I begin this article with the full conviction that Pastor MensahOtabil is the best teacher of practical Christianity in the living memory of the country; and I say this not because of any special respect I have for the man. As a matter of fact, I consider all religious leaders as presumptively fraudulent, until they prove to be otherwise, and as for Otabil, he proved himself to be a different type of religious leader as far back as when I was in high school. His sermons and philosophy of life capture the very essence of the fulfilling life here on earth.
His format for the successful life is tested to be true the world over, and his notion of leadership, if consciously applied, will yield the desired results for the nation and its people. If we are looking for somebody to guide us to live the good life here on earth, Pastor Otabil is the man whose words we must pay attention to.
However, the scope and latitude of Otabil’s teaching is circumscribed by his reference to the Bible as the only source of his teachings. As a matter of fact, the Bible is just an infinitesimal portion of the corpus of scripture that must necessarily inform the foundation of the good life. A wide array of books provide far deeper degrees of insight and wisdom for the guidance of humankind, and anybody who restricts himself to biblical text as the only source of philosophical teaching merely risks the danger of being perpetually superficial. Thus for all his potential, Otabil remains imprisoned in the cave of biblical “truth”, and his teachings of the good life will forever be too narrow to withstand the rigors of universal acceptability. That being said, the man is still the best we have in Ghana, and considering the noxious prophetic shenanigans now prevailing in the country, Otabil will remain the number one religious teacher in Ghana for a longtime to come. Most likely, he will be succeeded by his progeny at the Koforidua Central Gospel Church, Pastor Dickson whose sermons are nearly as impressive as that of Otabil himself.
And where does all this leave us in the context of the present controversies surrounding the pastor’s recent utterances? In the first place, no matter our religious and political affiliations, we must take Otabil very seriously. Instead of taking offense at what we regard as his inappropriate political intrusions, we must listen to the man and reflect deeply on whatever he says if only because he is the best we have in Ghana. If wise people speak, their voices carry into the sanctums of the future, and whereas we may not today decipher the import of their words, their truth for the future is almost always guaranteed, and this is the testament of their mission as true prophets.
Secondly, we must cut our heroes a slack, for they are also human beings with their own private shortcomings. We should not assume that Otabil is a saint just because he speaks so wisely. I have said elsewhere that the most intelligent person in our midst will write, speak and think like a twerp at some point in time. That is the basis of the fallibility of the human person,that we relapse into sheer ignorance at some moments in our lives.
Thus as humans, we must understand that the wisest and most noble person is not the one who does all things perfectly; it is merely the one who has some consciousness about what is right or wrong and chooses to do either what is right or wrong. The redemptive phenomenon about truly good people however, is that even if they choose to do wrong, they are not ossified in their errors: they are not doomed to remain the same in their flashes of ignorant conduct. Thus, having spoken so many words for so many years, Otabil must have said so many foolish things; we should remember that we will always find something wrong with what the man has said in the past if we are looking for what he has said wrong in the past. But on balance, what he has said right should overcome what he has said wrong and still maintain him in his status as a teacher of profound truth. If we write an exam, we are not supposed to get all answers right, merely most of them right, and Otabil far exceeds the needle eyes of strict proof of validity if only he could be objectively viewed.
Thirdly, Otabil’s contribution to the socio-economic development in Ghana must be respected by Ghanaians. His University is now acclaimed as one of the best in the country, offering huge opportunities for Ghanaians to improve themselves and to have jobs with a quantum of security.
There are those who fault him for running the University as a business for profit. To those I ask, will it be better for Otabil to build huge mega churches like the others are doing? And if he is contributing to the economic and intellectual advancement of the country, isn’t he entitled to some profit? Indeed, given the magnitude of Otabil’s impact on the social, cultural and educational development of the country, I do not have problems with anything he has by way of reward. I think it is well deserved.
As a nation, we must distil whatever message comes to us and see whether that message could be applied for our national growth and development. Our state as a progressive nation is determined by the extent to which we embrace truth and jettison lies, to the extent to which we identify those seeking to advance the national project in order to co-opt them into the project. Otabil’s message, scrutinized over a long period of time, reveals a pattern of applicable wisdom which people of Ghana must adopt and apply to their lives. It is a message that calls on us to reach deep into ourselves and to make our lives here on us as good as it could possibly be.
It is a message that tells us how to move the country forward, how to relate with each other, how to derive comfort from the challenges of life, how to conduct ourselves with ethics and grace, and how to be prosperous and live in heaven right here on earth. Such a message is too profound to be discarded on the altar of cynicism and sarcasm simply because the man must have goofed as some point in his message.
A decade or so ago, my friend Dell Griffin, a devotee of Martin Luther King Jnr., approached me to declare his disillusionment with the great civil rights leader. His allegation was that he had established that Martin Luther King had an extra-marital affair. I calmly asked him, “Was Martin Luther King’s mission in life about ending extra-marital affairs?” He answered “No; it was about civil rights of blacks in America.” So I asked, “And how did he do with that mission?” My friend answered, “Oh excellently; he paved the way for the first black president in America!” I replied, “Then judge him on the mission he accomplished, not on the one he never asserted.”
The object lesson here is that if we judge our great men on the standard of ultimate perfection, we will recognize no great men in our existence. The greatest lesson in Greek tragedy is in the patent flaws of the heroes, not that they had no flaws at all.
Otabil is the greatest religious teacher of our times, and what he says or does wrong must not cloud the import of his message down the corridors of our generation.
Samuel AdjeiSarfo, Doctor of Lawand General Legal Practitioner, lives in Austin, Texas. You can email him at [email protected]