In the last few weeks, we were all interlocked in a vexatious discussion over the fate, and perhaps faith, of two young men – minors – with dreadlocks.
Different opinions were expressed, with majority supporting the need for these children to be allowed to enjoy their right to education.
Achimota school was determined to enforce its rules on the children, while parents felt obliged to enforce family religion on the children. The children’s identity and future was at stake.
In the end, these children – minors – became the receiving end of adults engaged in pugilism. The court was drawn in to adjudicate the matter.
The court, led by a mother, not a man, ruled in favour of the children. While the judgment was in accordance with the supreme laws of Ghana, the fact that the judge is a woman should not be lost on us – for judges exercise discretion.
Over the last few years, some Ghanaian legal scholars have examined the impact of women judges on the rights of women and children in the country.
While there is no clear consensus, many surmise that women judges tend to sympathise and endorse the rights of women and children.
This is not a strange thing, because women are women – their sense of compassion and love is God-given. I have already written about how l benefited from the compassion of my own doctoral supervisor, Dr Joel Cabrita of Stanford University, US.
Sadly, these days, as part of the humanistic philosophy of existential feminism, one risks being trolled as a chauvinist if one claims that women and men have distinct and unique attributes.
Notwithstanding the tension around gender and sexuality in our world, the fact is that the judgment that upheld the right of the children to education struck contradictory chords.
Some Ghanaians hailed the judgment as a dawn of freedom for freedom of religion in a “secular” or religiously plural Ghana. Others felt the judgment would lead to a downward spiral of moral degeneration.
As far as l am concerned, the case should not have even dragged to the point of litigation. This is precisely because, as parents, institution, and nation we have always imposed on children.
Most of us see children as our property and so we imposed so much on them. So, in history, children have suffered in many ways.
Infanticide was a common practice in the ancient world that retains remote traces in some parts of the world today. Abortion never gives children the right to live.
Dogmatic religious parents also impose their religion on their children. Why on earth should dreadlocks be of such concern to children?
Left to these children, without any cajoling from their parents, l doubt whether they would fetishise dreadlocks.
Over the years, we have seen children in Ghana who have been compelled by their parents and/or pastors not to write exams on a particular day.
Some parents have allowed their children to die in favour of a belief against blood transfusion.
Again, l have always wondered whether left to such children the prohibition imposed on them would matter.
In May 2019, l led a programme at one of the Seventh-day Adventist churches in Accra and a young woman in the church who was a student at the University of Ghana, asked me:
“Sir, how should we handle the so many rules imposed on us: you cannot do this work, you cannot write exams on this day or that day, you cannot eat this or that etc?”
I was caught in a transfixed position. Given that l am not an Adventist and given that l was right in their church, how would l answer this girl? How do l apply wisdom without incurring any displeasure from vanguards of church traditions?
I remained quiet for a while, trusting the Lord for wisdom. Then, l asked the girl: “Why the restrictions and why are you complaining?”
The girl shot back, “We are told it is a package of our salvation and God requires them.”
I simply asked the girl to consult the Bible about how we are saved, focusing on who saves, and how are we kept in salvation.
I have met some Adventist young men and women who keep asking similar questions. Sometimes, like it happened in one such churches in Birmingham, UK, church leaders give rehearsed and simplistic answers.
In the end, most children are left confused and uncertain in life. A friend of mine at the UCC called himself a Charismatic Adventist, blending everything he understood from religion.
At the University of Cape Coast (UCC), l had a roommate, who had converted from the Roman Catholic Church to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
As a Northerner from Bolgatanga, part of his family lived in Maamobi, Accra. So, l knew his mother and sister.
Given his new found faith in the SDA church, he never stopped to impress me with the accuracy of the Adventist teachings. He always wanted to debate me, pointing to the enduring relevance of the Sabbath observation.
In our room, we also had Jehovah’s witnesses, the president of the Deeper Life Church on UCC campus, and other Christians from the neo-Pentecostal churches.
Unfortunately, my SDA roommate never won any argument against me. This frustrated him because he was older than me and was three years ahead of me at the UCC. But more importantly, he worried about why l wasn’t convinced about the SDA teachings.
Unknown to him, l had, in my pre-university years, studied with the Adventists and read most of the works of Ellen G. White, most of which l found unconvincing.
But my roommate was not ready to give up. He convinced me to join him at special programmes of the Adventist church on campus.
It was during such programmes that l met Pastors Samuel Koranteng-Pipim and Andrews Ewoo.
One memorable aspect of these encounters was when Dr Koranteng-Pipim told me l would be one of the greatest Adventist theologians if l converted to the SDA church.
Dr Koranteng-Pipim’s remark was after l had peppered him with many questions in one of his annual seminars on campus. The truth is that he couldn’t answer most of my questions.
In respect to his remark, l only told him the Mormons told me the same thing when l studied with them.
My roommate and l both love the Lord. But there was a clear difference. I went to church or joined any overt religious activity only a few hours on Sundays. I read throughout the week and voluntarily rested when l needed to.
He, on the other hand, went to church on Saturdays and did nothing on the Sabbath hours. He was a church leader and participated in many church programmes and meetings.
Given the radical differences we had towards overt religious activities, he asked why l never had time for God.
With this, l replied, “When l gained admission to the UCC, after staying home for three years, l told my parents l was here to make a First Class. I worship God with my life and knowledge, not rituals.”
He wasn’t convinced, but that ended that side of our conversation.
Finally, my roommate who read Agricultural Science, a programme with ungodly credit hours, graduated with a Third Class.
I was not entirely surprised about his class. This was because, given the demands of Agricultural Science at the UCC, he needed to invest in more time in his studies. Rather, he kept missing quizzes some of which were unfortunately held on Saturdays. This was at a time when some UCC lecturers carried virtue to an illogical end, rendering virtue a vice.
Second, as a brilliant student who had gained admission to read Agricultural Science, it was his own priority that elevated religious rituals over academic excellence.
On my side, by God’s grace, l graduated with unprecedented First Class in BA African Studies.
At the time l entered the UCC in 2004, African Studies had only been introduced a year before in 2003. Because the programme needed to be accredited to run as a full degree programme, we were made to read virtually everything within the humanities.
The academic rigour was unique. It was stressful, painful, and hard.
Unfortunately, the last time l spoke with, Prof Wilson Yayoh, one of my professors at the UCC, he said the quality had diminished.
Three years after UCC, l met my roommate in Maamobi and to my surprise, he had left the Adventist faith.
He couldn’t also progress with his studies in Agricultural Science, given the class he had. So, he rather went to read sign language at the University of Education, Winneba. And because he came to the UCC as a trained teacher, he went back to teaching.
In terms of faith, he had joined the Fountain Gate Chapel of Rev. Joseph Eastwood Anaba in Bolgatanga.
Religion is definitely important, but it can enslave us, and many times it does. Unfortunately, we can all be slaves of religion in negative ways.
While my roommate wasn’t a child, he was infantile by religion. So, if even adults could be infantile by religion, how much more children?
Children have always been vulnerable because we choose things for them. Unfortunately, we choose things for them when they can hardly resist. When they instinctively resist, we crash them.
Like the Pharisees, we impose things that we find difficult to abide by on them. It is either they are forced to wear locked hair, dress in a certain way, denied some foods, even nutritious ones, prevent them from studying or writing exams a particular day or disallowing them from doing legitimate jobs.
In bizarre instances, we enslave them to religious cults, like the case of Trokosi. Sometimes, we force fasting on them, even when they need energy to learn.
Sometimes they are enlisted into child soldiering, forced into pornography and prostitution, or hazardous child labour.
We do all this in the name of religion – belief in God or otherwise. Also, we do all this in the name of socialization. But in the end, most children have their potentials terminated even before they choose anything in life.
The frustrating aspect of all this is that children are not allowed to be children. They are mostly little trophies in the hands of parents and institutions.
Children are hardly allowed to ask questions. And when they do, they are mostly shut down. When they are precocious in a certain mundane field of life, we use religion to crash them.
I know a lady who was good at dancing as a child, and yet her religious parents crashed that talent because it supposedly did not cohere with religion.
Sadly, we never leave the shadows of our parents when we grow. By the time we grow, we become too cocooned in parental indoctrination that we never do anything that is productively creative.
I know a young Christian woman whose parents do not allow her to marry from other Christian groups. In the name of a theology of “remnants” this lady is not allowed to date a Christian man who upholds the cardinal teachings of the Christian faith.
I was fortunate to have had an illiterate mother and a less schooled father. My mother never stepped in school, while my late father was only a standard seven leaver.
None of them understood the programmes l wanted to read in life. So, l chose my own courses and programmes after Junior Secondary School.
So, unlike most children, after JSS, l decided the schools to attend and the courses to read. I did my own homework, so no one imposed a religious taboo on when not to read or write exams.
I also read the books l wanted, including Hinduism and other Eastern Religions while l was in senior secondary school.
Religiously, my mother is a Pentecostal and my father was a liberal Catholic. My mother does not know much theology to impose on me. She is rather good at praying – which is also excellent and from which l continue to benefit.
My father hardly read the Bible and never forced any of my siblings to join the Catholic church, so none of us became a Catholic. My father wasn’t good at praying. At night, he only made the sign of the cross and slept. My mother rather prayed loud and in tongues.
In the end, l had to combine the strengths and weaknesses of my parents to figure out about religion. This was possible because, they never imposed anything on me.
So, in addition to the freedom l had to read my own courses and programmes, l invested in religious studies, reading all the major religions in the world.
Today, by God’s grace, l am a practising evangelical Christian with a leaning towards Calvinistic theology. Though not a dogmatic Calvinist, l pick from Armenians, as well. I am more tolerant and eclectic in matters of religion – learning from all religions. But l hold Jesus Christ as the only means to salvation.
More importantly, I am free in the Lord to do as He wants from me. This was after l had made some mistakes with my own experiments with life, religions and knowledge. But the mistakes have guided me.
Parents, let us see our children as also beings in God’s image. Children are not our property, they are a gift from God to us. We are only custodians.
Let us nurture them without unnecessary impositions, so that they can be what God ordained for them.
Jesus Christ said we should allow the children to come to Him, because where Christ is, there is liberty from all religious rituals and impositions. In Christ, we are free to contribute to creation. We become co-creators.