By Andrew Boyd. Lion Hudson 2019. 336 pages £12.99
This book is important. I declare an interest since (then) Bishop Ben Kwashi invited me to be a non-residentiary Canon of Jos Diocese following the Lambeth 1998, which at its end he left ‘insulted, wounded and feeling unwanted’ (p. 295).
Michael Binyon, its former chief leader writer, wrote a full length article on the book in the Times of Saturday August 10 : ‘A charismatic and influential figure, he (Archbishop Kwashi) has called on Christians to resist what he sees as virtual genocide by extremists trying to drive all non-Muslims out of northern Nigeria. He has paid a heavy price.’
It is written as an autobiography, in short sentences and a fast moving, easy to read style.
Some will read it because Archbishop Ben is now the General Secretary of GAFCON. He clearly states his view of his role: “Let me be clear. I do not envisage a split with Anglican Church. Not in my time. I think all brothers and sisters who hold on to Scripture will be able to do so within the Anglican Church.” ( p 299).
In appendices he writes letters encouraging the Nigerian Diaspora to evangelise their host cultures but not forget the Nigeria to which their descendants will inevitably return; for Western NGOs to combat corrupt officials siphoning off their funds through directly supporting ‘churches with a proven record of transparency and accountability’; to people in the UK with gratitude for the debt of money and love that Nigeria owes and their youthful missionaries who brought health, education and the gospel, for families to stick together and patiently struggle through relationships; and to the US to set the gospel free from politics.
Others will read it as a follow up to the Truro Report on Religious Persecution with his clarity on how the violent terrorism Christians endure in Nigeria is precisely the result of‘ ’Boko Haram attempting the deliberate cleansing of Christians from Northern Nigeria‘ p 263. Serving the agenda of Boko Haram are the Fulani Herdsmen who have killed six times more people than Boko Haram ( p 274) and who serve the interests of ’the rich and powerful Muslims of the north, and their Islamic allies worldwide, who want to impose radical Islamic law - Sharia.' p 281.
Archbishop Ben joins the ranks of other African leaders: Archbishop David Gitari of Kenya who resisted President Arap Moi’s suppression of the secret ballot, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa who combatted apartheid and Bishop Festo Kivengere and previously Archbishop Janani Luwum who opposed Idi Amin in Uganda.
How has Archbishop Ben recalled events and conversations going back to his earliest childhood? The first 100 pages describe a wild child who went to military school and then enrolled in the army, followed by his persistent courtship of a shy village girl called Gloria. Ben’s story is as much about ‘Mama’ Gloria Kwashi. 36 pages are on their courtship and 6 pages on Lambeth 1988 to GAFCON 2019. Gloria shared in the persecution he endured. Once while Ben was away in London she was raped with a broomhandle and broken bottle and almost blinded. She took orphans into their Bishopscourt home and started a school which now holds four hundred children.
He argues persuasively why, during his seminary training, even given his naturally rebellious nature, he rejected the overtures of James Cone’s Liberation Theology: ‘The gospel has no need of violence’. When installed as Bishop of Jos, he immediately relieved corrupt, disloyal and double-minded staff of their responsibilities on the spot. He admits an almost reckless trust in God to answer prayer, provide for needs and protect from assassins. He calls it confidence in God p.320.
While the chapters are more thematic than chronological, the book would benefit from an index. Its subject will be a fertile field for further analysis and research. For example some note a strong link between African opposition to same sex relationships and their commitment to the importance of male sexuality in repeopling the community which reinforces and is reinforced by the teaching of scripture on sex. Ben’s story is also shot through with a certainty of eternal life in heaven beyond death; has this worldview, prevalent in Africa undermined commitment to seeking justice and wellbeing for people on earth? Archbishop Ben is adamant that Christians are called to rise up and defend the poor and widows and make sure that society is run for the good of everybody ( p.294). But how does he make the case to those with this worldview of their religious culture?
For many reasons, Lambeth 2020 will be the poorer without Ben Kwashi. But they could read his story.