Feature Article of Monday, 8 April 2013
Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi
Jerusalem is in heaven!—I once truly believed.
So strongly, in fact, that when I heard of some group of people returning from Jerusalem alive, I thought to myself; surely, if one wanted to go to heaven without first dying, then Jerusalem was his best bet.
More recently, the matter of visiting the holy land has assumed new national prominence for what some call the wrong reasons. First came the report that Government of Ghana was paying a whopping USD 2M to send some men of God on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem-Heaven to inter alia: pray for his Excellency’s good health and prosperity, cast away the current dumsoric dark spirit afflicting mother Ghana, intercede for the rains to come even as we thirst in the midst of plenty and last but not the least, secure spiritual fortification of the men of God themselves. Quite predictably, all hell broke loose as people questioned the propriety of such an action as a pressing national priority.
In its aftermath, government embarked on a fancy communication dance; clarified that the actual amount involved was USD 600, 000 and that government was only a facilitator and not the actual sponsor (said sponsor still remaining unknown). At a meeting with religious leaders later, his Excellency, apparently feeling frustrated about the a deal gone South, asked the religious leaders themselves to clarify the current state of their interest in order for government to decide whether to proceed or to abort the facilitation effort.
In the aftermath of the public outcry, many pastors and church related groups and Councils have openly rejected the government’s offer and advised government to use the money to address the hydra headed challenges of this nation. More specifically, others have rejected the offer on account of bad timing, uncertainty about the integrity of sponsors (unknown), abundant existing local praying capacity to address Presidential prayer needs and encircling poverty/hardship in greater need of similar donor largesse etc.
This article will not examine the propriety or otherwise of the facilitation effort. It will not question whether given that “the poor will always be with us’, fighting poverty should be a cogent reason why matters of spiritual fortification should not be pursued. It will not delve into ecclesiastical matters of whether God hears our prayers more in Ghana or in heavenly Jerusalem. Rather, it will have the far narrower focus of interrogating whether people always say what they truly believe, whether people including pastors, have the courage of their own convictions and how sincerely we express sometimes minority views rather than allow them to morph conveniently into the popular view in order to gain social acceptance.
Three years ago, I resolved to aspire always to tell the truth to myself and to others. It was not that I was a rabid pathological liar. I had noticed however on a very subtle basis how sometimes, in a group, one could conveniently allow one’s own differing views to morph into the popular apparently more acceptable opinions of others. I would later describe this as ‘mob mentality’. I would listen to some colleagues complain about an organization’s direction on the quiet and in public, not have the courage to express a dissenting opinion. I noticed how on many occasions, privately popular views, will be met with stony silence when those same views erupted in public. For some it would be for fear or for shame to be associated with such a view. A politician may do a good thing but because honoring that success might be perceived as a sign of weakness, we join the mob in condemning all politicians because we fit in better and it earns us the favorite tag of “objective.” I resolved to speak the truth to myself both privately and publicly. A year after this resolution, I was pleasantly surprised when separate conversations I had been having with two friends who were in a conflict with each other, suddenly blew up with one friend, forwarding all the email communication to a fourth party without my knowledge. Because I had worked on the assumption that I must say in private what I could defend in public, it did not end up as a big deal because I stated the exact same things publicly.
I am struggling to trust and accept some of our pastors/churches and the reasons given for rejecting the Jerusalem-Heaven trip. Why? In August 2012, within three weeks of President Mills’s death, when we as a people had forgotten how much we insulted and ridiculed him and were showering him with a massive outpouring of unmatched love, men of God praised President Mills for not being ashamed to identify himself openly with Jesus Christ. Some men of God swore that Mills was already in heaven, in the bosom of the Lord. Others mentioned quite specifically, that President Mills had declared his intention to make budgetary allocations to enable Christians undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem akin to the Moslem mecca. Salivating gleefully, men of God at the time expressed joy at this and when it was reported in the media, it never created the uproar that today’s trip has. People were still poor. We still had deficiencies in our energy requirements. Prayers could still be said for the President at home. Nobody said a word against it. In fact some lauded the initiative, saying they could not wait for it to happen.
Today, because accepting the offer would be akin to what Al Gore calls an “inconvenient” gift and will probably attract public opprobrium, because speaking out against the trip and against government is the more popular position making you sound more objective, more development-oriented and less trivial, I have not heard any man of God say that, yes, I supported it yesterday, but I have changed my mind today. Neither have I heard any man of God say that I supported it yesterday and still do, today. This would have been far nobler than some of today’s utterances.
In conclusion, I have grouped the reactions from the Christian front into three categories; those pastors who heard of this Jerusalem-Heaven for the first time in 2013, felt outraged, and rejected it outright. And then there were those pastors, who might have heard of the trip and rejected it in 2012 and whose positions remain unchanged in 2013. And then there are those pastors who praised the idea of the trip in 2012, and for reasons of political expediency, are pretending to belong to group one. The first two deserve respect. The last does not. Government cannot be absolved of the manner of its handling of the Jerusalem-Heaven trip but certainly, this third category of men of God, need to go for confession! They have not been true to themselves and to the nation!
28th March, 2013