A witness for Lighthouse Chapel International, Bishop Marcel Aboagye, has told an Accra High Court that the Bishops Governing Handbook of the church is not a binding document.
Bishop Marcel Aboagye, who is also the crusade director of the church, made the revelation under cross-examination as the witness for Lighthouse Chapel International in a defamation suit.
The Lighthouse Church International sued Manasseh Azure Awuni and Edwin Appiah of The Fourth Estate, as well as The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its Executive Director, Sulemana Braimah, for defamation.
The suit followed a series of publications by The Fourth Estate detailing allegations of abuses six former pastors of Lighthouse said they suffered while they served in the church.
One major contention of the six pastors, who have sued the church, is that the church failed to pay their mandatory pension contributions while they worked for the church both in Ghana and abroad.
While some of them say the church paid part of their contributions, others say the church did not pay their pension contributions the entire period they worked.
The church has maintained that those whose contributions were not paid at all were volunteers and not employees.
It also argues that the Lighthouse Chapel Ghana is a different entity from the other Lighthouse churches abroad, where some of the pastors served and expected their pensions to be paid by the Ghana Church.
According to the church, “the Lighthouse Chapel International Ghana is legally, financially, administratively and governmentally independent organisation from other LCI Ministries outside the borders of Ghana and only shares a spiritual relationship with the others.”
In a letter the church wrote to one of the former pastors, Bishop Larry Odonkor, in September 2020 when he first demanded payment of his pension contribution, the church reminded him about the Bishops Governing Handbook. In a letter signed by the Human Resource Director of Lighthouse Chapel, Rebecca Addae, the church said:
“Mr. Larry Odonkor, then a Bishop, was aware that as per the governing policy in the Bishops handbook, every Bishop was responsible for paying his own SSNIT under the specific denomination he belonged to.”
Under cross-examination on Tuesday, lawyer Samson Lardy Anyenini asked the witness for Lighthouse Chapel about the relationship between the church, which is headquartered in Ghana and the other Lighthouse churches across the world. He cited the LCI’s Bishops Governing Handbook, which is given to all Lighthouse bishops across the world. Below is an excerpt from the cross-examination:
Q: You have in this court referred to the Bishops Governing Handbook, not so?
A: Yes, my Lord. It’s part of the defendants’ exhibits.
Q: In fact, that is part of the defendant’s proposed Exhibit 6 Series with the said book on the pen drive, not so?
A: My Lord, what is exhibited is what is on the pendrive. The entire book is not on a pendrive. And I had concern to mention that the defendant’s mischievously omitted the date of publication of the book. When the book was published at least three of these pastors that the defendants are using the book to make a case for were not with the plaintiff. My Lord, the book was published in 2019.
Q: This book governs the operations of the plaintiff and all churches under it abroad, not so?
A: My Lord, that is not so.
Q: This book is given to all plaintiff churches worldwide and contains the administrative, Human Resources and other policies binding how they’re run, not so?
A: My Lord, that is not so. The founder of the church [Bishop Dag Heward Mills] has written many books which guide the churches. They’re not legal documents. This book is no different.
Q: On page 19 of this book, all churches under the plaintiff, home and abroad, contribute 12.5% of their income for [Continuing] World Missions to the plaintiff, not so?
(The lawyer for Lighthouse objects to the question. His main contention is that his client is not made to see the specific page. Lawyer Anyenini says he would rephrase the question.)
Q: In this book, all churches under the plaintiff, home and abroad, contribute 12.5% of their income for World Missions to the plaintiff, not so?
A: My Lord, like I said, the book does not bind anybody.
Beyond the Bishops Governing Handbook, the cross-examination also touched on funding for the LCI from churches from abroad.
Q: You have told this court that plaintiff’s relationship with its churches abroad is only spiritual, not so?
A: My Lord, that is so. And I will add that the spiritual relationship also involves social interactions.
Q: And that the church overseen by Bishop Richard Aryee [the Lighthouse International UK] is independent of plaintiff, not so?
A: It is so, my Lord. It is legally independent of plaintiff.
Q: But that church funds activities of the Plaintiff in Ghana and elsewhere, not so?
A: My Lord, the plaintiff is only in Ghana.
Q: My Lord, that’s not an answer.
(Judge intervenes and asks whether the LCI in the UK funds LCI Ghana or not.)
A: My Lord, from time to time. It funds from time to time. They make donations. The plaintiff is only in Ghana.
The case was adjourned to October 16, 2023, for a continuation of the cross-examination of Bishop Marcel Aboagye.
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