When the founder of Lighthouse Chapel International, Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, received a letter from Ghana’s two influential Christian organisations, his office gave a swift reply.
The two organisations, the Christian Council and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), felt something had to be done about a crisis involving Lighthouse Chapel International and six of its former bishops and pastors who had sued the church.
When the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, a 52-year-old institution, and the 92-year-old Christian Council wrote the letter to Dag Heward-Mills, the aim was to find a godly solution to the problem. They jointly wrote to Bishop Dag Heward-Mills on October 22, 2021.
“The Council needs your express consent to proceed with the mediation of the matter at stake and your commitment to the resolution of the mediation,” the CCG General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Cyril G.K Fayose, wrote.
But the writers received a reply, dated the same day and signed by Bishop Kwasi Ampofo from the Office of Bishop Dag Heward-Mills.
The Lighthouse Chapel did not say “yes”, and it did not say “no”. The reply said the position of the church on the mediation offer was “self-explanatory” if the GPCC and Christian Council read a petition it had attached to the reply.
The petition was a complaint the church had filed at the General Legal Council, a body that is also charged with disciplining lawyers. The church had asked the General Legal Council to investigate Kofi Bentil, who is the lawyer for the six former pastors and bishops.
In the said petition, Lighthouse Chapel International claimed Kofi Bentil is “the greatest obstacle” to peace talks. It claimed he had been unprofessional in representing the former ministers of Lighthouse. In one of several petitions against Bentil, the church wants the lawyer punished because, according to them, he should not have agreed to represent the aggrieved pastors because they have a bad case.
Who has been the obstacle to peace?
When the hearing of the suits against the church began in April 2021, the judge, Justice Frank Aboadwe Rockson, urged the parties on August 6, 2021, to seek an out-of-court settlement. But he was in for a surprise.
Standing before him, Kofi Bentil seized the opportunity to explain his commitment to mediation.
“My, Lord, we were approached by some eminent bishops….and out of respect for the bishops, we submitted ourselves to almost a month of settlement talks. We explained everything and confirmed to them that we were amendable to out-of-court settlements if the church was so minded,” he said.
Kofi Bentil was referring to a mediation led by the founder of Jesus Generation Ministries, Rt. Rev. Nana Anyani Boadum. According to the mediator, talks broke down after the Lighthouse said there could be no talks if the pastors did not withdraw the case unconditionally.
“My Lord, we are still open to settlement if the other party would come with respect,” Bentil told the judge.
Some four months after that mediation efforts broke down, the judge repeated his call for a peaceful solution. This was why, once again, Kofi Bentil said he wrote to GPCC and the CCG on September 23, 2021, asking the two ecumenical groups to step in.
His letter said, “We are willing to sit with them without pre-condition to discuss our issues and accept what the mediation committee concludes according to the merits of our case.”
But Lighthouse was unhappy about Kofi Bentil’s letter to GPCC and CCG and wrote to the General Legal Council complaining that it was “completely unacceptable” for Mr. Bentil to copy the trial judge in the letter he wrote to the two ecumenical bodies.
The church complained that Bentil’s letter contained “unwarranted attacks” on the church. “It paints our client black” before the CCG and GPCC, the lawyers for Lighthouse wrote to the GLC.
The church was also unhappy that it was not copied in the mediation invitation to the two Christian bodies. It said the letter was “an epitome of mischief” meant to cast the former pastors as “angels” and “blameless”.
This is not the only grievance the church has against Kofi Bentil. Since the case began, the church has filed several complaints at the General Legal Council against the lawyer.
While the church has made its displeasure at Kofi Bentil’s way toward a peaceful settlement, it has also taken its own initiative at this settlement.
That effort was made in October 2021, when emissaries of the church wrote to the six former pastors, requesting a meeting. The emissaries did not want any lawyer present at the meeting.
The trial judge, Frank Aboadwe Rockson, had once mentioned in court that in his experience, the chances of settlement improve significantly when the parties do not involve lawyers. Kofi Bentil did not participate in that meeting. Neither did the lawyers for Lighthouse.
On October 5, 2021, the meeting between the aggrieved former pastors and Lighthouse took place at Mensvic Hotel in Accra. It was attended by five high-ranking officials of Lighthouse: Archbishop Kwasi Ampofo, Bishop Kakra Baiden, Bishop Albert Toss Mills-Odoi, Bishop Hamish Oddoye, and Bishop Ato Wilson.
“Everybody, put your guns down,” the LCI lead negotiator began the meeting with an icebreaker that got all of them laughing. After sharing Bible verses about peace, the LCI negotiation team explained their terms of a settlement.
“Whatever legal case, drop it,” the LCI bishops said repeatedly during the four-hour meeting. The team explained that the former pastors were not the only ones aggrieved. Lighthouse Chapel was, too, was. They said the church had plans to file criminal complaints against all the former pastors. But if the six former bishops and pastors were to take the case out of court, the church would also lay down its complaints.
“Drop everything. No claims. We also drop everything, wipe the slate. No claims. Then we move on with our lives. When I see Larry, I say ‘Oh Larry how are you doing?’” one of the Lighthouse bishops said.
The pastors said they found the demands unreasonably disappointing because there was no attempt to deal with the substantive issues that brought about the legal tussle.
The former pastors said they were willing to withdraw if the church could commit to the terms of a successful mediation. But the LCI bishops rejected the terms completely. They wanted a withdrawal of the suit but made no attempt to discuss mediation.
This position of the church has been the same since the case began in April 2021. It was this same position that led to the termination of the first effort at mediation, led by Rt. Rev. Nana Anyani Boadum.
The second effort at an amicable settlement, held without lawyers and spearheaded by LCI, also broke down again.
The GPCC and CCG joint offer for another attempt at peace is the third mediation effort since the case first began.
But Lighthouse forwarded its complaints against Bentil to the two Christian bodies and said the contents were “self-explanatory.”
The Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council and the Christian Council also jointly forwarded the church’s response to Kofi Bentil, signaling that it was unable to mediate since the Lighthouse had not given any express consent.
According to the pastors, nothing has happened since LCI wrote back to the ecumenical bodies. They say the Lighthouse response suggests that a Christian Council-led mediation is not likely to happen.
A third mediation effort has broken down – again.