By Tom FredFish
During the summer of 1787, America held a Constitutional Convention from May 14 to September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia. The highpoint of the event was how America was to be governed. There was a deadlock. For five weeks there had been a debate and a division concerning how each state should be represented. Many delegates believed that the federal government should be able to overrule state laws, but others feared that a strong federal government would oppress their citizens.
The debate lingered: “Should larger states with larger populations have more votes, or should each state have one vote, regardless of their size? Tempers flared and the division grew wider as each side strongly defended its position. Then one day, Benjamin Franklin addressed President Washington:
“Mr. President groping as it were in the dark to find political truth…sic and scarce ability to distinguish it when presented to us, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth “that God governs in the affairs of men.” And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build, they labor in vain that build it.”
That address by Benjamin Franklin was all the Americans needed to hand the country in it’s entirety to God till date.
Political rhetoric linked the United States with a divine power which emerged on a large scale with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 to 1865. During the period, the war defiled all entreaties for peace. No solution to its end. The Americans were drained. Frustrated by the war, the only solution was to recognize God in their affairs. Thus, a Pennsylvania clergyman, M.R. Watkinson encouraged that “In God We Trust” be placed on the American coins so as to “place us openly under the divine protection,” he said.
Putting the phrase on coins was just the beginning. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill placing the phrase; “In God we trust” on all American currency. A sponsor of that legislation, Congressman Charles Bennett, later explained that the sentiments which inspired the Sovereignty of God amendment during the Civil War, was that the U.S. “was founded in a spiritual atmosphere and with a firm trust in God.”
The next year, “In God We Trust” was adopted as the first official motto of the United States replacing the unofficial Latin motto “E pluribus unum” which is “Out of Many One.” To underscore the importance of God to the American life, her Congress further mandated that the phrase be printed in capital letters on all domination of U.S. paper currency (US Treasury Department). Besides the inscription of the phrase in the US currency, the U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War also wore helmet with “In God We Trust” inscribed on them.
That God rules in the affairs of men is an affirmation that Americans believes in the existence of God and that only God’s imprints can help them in times of difficulties. This way of life has been replicated by various countries, states and individuals in the world.
In Nigeria, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the governor of Akwa Ibom state in the face of criticisms, insists, on building an 8,500 capacity International Christian Centre for God. He told a group of journalist recently that he was led by “divine ordinance to build a central worship centre” because it “was unreasonable for a state named after God (Akwa Abasi Ibom state, meaning God own state) not to have a unique worship centre. Critics have faulted the construction of the architectural masterpiece. They insist that it is a misplaced priority for Mr. Emanuel to spend billions building a worship centre when idling youths roam the streets for jobs.
Irrespective of sentiments in that line, a vast majority of Akwa Ibom people including this writer believes that, Mr. Emmanuel’s position is well justifiable. Leaders are spiritual fathers and a-go-in between God and the people they govern. If Mr. Emmanuel is convinced that the state will achieve greatness if a worship centre is built for God, then let him go ahead and build it. There is no doubt that the success of the United States of America in all facets since 1789 is attributed to acknowledging God and putting him first.
If America with their technical know-how, creativity and advancements would seek God and imbibe a proof of His divinity in their currency, then Akwa Ibom people should trust in their leader if he is convinced that a befiting worship centre would aid God’s blessings on governance. Every faith filled Christian is aware that nobody puts their “trust in God” and achieve failure. Since leaders take decisions based on conviction, and since we have accorded Mr. Emmanuel the thrust of leadership to take decisions on our behalf, Akwa Ibom people should give the governor the benefit of doubt and trust in his judgements.
Mr. Emmanuel did not need to narrate the story of Nehemiah in the bible to show his conviction for the project. There are other existing proofs in Nigeria to show that the Church building will be appreciated by Akwa Ibom people on completion. Ebonyi state is a clear-cut example. The criticisms Mr. Emmanuel is facing is not as formidable as that which his counterpart in Ebonyi state, David Umahi faced when he proposed to build a 10,000 seater Ultra Modern Ecumenical Centre for God in appreciation for the love shown to Ebonyi state (which was 100% financed by Ebonyi unlike Akwa Ibom). The project was highly criticized and condemned.
The people from the Salt State called it “a needless white elephant project.” They questioned why he was wasting the state’s lean resources on ‘religious jamboree’. An aspirant in the 2019 governorship election under the APC, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji, even threatened to revoke the construction of he becomes the next governor. But on completing the worship centre which has one of the best architectural designs in the country, Ebonyi people forgot all the threats and criticisms that trailed the building and embraced the Ecumenical center wholeheartedly. And of course, there have been peace and development afterwards.
The Akwa Ibom International Christian Centre is significant in many ways. Besides serving as an architectural masterpiece that will improve the aesthetics sense and value of the state, it will also serve as convergence for Christians to unite in worship to God. The centre will afford Christians the opportunity to reassert their common identity as members of the City of God and adopt ways of working together in light of that identity. Although different denominations have differing practices and beliefs, worshiping together will remind Christians of the things that unite them and enhance their brotherliness.
There are also economic benefits. Imagine The Redeemed Christian Church of God, The Living Faith Church Worldwide, The Apostolic Church or The Deeper Life Bible Church holding their mid year services and the attendant economic effect the programmes will attract to the state in the area of hospitality, transportation, consumables, and retailing businesses. Imagine also an interdenominal service holding once in a month at the centre or a pastor’s conference of a large Penticostal Church. The benefits are enormous.
Akwa Ibom is a largely Christian state. The people love God. They cannot change that overnight. Established facts have proven that, only God can make transformation possible in the face of overwhelming difficulties and stagnation. It’s our culture to believe in him for every needs of the state.
Come on, let’s line up in our millions behind Emmanuel and keep the established faith unwavering for “In God We Trust.”
Dr. Tom FredFish is a journalist and lecturer at the International Institute of Journalism, Uyo.