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The Black Studies approach to Ghanaian Presbyterianism in the United States

The Black Studies approach to Ghanaian Presbyterianism in the United States

Wed, 20 Apr 2016 Source: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

– Part 1

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Garden City, New York

April 16, 2016

E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net

If you only read about it from the Daily Graphic or Graphic.com.gh news story, you may not have gotten the inner details of the entire story. And to be frank and honest with you, my dear reader, I don’t even have the full details of the story myself either. But I had the chance to speak to the Very Reverend Yaw Frimpong-Manso by phone several months ago, and he gave me some of his side of the story that has since gone viral in both the Ghanaian media and on the Internet. I forget exactly how long ago, when his widely reported disagreement with the Accra-headquartered Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG) made banner headlines in both Ghana and on the Ghanaweb.com website.

I know the man personally but not intimately, although both us were born at different times at Asante-Mampong. I have also visited the Woodlawn Chapel, where he is the Minister-in-Charge, once for a thanksgiving service in honor of a recovering in-law. Actually, Dr. Frimpong-Manso is the Minister-in-Charge of two Presbyterian congregations, both of which are located in Bronx, New York. The second chapel is in the Ogden neighborhood overlooking the world-famous Yankee Stadium. I must also quickly point out that I also spoke to Rev. Barima Appiah-Dankwa, Minister-in-Charge of the Harlem headquarters of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. I have also met Rev. Appiah-Dankwa several times in the past when he preached at my church, the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Bronx Assembly, whose Minister-in-Charge is the soft-spoken and rhetorically deliberate and erudite Rev. Yaw Asiedu, who is actually a retired former Minister-in-Charge of the Harlem headquarters congregation and longtime resident here in the United States.

Well, even as the Daily Graphic/Graphic.com.gh news article points out, Dr. Frimpong-Manso is a retired Moderator, or former Spiritual Head, of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (GA-PCG) who was officially seconded by the administrators at the Ghanaian headquarters of the Church to serve as Minister-in-Charge of the two aforementioned Ghanaians congregations of Woodlawn and Ogden. The difference here is that the preceding two assemblies being pastored by Dr. Frimpong-Manso function as part of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America or Presbyterian Church of USA. This clearly appears to be where the problem is coming from. At least a substantial part of the same. It is partly one of turf war of the sort that is fairly common to many an American tertiary academy, thus the “Black Studies Approach” caption of this column.

The problem also has partly to do with revenue and the pastoral paycheck. I know this for a fact because recently the Accra headquarters of the PCG handsomely invested in the properties of the Worcester, Massachusetts, Presbyterian Church of Ghana because a couple of our leaders back home had smartly figured out that the aforesaid properties had long-term value. The immediate cause of such investment, however, had gone forth in the form of an urgent request for financial assistance, according to reliable sources. Quite a laudable response from headquarters, but all the same rather curious. Rather curious because this was the very first time that anybody had heard of dollar inflow from the Mother Church to one of its branches here in the United States. The conventional routine has been the other way around, even from US-located congregations not financially stable enough to own their own chapels and other allied properties, such as manses for ministers-in-charge.

When I spoke to him by phone several months ago, about the Frimpong-Manso/PCG Affair, Harlem’s Rev. Appiah-Dankwa was very reticent about the matter. He would rather play the good, old choirboy and let “Headquarters” handle matters. Neither was he inclined to talk about the hot-button issue of homosexuality, which inescapably seems to be integral to the conflict, at least upon closer scrutiny, since the USA Presbyterian Church, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, recognizes the inalienable right of LGBT people to fully participate in the liturgical and congregational activities of the Church, including the right of LGBT people to be ordained as pastors and ministers of the Church. The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, on the other hand, vehemently objects to the ordination of LGBT people. Curiously, though, while researching for the correct spelling of his name, I came across an article in Al-Jazeera America in which Rev. Appiah-Dankwa was quoted to be saying that the Presbyterian Church of Ghana has no official policy against gay lifestyle.

The article was captioned “To Be Gay, Christian and Black in Harlem.” It was written by Sarah Thomas and partly profiled a Togolese national resident in Harlem by the name of Rodrigue, who fled his homeland where being gay is a crime punishable by a prison sentence. Now, this is strange because the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, led by its present Moderator, Prof. Emmanuel Martey, espouses a rabidly crusading anti-gay theology.

According to Dr. Frimpong-Manso, the traditional practice has been that once a PCG minister has been seconded by the Church to a foreign sister Church, the institutional seconder ceases to have any direct clerical/professional powers over the minister so seconded, until the latter is either released and returned to the parent Church or s/he decides to return voluntarily. In other words, for Rev. Frimpong-Manso, the decision by the Woodlawn and Ogden congregations to retain his clerical services for a second 6-year term is perfectly within the legal parameters of the compact signed between the Presbyterian Church of USA and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana that brought him over to the West Atlantic portion of the globe. Those privy to the entire affair, however, disagree and claim that Rev. Frimpong-Manso vigorously lobbied to have his contract unduly extended.

Technically, what has happened here is an epic contest of wills, or what Americans call a showdown. It is, however, not clear as yet who has really won this contest. When I spoke to him by phone from his Woodlawn manse, several months ago, Dr. Frimpong-Manso made it clear to me that he had not resigned from the Church. He maintained that such a move would almost be tantamount to a sacrilege. And so I guess one could aptly conclude that by its headquarters announcement, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana could be said to have actually fired or expelled its former Moderator, rather than the Very Reverend Frimpong-Manso’s having voluntarily severed links with the Church of which he once served as foremost leader.

*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com Ghanaffairs

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame