Esther Armah‘s thoughts: The Gospel Of Violence

Esther Armah

Barbara Tommey. Gone. Shot in the head multiple times. Just 27-years-old. Killed by Sylvester Ofori, her pastor husbandwho took to the pulpit, pews filled with a flock listening to his particular brand of manipulation wrapped around a murderous body.

It is hard to hold your disgust and devastation at the death of a woman whose husband had issued threats, including one onvideo where he tells Barbara’s brother: “if I don’t kill your sister, I am fake”.

In the video, her brother had indeed accused Ofori of being a fake pastor. He demanded to know why Ofori attacked his sister. Ofori went on and did as he threatened. So many of us have watched the video – a horrifying predictor of the violence that would come just days later. There is nothing fake about the violence the Ofori is alleged to have meted out to his wife.

Barbara and Sylvester are Ghanaian. The violence and the killing took place in Florida, where Ofori was a self-styled prophet, and led a church with a congregation of thousands.Already media reports that it was ‘witchcraft’ that led to Ofori’s alleged violence.

There are bigger issues to tackle and unravel.

This gospel of violence is practiced by too many Church-going men who hold court in pulpits delivering messages to those gathered, vulnerable, open, listening and hearing messages of hope, deliverance – a place where their lives are better, richer, and easier.

That of course is the real fake.  Blessings for dollars, the more zeros, the bigger the blessings. Church is becoming a business of bruised souls lectured to by bullies in the cloth of God.

In Rwanda, Paul Kagame’s response to the rise and rise of Churches, stories of abuse, manipulation, deception, violence and rape by the men who led them, was to close them down. It was to require those who stood in the pulpit and felt a calling to bring some qualification to that space. In Kagame’s Rwanda, preachers must be scholars of theology. The requirement that to hold that power requires some kind of qualification makes sense – it is especially crucial given the particular vulnerabilities that come with the Church. It is a place to let down walls, open up, be vulnerable. It is supposed to be a place of safety, of sanctuary, of shelter.  

Too often it is not that.

There is a gospel of violence, a practice in Ghana that may claim secularity but in truth practices Christianity. Be clear, this is not a condemnation of Christianity, or Christians – it is a condemnation and a calling out of violence perpetrated by those in the pulpit, and those who claim a peaceful religion, but practice violence. That violence is too often excused, condoned, explained away and forgiven. It is also – and almost always – gendered. The social media messages sympathizing with Sylvester Ofori are frankly infuriating, and reflective of a society where women’s bodies and lives are devalued, denigrated and discarded. Stop. We really need to just stop.

A man shot his estranged wife. When she fell to the ground, he stood over her bleeding body and shot her in the head multiple times. Then he simply turned his back and walked away as if nothing had happened. That is what witnesses are reported to have said in affadavits, according to some media reports.

The calculated, cruelty of such violence should give a nation pause. Where are organizations like The Christian Council flocking to condemn a Ghanaian pastor, who mutilated his power, molested his estranged wife, killed her? She too is a child of God. Where is the collective organized religion’s condemnation, public statement against such violence by a pastor? Their silence is – often – deafening when it comes to violence against women.

They too are part of this gospel of violence.

They are not alone. We hold power too, and are responsible. We – men and women – who excuse men who are violent, and pressure the women against whom they commit violence to stay, to forgive, to not break up a marriage, to not shame a family. We require women to protect everyone and every structure – family, marriage, Church – before her body, her life and her future. And even when she declares she is done,and she leaves, too often she must endure the judgment of a community of Christians for whom her choice to save herself is somehow condemned as selfish. We women learn to perpetrate violence against other women – that violence can be physical, it can be verbal, it can be the judgment, the shaming, the refusal to offer shelter, the isolating – the weaponizing of emotions to punish and push women to fall back in line, to go back. We know this. We have seen this. Some of us have done this. We know that some of the most vociferous defenders of pastors who commit violence are women.

This is a subject we must return to again and again. That is why Emotional Justice in Ghana matters. It does not replace legal justice. It is a framework that identifies and explores how a legacy of untreated trauma shapes how we worship, how we lead, even how we follow and who we follow rooted in our history. The untreated trauma is a violence without accountability, it shapes a masculinity that genders power. It creates a notion that power is about subjugation and exploitation. And it centers a fragile masculinity in ways that are detrimental to a healthy congregation, a thriving nation.

This gospel of violence is not saved by prayers or potions, it does not respond to miracles. It is no respecter of witchcraft.It requires a deeper conversation, one in which we reckon with the violence perpetrated. It is about what we teach boys and girls about what it means to be a man, about what it means to hold power, to love, to lead.

These are hard conversations, the hardest. We must have them. We must hold them in our places of worship in order to discontinue a gospel of violence. Such spaces are not unique to Christianity.

Barbara is gone. Her family now grieves her. They live with the knowledge that this man who watched her walked down the aisle, spoke vows, and made a commitment to honor her, took her life.  Her brother lives with hearing a man threaten his sister’s life – and then carry out that threat.

What does his flock say about their pastor?

One life gone is one too many. Our religion can be can be sanctuary and salvation. It can also be ruinous when it is reckless, remorseless and a sanctuary for violent men with unfettered power.

For too many women, for Barbara, it was devastating and deadly.

What will it take to develop an accountability practice that includes those in our pulpits? How do we end this gospel of violence?



Esther Armah is Executive Director, The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (AEIJ); a global institute providing equity education in the context of Race, Gender, Culture using the visionary ‘Emotional Justice’ framework. AIEJ does this via Projects, Training and Thought Leadership. Website: Email: [email protected] Twitter: @estherarmah


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