In the matters of religion and politics, I have learned that you can never know much. Majority of Ghanaians are believers. It is estimated that 65% of the population constitute evangelical or nominal Christians. This is followed by Muslims with about 15% and the remaining 20% accounted for by other beliefs.
All political issues that are important eventually affect our individual and collective identity and in the process trigger religious sentiments. To some people, religion is the spiritual economics that feeds the soul and politics is the material economics that feeds the stomach. Much as we would like to separate the two, I have come to the firm conclusion that they cannot be separated. And so long as religion plays a role in the identities of people, it will play a role in politics.
In Ghana, we are not confronted directly with the devastating effects of ideological wars under the cover of religion and politics such as kidnapping, religiously motivated killings and suicide bombings. As members of the global community however, we cannot pretend that these things are not happening.
We have had our own little stresses and strains over issues such as students of other faiths being compelled to observe practices they do not necessarily share by way of faith. True to our nature as peace loving people we have given and taken to resolve such challenges to the admiration of observers.
When the debate over building a National Cathedral came up this week, the nation was sharply divided not about the need for it. The division was about the cost of its proposed location and the timing of it as in value for money and opportunity cost in the face of the massive poverty, destitution and neglect, as well as loss of the moral compass as a people.
While building a cathedral may come across as a religious matter. The politics of it is bigger than religion. The church is a colossal constituency in Ghana.
Considering the fact that a presidential candidate needs 50% plus one (1) vote to win, and the total Christian constituency in Ghana is about 70%, it makes sense for a political party to bend backwards to invest in a project that may be dear to the hearts of such a huge constituency. So it is not a “foolish” decision to the politician who wants to capture the huge Christian constituency.
One of the justifications terror group, Boko Haram has put forth for targeting civilian populations and communities is that they (civilians) collaborate with the Nigerian military to attack them. So, innocent people, with absolutely nothing to do with it, have been caught in the war against terrorism in Nigeria and become victims on account of that.
On September 22, 2013, at the West Hills Mall in Nairobi Kenya, at least 59 people were killed in an attack by Somali militants at the upmarket shopping mall. Among the dead was renowned Ghanaian poet and statesmen Kofi Awoonor. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Somalia’s Al Qaeda-inspired Shabab rebels said the carnage at the part Israeli-owned complex was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia, where African Union troops are battling the Islamists.
Prof. Awoonor was not a Kenyan. He had absolutely nothing to do with that country’s war on terror. He was from far away Ghana, in West Africa. All it took was for him to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And he was gone by reason of extreme politics and religion.
The Church in Ghana has been a very important partner in the nation’s development as pioneers in the delivery of education and health services. It is also delivering a great deal of welfare and emotional relief services to people who would otherwise find themselves in destitution and neglect. But it has its own weaknesses as a human institution which it must seek the face and Grace of God in dealing with.
In the matter of the National Cathedral, the church cannot be political in going for the proposed location to the detriment of the state which the politicians have proven to care less about. The Church must live beyond reproach, show by example what Jesus our Lord and Saviour would do in such a situation. When Jesus said in Mark 12:17 “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” those who heard him were amazed.
I wish the Church would “amaze” us by rejecting the proposed location for another one that is less expensive because five-year old buildings housing state institutions and senior judicial officers would not have to be demolished and new ones built with tax payers’ monies that could be best spent in other sectors of society.
The church can surprise us in building the National Cathedral from its own resources pooled from the various denominations without controversy and when it is done, manage it as a house of worship and prayer in honour of God. This is not the time for the church to be defensive of such material things.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says “You are the light of the world.” And in Ephesians 5:8, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” So both scriptures say Christians are light. Not only that, they both agree that, “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
What is good and right is what we expect from the church in this matter of the National Cathedral!