The National Cathedral debate must not divide us
The tumult created by Government's decision to pull down structures including the residences of judges, the Passport Office and the Scholarship Secretariat and in their place erect a national cathedral doesn't appear to be abating anytime soon.
What worries me, however, is the calamitous form this debate is assuming by the rather unfortunate effort to deliberately pitch Christians against Muslims.
People we expect to know better now claim Christianity is under attack in Ghana. Some even go as far as to suggest that the State has prioritized the concerns of our Muslim brothers and sisters to the detriment of Christians. They list the State's support for some Hajj pilgrims, Muslim holidays and the Kawukudi Mosque being constructed by a Turkish NGO to make their case. By the way; those who present these charges remain silent on our cherished Christian holidays, they ignore the commendable role of the State in offering land for the establishment of churches many years ago and they conveniently fail to recall how former British High Commissioner to Ghana Jon Benjamin criticized the Ghanaian State for granting Diplomatic Passports to many Reverend Ministers which he thought constituted an abuse of the privilege.
Those engaged in this reckless incitement ought to be called to order. They should be told to stop playing with fire if not an inferno.
We have done pretty well as a country over the years to build a united cohesive State despite our religious diversity much to the admiration of the international community and we cannot afford to let ourselves down seeing the beautiful gains we have made.
Christians and Muslims have co-existed peacefully to the extent that unlike elsewhere, intermarriages and having members of the same nuclear family subscribing to these two religions are now common.
We all know the consequences of a religious conflagration as has been seen in other jurisdictions where thousands and millions have lost their lives leaving in its wake unspeakable horror and untold destruction.
This is not a matter to joke about. It is easy to destroy than to build. Easy to fragment than to construct a cohesive State. Divide and rule tactics have only given those who pursue it momentary relief but in the final analysis like uncontrollable bush fire, it consumes everybody including those who set it off. It is the reason responsible leaders who love their nations shun this rather retrogressive modus operandi.
How is it that those who claim to be defending Christianity by engaging in this unacceptable incitement do not reflect Christ's sermon on the mount when He said in Matthew 5:7; "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God."
Paul re-echoed this to the Christians in Rome when he admonished; "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." (Romans 12:18)
Instructively, we are told in John 3:17; "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
The national cathedral debate has at all material times been about whether we should be demolishing official accommodation for judges who are already reeling under poor conditions of service, whether we should pull down the Passport Office and the Scholarship Secretariat and whether we could not have spared scarce national resources by avoiding a reconstruction of these facilities we are about to tear down and identifying unencumbered land to put up a national cathedral if we so desire. I am not aware that anybody has said Christians don't deserve a national cathedral or don't deserve a national cathedral at a prime location for that matter.
In any case, don't we see large tracts of prime land belonging to the State being sold to real estate developers every passing day much to the chagrin of Ga and La Chiefs who continue to agitate that if the State no longer has use for the original purpose for which their land was acquired then it should be returned to them within the remit of Article 20 of the Constitution of Ghana?
Do we need to be reminded of the infamous list revealing how some top politicians and their associates were allocated plots of land in the choicest parts of Accra in the not too distant past?
Some time ago, Dr. Omane Boamah and I were engaged in a protracted legal battle to prevent a former Chief of Staff and former Minister from buying over an acre of prime land on which stood a newly renovated Government bungalow. Ironically, the proposed national cathedral is to be sited not far from this address. We lost that battle and in the process the State lost that premium property. That notwithstanding, I still do not believe that it is right for those of us who get into the Executive ostensibly to protect national assets and State resources to turn round and appropriate same to ourselves.
The fundamental question to ask, therefore, is that if those at the helm of affairs can allocate unencumbered land to real estate developers, to themselves and to their associates, why should the Lord's cathedral deserve less? Why should we embroil, entangle or ensnare the Lord's cathedral in this needless controversy?
What happened to the timeless Christian doctrine of giving the Lord the best sacrifice/offering since the beginning of mankind when God rejected Cain's sacrifice in Genesis 4:4-5 to God's further elucidation in Malachi 1:6-8. Are we certain in our heart of hearts that the Lord will be pleased with this controversial cathedral sacrifice?
That said, when one considers the social media posts of some of the over one thousand Presidential Staffers and pronouncements of other Government officials, I am beginning to wonder if this needless controversy was not deliberately and irresponsibly created by some NPP politicians in order to create the impression that they are the vanguards of Christianity and hopefully rake in the majority Christian votes in election 2020. It is sad that some politicians think of only the next election and not the enduring foundations of our national construct.
Nevertheless, the politicians engaged in this plot must really be underestimating the God-given intelligence and doctrinal soundness of the Ghanaian Christian no matter our human failings.
Then there is the Deputy Minister of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, Mr. Paul Essien who argues that putting up this Cathedral in the way Government is going about it will bring our nation blessings. See: https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2018/august-30th/enemies-wont-win-govt-not-backing-out-of-cathedral-plans-dep-minister.php
Clearly, the Deputy Minister has not averted his mind to I Kings 6:11-13 where King Solomon after spending 7 years to build what the Bible records as a most imposing and magnificent temple made of gold - "Then the word of the Lord came to Solomon, saying: Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.”
It is as clear as daylight that God will not merely bless our nation just because we constructed a cathedral. The Lord looks more at our conduct and our obedience to his commandments.
The Deputy Minister and the many Government spokespersons speaking like that are failing to recognize that our hearts and our deeds are what the Lord looks at and indeed what matters to Him. The Bible says in Proverbs 14:34 that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people." Note that it isn't the existence of cathedrals that exalts a nation.
We must also to be minded of Proverbs 29:2 which cautions that: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
As students of theology, we cannot forget that when God decided to destroy Sodom due to their abominable acts as vividly described in Genesis 18, he asked for righteous persons to step forward to spare the destruction of the city - initially demanding 50 righteous people after which Abraham strenuously negotiated down to 10 righteous people.
Note here too that God searched for righteous persons to spare Sodom from destruction NOT the cathedrals citizens of Sodom had constructed.
As we very well know, the only time Jesus Christ picked up the whip was right in the temple when the House of God had been turned into a business venture as John 2:14-17 recounts. The lesson here again is that you can have a temple or a cathedral and not use it in ways that pleases the Lord. Perhaps it's time for those Government spokespersons claiming we need this cathedral for moneymaking ventures such as an event centre to host 5,000 people and that additionally we stand to benefit economically as a nation through tourism and other forms of entrepreneurship to start rethinking their stance. We are either putting up a sacred cathedral to worship and honour the Lord to attract His blessings if we are found worthy by His mercies or we are seeking to engage in a purely commercial enterprise. Government must come clean on its true intentions.
Finally, as we set out to construct this national cathedral if we feel strongly about it, and by the way, I must assert that the architectural design by the internationally acclaimed Sir David Ajaye - that proud son of Ghana is most impressive. However, as New Testament Christians and national leaders, let us not be oblivious of Paul the Apostle's revelation to the Corinthians that it is our bodies that are the temples of the Holy Spirit which we must use to honour the Lord. And honouring the Lord cannot be without striving to defeat the temptations of the flesh which amongst others lead to bad governance. We cannot also afford to renege on our fundamental calling in Matthew 25:34-36 which reads, "Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Without a scintilla of doubt, this exhortation forms the cardinal principles of Good Governance where the people's needs are not neglected and priorities not misplaced.
May this national cathedral debate rather bring us together to live in peace with all and to increase our faith in the Lord.
Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
MP, North Tongu