A national cathedral is generally a religious edifice which is usually situated in a city where bishops [p]reside and where they celebrate liturgies on festive occasions sometimes in an omni-doctrinal and multi-jurisdictional manner by John Meyendorff in Eastern Orthodoxy Christianity.
The National Cathedral of Ghana is an elaborate five thousand-seater auditorium which was borne out of a pledge, Nana Akufo-Addo claimed to have made to God before winning the 2016 presidential elections. The earlier over $100 million stated cost of the cathedral is now estimated to be around, $200 million as recently disclosed by Mr Victor Kusi Boabeng, Secretary to the Board of Trustees.
The Ghanaian-British architect – Sir David Adjaye – designed interdenominational Christian national cathedral is also expected to bequeath to the country a gracious national park for all Ghanaians, bring new skills, technology and jobs to the country and act as a beacon to national, regional and international tourists.
According to Ken Ofori-Atta, the Minister of Finance, this project is to be commissioned on 6th March, 2024 according to www.myjoyonline.com. What is intriguing has been the rather mixed reactions from Ghanaians to the unveiling of the cathedral’s design by the President of the Republic, since March 2018. This is composed of a section of the Ghanaian public cheering on the project on the one hand countered on the other hand only by the usual cacophony of criticisms from ardent critics of the government and the political system who believe the whole project is a misplaced priority and a blatant neglect of the social challenges and the huge infrastructural deficit bedeviling the country among other things.
After a little over a couple of years of monitoring the discourse dispassionately, I am by this piece registering my [own] opinion on the debate. I begin by stating that social amenities are not just important but necessary to nation building; however, I also believe that the construction of a cathedral in honour of God in a religious country like Ghana is not misplaced. In fact, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s 2010 Census—Christianity [the largest religion] and Islam [which already has a national mosque sponsored by the Turkish government] constitute 71.2% and 17.6% of Ghana’s population respectively [see www.statsghana.gov.gh].
The foremost and pretty doleful truth is that the funds [state money] are far better spent on a national monument like the cathedral than the usual wanton dissipation, misappropriation or embezzlement of state resources for personal aggrandizement and satisfaction by a few political actors and public servants at the expense of the suffering masses— a phenomenon [pervasive corruption], which has regrettably characterized our political and economic landscape since independence. It is worth noting that, this is, but a single cathedral, perhaps for a very long time, if not forever. Put differently, whether a national cathedral is constructed or not, our meagre state resources are continuously abused and misapplied or wasted by the managers of the economy [not limited to any regime].
Of course, we must however strive to increase the frequency of building schools, hospitals, factories and provide social safety net for the needy, poor and vulnerable. Nonetheless, the essence of building a cathedral [spiritual symbolism and value] and the construction of social infrastructure are not mutually exclusive: the former is of a spiritual symbolism and value whilst the latter is of critical social significance. Hence, the construction of a cathedral is not and cannot be made a substitute for delivering social projects and interventions.
Thus, in my opinion, our focus ought to be on the accountability and transparency of the funds raised and their use. Intrinsic within this, should be our unflinching demand of accountability from the managers whilst concurrently ensuring a value-for-money analysis. For, with due diligence, the building of one cathedral will not become the sudden and sole cause of our lingering retardation of developmental progress and huge developmental deficits. After all, many economically-advanced countries had cathedrals way before their economic prosperity, and Ghana is no different in this context [from Europe, Oceania to the Americas].
In addition, [I stand to be corrected on this score], I understand that the cathedral is not being funded by public funds, contrary to the general perception out there. For this reason, a committee of the clergy and a select few eminent citizens have been mandated to [among other things] solicit privately for funding, including spearheading a fund-raising campaign for a voluntary contribution by benevolent individuals, citizens and expatriates, but certainly not an imposition [on anyone]. In that vein, the building of our national cathedral will be from privately-generated funds as opposed to one funded from government coffers. Government is only providing leadership to facilitate the project.
Despite the above points, I do have a few challenges, and they are in three-fold. The first borders on the fixation on a particular location for the establishment of the cathedral even to the costly demolishing of historic tenements for judges against the backdrop that there is vast expanse of uninhabited lands across the sixteen regions of the country.
Secondly and more astonishingly [though on a lighter and relative magnitude], is the importation of sacred stones [pebbles] from Israel. For one thing, such a decision seems to refute faith in the universality and omnipresence of God in whose name and honour the cathedral is being built. In fact, as far as I am concerned, this is counter-biblical. This point is copiously captured in 2 Kings 5:17: “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD”.
In context, Naaman, thought that the God of Israel can only be potent, present and even be worshipped on and only on an Israeli or Jewish soil —thereby limiting the power and authority of God to a limited jurisdiction. However, I want to quickly admit that, this is a matter of the relativity in the measure of faith we all have in JAHWEH. Consequently, I do not intend to claim that my view on this score is right and others’ is wrong—perhaps they were animated by a different perspective to which I am not privy. Even if not so, they can still be pardoned because of the biblical injunction imposed on us in Romans 12:3: “…to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath given to every man a measure of faith”.
Finally, it is difficult to contend with those raising the motive or intent argument [mens rea]. It is simply impossible to fathom the true motive and intent of a person and for that matter, the president who midwifed this great and elaborate project. To this effect, it is expedient to give him the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. For this cause, even if our leaders have an abusive religious cause, I will prefer such a danger to seeing them advocating and fronting for a perverse circular cause like same-sex marriage or the legalisation of homosexuality in Ghana under the guise of human rights—the current world order is no better than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
In sum, a Cathedral is not a blood-sucking project, neither is it coming to dissipate state resources at the expense of governmental social obligations. The monetary contribution or donation to the project by citizens is voluntary not mandatory. But if citizens have a preference of donating to the poor, orphaned and widowed—the godly and spiritual purpose is sufficiently served and adequately so. But as for me and my house, we pray for grace to do both and even more.
The point is, even as we build these social infrastructures—schools, hospitals, roads and so on— we “can still lick our fingers”, celebrate birthdays, organise picnics, our-days [Oswald’s letter, in mind], St Valentine’s Day soirées, etc and still build the cathedral.
Again, as hinted earlier, our leaders, since independence, have been wasting state resources on frivolous and extravagant personal pleasures long before and perhaps will continue to do so even after this cathedral brouhaha. At least, for once, let them waste an infinitesimal fraction of these resources on a national cathedral.
It is instructive in Matthew 26:11, where our Lord Jesus, the Christ, said: “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” Thus, to me, this monument is a lifetime opportunity for both spiritual and religious-cultural estimation. That notwithstanding, the ardent advocacy for social infrastructure and safety net for the dregs in society should continue and perhaps be intensified, even after our rather interesting cathedral epiphany.
I also wish that a healthy discourse is encouraged on the topic with the belief that perhaps, other beneficial use may emerge in addition to the obvious and [the recent] economic one —which was disclosed by the Executive Director of the National Cathedral Secretariat, Dr Paul Opoku-Mensah, in an interview with Accra-based Citi FM on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, describing the facilities to be built within the National Cathedral as “income generators” which is expected to generate about $83 million within three to five years of its completion and this can be verified at www.citinewsroom.com.
Shalom and may God bless our homeland Ghana 🇬🇭.
This is my opinion on the subject matter and I am entitled to same, regardless.
About the Author: [Rev. Green Kwame Lawrence, MIoD] is a Pan-Africanist, Labour Unionist, Public and Civil Activist/Servant, Member of the Institute of Directors-Ghana and Minister of the Gospel—A Student of Truth, Justice and Love.