Monday, August 31, 2009


So many Christians are confused as to whether God endorses particular rulers or systems of government. Whatever views one holds on this matter are bound to influence one’s attitudes and decisions on such issues as governance, voting, constitution writing or advocacy for democracy and justice.

At the height of colonial oppression we often heard that working towards regime change was evil. “Why?” I asked a Christian leader whose views seemed to be influenced by the fact that he was a beneficiary of the political status quo. The quick answer I got was from Romans 13:1-2: “Everyone must submit himself to the government authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves”

The same verses could easily have been quoted by those Christians who benefited from and supported the corrupt and oppressive regimes of Hitler, Idi Amin or Mobutu. When those regimes were toppled, beneficiaries of the new regimes would quote the same verses in support of the new system as is happening in Zimbabwe today. If all systems of government and individual rulers have been instituted by God one would wonder if there is any point in even voting - unless the voting is always in support of the status quo.

This makes it obvious that Christians need biblical teaching which goes beyond the “proof text” method where one just quotes Bible verses to support preconceived ideas. Does God indeed endorse particular rulers or systems of government?

The Old Testament story focuses on a Jewish community whose system of government was a theocracy or “rule by God”. When this community settled in Palestine God appointed for them judges, and later on kings. God himself deposed those kings who either deviated from his commandments by worshipping false gods, or by oppressing the people over whom they ruled. God even punished this community by allowing foreign powers like the Assyrians and Babylonians to colonize them for varying periods of time as a means of restoring them to the laws he had agreed with them as his people.

At the time of the coming of Jesus Christ the same Jewish community had endured a long period of Greek colonialism, and was now under Roman colonialism. Up to that time the concept of “kingdom” had included not only geographic, territorial space, but also the particular nation over whom a king ruled. Jesus brought about a transformation of the whole concept of kingdom. By “kingdom of God” Jesus meant, among other things, “God’s governance” not over a particular geographical space or a particular nation but over all those in different nations who voluntarily subjected themselves to God’s will. Those who earnestly prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” were to be part of the kingdom of God. In other words Jesus brought an end to the old concept of “theocracy” whereby God ruled over a particular people in a particular geographical space. That is why Jesus also often talked about the ”kingdom of heaven”. He said, “My kingdom is not of this earth” (John 18:36)

What this means, therefore, is that there is no longer any particular political system of government that comes from God. Different nations can choose their own types of political systems, and their own rulers. They may indeed, in their sovereignty, choose one party state systems, multi-party democracy, “kingdom” systems or even communism. None of these can claim to be the “biblical” system of government. And none of them can claim perfection.

There are, however, certain values that remain unchanging in God’s scheme of things. The values include love, justice, peace, truth, honesty, generosity, morality, unity-in-diversity, respect for human life and dignity, human freedoms, respect for other persons, good governance, rule of law, participation, equality of human beings, the promotion of the family, service, accountability and excellence. All these values find support in the Scriptures of both Old and New testaments. The fact that these values are endorsed even by those who are not Christians is an indication of their universality. God requires such values even in those who do not identify themselves as Christians. He rewards those who abide by these values and punishes those who do not.

Each nation must then choose leaders and a system of government that can best ensure the promotion of those values so that God’s blessings can rest on the nation. Zimbabwe and the majority of other nations have chosen the democratic system of government. It is not a perfect system; but we have judged it better than other systems in terms of promoting the values articulated above. Having done that it becomes necessary that we honestly adhere to democratic principles and ensure the promotion of the godly values within our chosen system of government.

Because we live in a democracy, and not a theocracy, it is, therefore, false to say that any party, or any set of rulers are given to us by God. No. We choose these people ourselves. And if any party or any politicians cease to uphold God’s unchanging values we, as Christians, must pray them, and vote them, out of government.

So, how does Romans 13 apply to this conclusion? One needs to continue reading up to verse 7 in order to understand that Paul was talking about governing authorities that uphold God’s values and standards. Those kinds of authorities “hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong”. They are “God’s servants to do you good” and to “bring punishment on the wrong-doer”. The fact that such governing authorities at that time included colonial rulers did not seem to matter to Paul. What was more important to Paul was that they upheld God’s standard of good governance.

By implication, when the governing authorities cease to do right there is no obligation to submit to them. What if the governing authorities start to be a terror to those who do right and reward those who do wrong? What if they become corrupt, oppressive and violate other unchanging values of God? Do we fold our arms and wait for God to deal with them? No. This is no longer a theocracy. The obligation is on us. As Christians we must actively pray that they either shape up or ship out. We must utilize every opportunity to vote them out of power and vote in those whose values are closest to kingdom values. What we want is for God’s will to be done on earth even as it is done in heaven.

Some may conclude that I am advocating for all Christians to “meddle” in party politics. How often have we heard that Christians are to pray and preach the gospel and to leave politics to politicians, and economics to economists?

Indeed “party politics” is not part of the official business of ministers of the Gospel, who were called by God to be “shepherds of the sheep.” With regard to party politics they must remain neutral and non-aligned. Our churches and colleges are home to people of different political persuasions and racial groups. But because God’s values permeate every sphere of life, they must be God’s agents of righteousness in all spheres including politics, economics, education and health. They must remain engaged in both prayer and advocacy without fear or favour. Without such engagement they cease to be the conscience of the nation. The fact that a minister we may be a beneficiary of the status quo must not silence his or her prophetic voice as is happening with some of our brethren.

Individual Christians, however, as responsible citizens, may participate in political parties of their choice guided by biblical values and their conscience. The Bible says that Christians are the salt of the earth. For salt to give flavour it must be mixed with the food. In the same way, for Christians to influence society they must be fully engaged in that society.
(Rev Dr Roy Musasiwa is principal of Domboshawa Theological College. He may be contacted on email

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