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The possibility of separating politics from religion

E. Ablorh-Odjidja

March 12, 2015


The Overseer and General Manager of High Praise Tabernacle Church, Rev. Dr. Adjei Mensah, has disparaged Rev. Prof Matey, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, for mixing politics with religion.


This raises a question about religion and politics in general. Can the two be kept separate in Ghana and who among these two religious leaders knows the difference?


Rev Dr. Mensah criticized Rev. Prof Martey on a radio talk show in the following manner:


"The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana is ...more of a politician than a man of God," he said.


Dr. Mensah's accusation was in response to what the Moderator was purported to have said in a sermon " that some politicians were deliberately stoking a nonexistent Christian-Muslim war to divert attention from the worsening power crisis"


Dr. Mensah continued, “If Rev Martey believes he is a righteous man he can enter his closet and pray a faith prayer which will change the course of Ghana, but attacking the president, insulting [him] every time is not fair."


Not preaching from "his closet," therefore not a "righteous man"? Well, how about the view that Dr. Mensah's response was not made from the " closet" either, but rather from the national airwaves?


The answer perfectly sums up my view of Dr. Mensah.

 
I take umbrage at the implied insult of not being a "righteous man." It is not polite. And worse, it betrays a rancor that is more partisan than churchly; same accusation he leveled at Rev. Martey.

 

As an academic, Dr. Mensah could have raised the issue on theological grounds, in a letter to the Christian Council or the Presbyterian Church.  Perhaps, he did. But I doubt because if he did, he wouldn't suddenly have gone public with the issue.


Furthermore, his challenge for Rev. Martey to fix the broken down Presbyterian schools omitted the fact that it was government's interference that reduced mission's schools to the present condition.  Would Dr. Mensah raise this issue on his own with the government?


The Presbyterian Mission Schools that Dr. Martey represents has a legendary history dating back to early or mid 19th century. Should we assume that High Praise Tabernacle Church has the same history?


Still, some civility is required here, certainly among pastors, since insults have become the common dialect among our politicians. For this to become the blatant style among our pastors means there is trouble ahead for whole nation.


But back to the main theme.  Does Dumsor deserve a theological comment from a pulpit? Obviously, because of its manifestation of the spiritual stress it puts on people, it does. A refutation of the false alarm on Christian/Muslim  conflict is also evidently a theological necessity.  Raising a specter of Christian/muslin conflict just to quell the crisis of Dumsor is not only stupid. It is dangerous and explosive.


One cannot keep religion out of politics these days, anymore than one can prevent his or her lungs from breathing in the air around. Otherwise, only bootlickers and fake faith-healers would mount the pulpit.

 

God's work on earth must be done at our level,  before the deserving get to heaven.  And no pastor is exempted.


Still, nothing must prevent Dr. Mensah from making his observations on Dr. Martey known to the Christian community. But he is yet to explain rationally why this Moderator, in the face of a national disaster like Dumsor, should remain silent on the subject.


The government already knows that Dumsor is a disaster. All of us, including the Moderator, have civic obligations to criticize and push  for solution to this nightmare. But, apparently, Dr. Mensah would rather have Rev. Martey remain silent because as a pastor, he should have no role in politics.


Would Dr. Mensah know that keeping an opponent silent in this manner is the job of politicians and political parties? Well, he has already done the job, run interception for the government.


Somewhere in life, politics and religion do collide. The sacred cannot stay out of commenting on the failings of the secular.  Governance attracts amoral pursuits like corruption.  Do the Overseer and his church have concerns about these?
 

The edict "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" would have sufficed had government not taken over so many areas of our lives in the modern age.

 

Caesar has  transformed himself into a god. Therefore the religious need not be reticent about all secular matters.


Rev. Martey spoke because he was dissatisfied with the government's inability to ameliorate the suffering of Ghanaians brought about by Dumsor.  His sermon was not an interference of governance, the process by which the affairs of a country is managed.

 

Dumsor has taken too long to fix and it is causing havoc in Ghanaian lives; deaths, serious set back in the economy, holding back future prospects for the youth and corruption of hope for the living are some of the consequences. So, if by this time a true religious leader is not moved by the immorality underlying these sufferings, then he or she ought not to be deemed righteous. This leader could continue to stand in the pulpit and watch the flock dance to the front of the pew to drop their offerings!


Has Dr. Mensah so far said anything publicly about Dumsor?


The notion that religious leaders ought to respond to the societal as well as spiritual needs of a people is not restrictive to a particular faith because the act refers to the underlying goodness that most religions embrace. It is this goodness that some theologians through sermons seek to impact on governance.

 

I grew up knowing some pastors of the Presbyterian Church who were outspoken on social issues. This practice is historical and universal - dating back from the days of the Prophet Jeremiah to those of our ancestors of the indigenous religion.


As a protestant church, the Presbyterian Church had a beginning that spoke against political power. The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, and the resulting Reformation movement, had theological concerns at its core but many of them were also political.

 

There are copious examples in recent age of church leaders taking on civil society - Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II for example.


Perhaps, Dumsor affects the flock at High Praise Tabernacle Church in the same manner as it does the rest of us.  But its Overseer and General manager prefers to be silent on the matter.


E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher, www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, March 12, 2015
Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to publisher@ghanadot.com . Or don't publish at all.

 

 

 

 

 

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