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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Columnist: Austin Brakopowers

The church, politics where should the thin line be?

By Austin Brakopowers

As the December election draws close, Ghanaians argue over the role of the church in politics. Those who believe the church should be walled from politics are growing loud by the day. But which is the right way? Should the church be walled or not?

Religion has been elevated to the great faultline in Ghana’s politics. Suddenly, the ill decisions, corruption, and mismanagement which are the work of the politicians appear forgiven. The church is now the black man's burden.

It is accused of distracting the politician from following through his promises made to the people. We now believe the time is ripe to erect a ceiling to limit the participation of religious leaders in political discourse.

The fire of the debate was stoked by the recent utterance of former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Reverend Professor Emmanuel Martey who alleged he was offered $100,000 bribe and a plush home by a politician whose identity he failed to reveal.

What did he do to deserve this share of the nation’s cake? Well as he said, the politician wanted to buy his silence. The imaginary politician wanted Rev. Martey to focus on things of the church and stop wading into things that are material.

There was little to suggest the trickle from Rev. Martey’s comment will become a flood.

Suddenly, some religious leaders are supporting the politician to have the church walled from things of politics. Though they advance noble ideas to back their suggestion, it is my contention that such an action might be injurious to the society.

A recount of Ghana’s history, even during the dark days, is replete with heroic works of the church. The church guarded the conscience of the society against ‘madmen’ motivated by politics. It stood, fought, held the course of Ghanaians and was a strong advocate in the demand for constitutional democracy.

It has survived many attempts by governments to muzzle it. The attempt by erstwhile Jerry John Rawlings to ban the Jehovah Witness sect, the elimination of Religious and Moral Education (RME) from the nation’s education curriculum by former President Kufuor’s government and plans to tax the church among others have all failed to weaken the church.

And yes, we know the church is not united. A classical example was when President John Dramani Mahama planned to sponsor 200 pastors to a pilgrimage in Israel.

The cracks, which were then imaginary, deepened when some religious leaders argued fiercely against the trip. Others vowed to resist the trip in whichever way possible because they believe state resources were involved.

At the end, politicians saw the divide and have since been deepening it and this could be seen in the way favours are rationed among religious leaders. This has further deepened the cracks that if we are to remove the veil from the faces of religious leaders, the debate over bread and butter issues in the country would be rancorous.

It may take us to the days of the French Revolution where the head-on clash between the church and state was manhandled. The period when assets of the church were confiscated and priests compelled to swear allegiance to the republic else face persecution.

We are not there yet and would not want to get there.

The church is the conscience and holds the moral compass of the society in constant check. It has every right to delve into political issues without sounding political.

And although it has to guard against becoming pedestrian in its articulation of political issues, there’s no way we can relegate it to the backburner when it comes to governance. It continues to provide sage advises to the society.

With the country so on edge regarding the partisan division, Ghana could do with a dose of measured reflection. The church cannot be antagonized at a time such as this more especially considering the role it played in the post-2012 election era.

The church is neither our enemy nor our problem. From generations, Ghana’s problems emanate from only two sources. The citizens and the leaders. If we are interested let us work on upping the patriotism of the citizens and the genuineness of the leaders.