GhanaWeb TV



Religion, Politics and Ethnicity-2

Wed, 19 Aug 2009 Source: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw

- Tribal-based Churches; Do we need them?

Yaw Opare-Asamoa oasamoa@gmail.com

In the first of articles under this heading, I attempted to ask the questions and discuss the issues that many have been reluctant to. Many have concluded that any topic discussing some aspects of Islam was too ‘hot’ or sensitive and that they would rather live with the consequences of remaining silent than broach the topic at all. Well, I believe in discussing issues so long as they affect our daily lives. I will always try to be as respectful and sensitive as possible, but at the same time I would not shy away from the facts or the truth. I will always discuss issues that people talk about in the privacy of their homes but never want to discuss in public. I believe that it is only when such ‘controversial’ issues are discussed in the public square that we can begin to deal with them adequately. There were many and varied reactions to the said article. Some Muslims wrote me to ‘educate’ me on matters concerning Islam that they believe I know nothing about. Other people agreed with the issues I raised. My objective was only this: to draw attention of society to certain practices that do not and would not promote equity and harmony in our motherland Ghana. I believe I achieved my objective and so that is where I will leave that discussion, at least, for now until something else comes up that would require my ‘intervention’ in some way or form. In this second ‘installment’ I would like to look at a completely different issue: Tribal-based churches and their relevance to the socio-political culture of the country. As far as I can tell there is no better example to use as a case study than the Ewe (Evangelical) Presbyterian Church.

I must confess that I have always wondered why there is a Church soley and purposefully for a particular tribe of people. I remember years back when I started reading the Bible for myself and begun to learn that the good Lord himself had promoted the ‘brotherhood of all peoples’ I became even more curious as to the ‘justification’ for an Ewe Presbyterian Church. Didn’t Jesus encourage Jews, Greeks, Samaritans, and so-called Gentiles to all come to Him? When I learned later of the segregation of churches in the US during the civil rights movement, I was all the more perplexed at the whole concept. After all, in the case of the U.S. the segregation was based on colour; what was the basis for the Ewe segregation as far as the Ewe Presbyterian Church was concerned? Now before anybody jumps all over me let me say that yes, I do know that the name has been changed to Evangelical Presbyterian Church but that does not take anything away from this discussion. The composition of the church still remains ‘uni-ethnic’. Let’s just imagine for a second that the Akyems of Ghana had decided to form their own ‘unique’ church and called it the Akyem Methodist Church. What if the Asantes had followed suit and formed the Asante Anglican Church and for that matter all other tribes had done similarly? How would our society look today? Let’s also consider that these churches had then extended their operations to non-Akyem and non-Asante areas of the country but still maintained their ethnic ‘purity’; what then? So what was responsible for such a decision by the Ewes? Did the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (then Gold Coast) turn away Ewes within their midst? Did the Ewes feel marginalized within the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (then Gold Coast) so as to feel the need to establish their very ‘own’? And if so what about the other tribes? Why were the Ewes the only tribe to feel the need for such action but no other tribe? Records of the Evangelical (Ewe) Presbyterian Church do not support any such argument. In fact there is (are) no express reason(s) given to the decision to establish such a tribal-based church. Records show that the initial name was ‘Ewe Hame’ or Ewe Church. This was changed to Ewe Presbyterian Church in 1926. The church had two parts: one in Togo and the other in Ghana. In 1954 the Ghana part adopted the name Evangelical Presbyterian (EP) due to expansion of the church beyond Eweland.

I have gone through this historical narrative to make a point. Even if one is ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that there was a ‘tangible’ reason for such a church during the mid 1800s, is there any justification for continuing such practice today? Isn’t it time for the church to consider de-tribalizing?? Ghana has always prided herself of having been spared any major civil wars since Independence. Different reasons have been assigned for this development, but for me none beats the contribution of our boarding schools to national harmony. Our boarding schools are the reason why a Ga living in Accra has a ‘friend-for-life’ who is an Nzema from Nkroful. These friendships are formed in boarding schools and they carry on for ever. The other factor has to do with Churches: that the door of the Church is open to all peoples no matter where they come from. It is within the ‘confines’ of the church that an Akwapim can refer to a Bono as a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ even though they come from different parts of the country and may not know each other from anywhere. The church, in this wise, fosters unity and harmony amongst peoples. So I ask the question again: would Ghana be what it is today if all tribes had decided on their own churches? Considering the level of competition that is sometimes evident amongst the different churches; can one imagine what the situation would look like if these different churches had to contend with the issue of ethnicity on top of ideology and theology?

I need to give credit where credit is due and so I will mention that not all Ewes subscribe to this ‘theology’. There are Ewes who have ‘integrated’ and thus worship with the rest of us. If these are able to worship with us why can’t the rest? The Evangelical Presbyterian Church may well decide to continue on this path but I don’t believe it is in Ghana’s best interest. Yes, I can hear you say “but nothing ‘untoward’ has happened so far” That may be true depending on your perspective. But then again, I also do not believe that such a practice meets the standards of our Lord Jesus Christ. Well, this is my opinion and I would like to hear yours.

Written and submitted on August 16, 2009

Columnist: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw