Is It Power Struggle Among the Priests And Political Interference Tearing Apart Our Churches in the Diaspora?


Personal Opinion and Analysis Contributed by Abel

After getting into the COA allegations, next time, I hope Mdrebahri will tell us about what is going on inside the church itself. Since there is no clear link between COA and the church, the source of the problem(allegations) could simply be from within the church.

Hence based on my past experience in the Eritrean Diaspora churches I provide my opinion that could highlight some of the lingering problems in the churches. I summarize my current and past opinion in two parts. The first part has already been published at the Mdrebhari website.

Here is Part two.

There seems clear power struggle in the church and is similar to what happened in Seattle about a couple of years ago. A Group of people who said they sympathize with justice seekers and happened to have a majority in the administration of the church blackmailed the priest and throw him out of the church. Then they changed the lock and told the priest not to be seen around the church. Now they have all the resources of the church, appointed their own priests and control the administration. It is a sad story but it is true. I support that churches need to be out of politics but what happened in Seattle is the reverse. More or less you can say the church in Seattle was out of politics and now it is in politics. As a result it lost almost half of its worshippers. I believe this trend will continue in other places and will lead to the split of the churches involved in such situation.

The sad part of it is people who have the interest of controlling the resources of the churches tend to brand themselves as opposition. That is not good for the opposition either.

From what I have seen in Seattle what triggered the takeover of the church was job opportunity in the church (to hire relatives to serve as priests), financial greed and need to elevate your status in the society by controlling religions institutions. The majority of the people need to know those issues and devise a strategy to overcome them before they become other long lasting problems. Having said that it is important to understand the actors of such unholy activity in a holly place. The players are divided into three major groups. These are some business people who cater their services to the Eritrean community, recently immigrated priests and Deacons, and other people, often are members of opposition groups.

Business people

This group has very strong interest in controlling the church and ultimately the daily life of the worshipers. For this group of people the church is the major platform for visibility and prospecting business. This group of people could be a force for good but when it suspects things might be going against its business interests it could be very destructive. It tends to play a major insider role in appointing priests and church board members. In most cases its activities are not visible because it does not want to offend any of the groups in the church who could be potential business customers. Hence the destructive work is always shrouded in secrecy and done from behind. Recent immigrant (priests and Deacons) Currently we see more priests and Deacons immigrating from Eritrea than before. Up on arrival in the host county this group is highly dependent on the Eritrean Diasporas community churches. However since the number of churches in the Diaspora is limited, up on arrival in the host country, the group is known to create chaos and confusion in the churches as a means to get access and potentially employed in the Diaspora churches. This category also includes recent immigrants who experienced conflict and division with fellow Eritreans when they were in refugee camps in Ethiopia.

The refugee camps in Ethiopia are a place where Eritreans learn regionalism and it is done on purpose. Hence this group learned enough how to hate its fellow Eritreans and its tolerance level is very low. Thus when the opportunity for conflict arises it tends to be aggressive and very eager to take control at any cost. This group is often known to be member of an opposition group. Others who support the two groups above.

The other category includes people who has been living in the west for so many years and did not get the chance to reconcile with the current government in Eritrea or who were members of the current government and left the county in the recent years. This group witnessed and participated in the splitting wave of Eritrean churches in the Diaspora a decade ago. Because this group cannot visit Eritrea, it is always angry and tends to vent its anger on any one who it thinks has connection with or supports the government in Eritrea.

This group is includes members of opposition groups and participates in the unholy activity to make sure that its economic or political benefits are addressed. Often it plays as a messenger of group 1.

Here are some suggestions to protect the churches from takeover by unholy groups

1. The roles and responsibilities of church Board members, Deacons and priests in the church need to be spelled out clearly;

2. The hiring and firing of priests and Deacons need to follow regular human resource procedures;

3. Finances of the church needs to be managed by professional people. Since this a bone of contention between the different groups it needs to be managed by independent party;

4. Boards members need to come from diverse groups and family members or people who hail from the same region should not be allowed to serve in the same board;

5. Diaspora churches need to be under the Eritrean Orthodox Church based in Eritrea. However they need to scale down their participation in politics. Since they are serving all Eritreans, regardless of their political orientation, churches political activities could be destructive. However churches could still be active in solving social problems in Eritrea. Supporting martyred families, the poor, the elderly and orphanages are some of them.