Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Church Report - Passport To Heaven Or Hell?

A Touch Of Nokoko

By Kofi Akumanyi

The whole structure of British society is called in question by the growth of poverty and the decay of the fabric in the inner city, the Archbishop of Canter- bury's Commission on urban priority areas says, wrote The Times: "The Commission quotes approvingly one sub- mission to it which said that the exclusion of the poor is pervasive and not incidental". It asks whether the political will exists "to enable those who are at present in poverty and powerlessness to rejoin the life of the nation.

The inner-city crisis is evidence of inequality and polarization in the society. The Commission further states: "Poverty is at the root of powerlessness, poor people in the mercy of fragmented and apparently unresponsive public authorities. They are trapped on housing and environments over which have little control. They lack the means and opportunity, which so many of us take for granted, of making choices in our lives.

Even before the report was due to be publicly released, essential details had been leaked to the press which meticu- lously picked the juiciest bits for the consumption of the public and, of course, politicians. Among the objections of the 400-page critique of the government's handling of urban problems was one pungent counter-blast delivered by a Conservative Member of Parliament calling the document 'marxist theology'.

I have not had the opportunity to read the full text which any serious analyst should before commenting on it. But there is one fact which stands out like a sore finger, particularly, to the powerless poor of this society.The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Verily, verily, I say onto you, that the reports severe exposure of the plight of the poor have many of the signs of the Armeggadon, whose survivors would be the few who would manage to live through the appalling conditions.

How did I come to such an explicit conclusion when I have not read the full report? Well, apart from the fact that the signs are there for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, (there really are only a handful of such gifted people around these days), there appears to be a strong correlation between the theme of urban poor deprivation and the predictions that Jesus Christ made nearly 2,000 years ago.

Do you remember the holy man's preference for rubbing shoulders with the poor and the condemnation of the rich with ill-gotten wealth? Recall to mind the Lord's description of difficulty with which a wealthy man may enter the kingdom of Heaven to passage through the needle's eye. Then consider the Arch- bishop of Canterbury's Commission Report that has, for the first time in the history of the country dispassionately "What? The devil?" assessed the needs of the poor against the backdrop of affluence of a few and under the shadow of his big prelate purple cassock stamped it with an ecclesiastical seal of approval.

Need I stretch this point further? O.K. so you want more evidence of God's un- seen hand in this issue. Being a foreigner who does not like to poke my nose into matters that do not concern me, I went to chat with Bishop Peter Warwick, who incidentally deeply believes in the Virgin Mary and "immaculate conception", the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. As you can imagine, he does not stand the risk of lightning striking his church and vicarage as happened to our dear Bishop of Durham last year.

Yes and the church will fight on the principles of the report for years to come until the poor get a good deal.

The appointment with Bishop Warwick was for 10.00 am but when I knocked on the vestry door he was kneeling in front of the crucifix, apparently in deep communication with God. I cleared my throat softly, and he raised his eyes. He appeared to be sobbing.

"Have you read the papers?", he asked with some distress, frantically waving the morning paper.

"Yes, I have and I don't understand why the Archbishop Commission Report is being savaged like that.. It is almost like a pack of wolves devouring an innocent sheep".

"Thank you very much", he said, "I couldn't have put it any better than that. I myself have spent the whole weekend digesting the report and praying to God to open up the heart of the members of the Government to be more favourably disposed to it but apparently it is not to be".

"God moves in mysterious ways... his wonders to perform", I offered.

"He does, my son, He does, except that having inspired the church of England through Archbishop Runcie one would have thought that the report would be handled with more care to resolve the issue…”

"It is unfortunate. But Bishop, what do you think is the cause for these attacks considering the fact that the basic issue of inner-city deprivation is as obvious as daylight for all to see?" I asked.

"I think", he said looking up into the ceiling as if looking for a divine answer, "I think it's the work of the devil."

"Yes, the D-E-V-I-L. How else can anybody with his head screwed on properly and his heart in the right place describe a document in the interest of the poor as Marxist?"

"Yes, that has made the entire clergy a bit hot under the dog collar hasn't it? But then it's the Prime minister's 'acolytes' who are talking like that. What does she herself say", I asked.

"She has not said anything yet but if previous cases are anything to go by, then what is being said by Conservative MPs are pretty good reflections of government thinking", Bishop Warwick said opening the Bible.

"Has this any parallel in the Bible?"

"I thought you'd never ask. Thank you. You know in Matthew 5: 3-11 the Bible clearly states that the poor and meek shall inherit the Kingdom of God. Well, the Church of England has soberly considered this part of the Beatitude in the light of modern-day development and came to the conclusion that much as we want to get into the Kingdom, the poor could do with a bit of sunshine in their lives 'right here on earth'.

"But Bishop, that's changing the rules of the game."

"The rules changed many many years ago, but the church until now refused to change."

"How bad is it?"

"It is as bad as the 60% drop in the congregation now common in all churches in the country. People now want the Kingdom right here on earth."

"Do you agree?"

"Yes and the church will fight on the principles of the report for years to come until the poor get a good deal. The King- dom of God will be created right here on earth and nowhere else".

As I stood up to leave I felt a slight earth tremor under my feet. Is God agreeing with us or protesting?

talking drums 1985-12-09 educating women for progress