public flogging and humiliation is criminal and should not be allowed in a democratic society under rule of law.

In conclusion, religious shenanigans parading as bishops or prophets in Ghana and Africa in general are causing more harm than good to their congregation and society. They are leading their flock astray just to enrich themselves. They do so by resorting to threats, fear and intimidation so that no one can challenge their criminal activities. Sadly, in Ghana, the whole state has fallen victim to the spell of these false prophets. Consequently, they are free to do whatever they like and want in the name of religion.

Women and children often bear the brunt of the brutality of these so-called men of God and with the state also suffering from the opium of the masses, the weak and vulnerable in society have no one to turn to for protection. Such criminal and barbaric acts should have no place in 21st Century Ghana and should be condemned by all. These have gone on for far too long and it is time that all right think Ghanaians said, enough is enough. It’s now time to end the religious lawlessness and madness in Ghana and therefore Obinim must be held accountable by the state because no one should be above law. The state has a responsibility to act to protect children, the weak and vulnerable.

The lack of response from the Christian Council of Ghana over this criminal act by one of them is very troubling. What happened is wrong and what is wrong is wrong irrespective of who is involved. Would the Christian Council have kept quiet had the criminal act been perpetrated by a politician? I remind them of what Martin Luther King Jr said. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
Columnist: Ata, Kofi