Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Churches should not be involved in partisan politics

Churches should not be involved in partisan politics

The Bornwell Chakaodza column: Rev Dr Levee Kadenge
While we all agree that churches should not be politically-aligned, but be people inclined at all the times, that does not rule out political involvement of the church.  The main reason why the church must avoid unhealthy leanings is that most members of political parties belong to the same churches. There is, therefore, the danger that a politically-aligned church will try to accommodate opposing parties.

Individuals should freely participate in political activities and show by example how to conduct themselves. Christians should be encouraged to even vie for political positions so that they demonstrate that they can continue to love those who hold different views from them. Maybe there is this animosity because Christians are shunning participating actively in politics.  

The misunderstanding comes in when the church takes its proper role to protect the interests of people whose rights may be trampled by the powers-that-be. To silence the church, it is accused of favouring the opposition. This is the tragedy of African politics. It would be fair for the church to just be accused of nagging and not be implicated in regime change projects when it speaks on behalf of the people.

This is the dilemma of the church. Once it is accused of being partisan, it has to prove beyond doubt that it indeed is not being partisan. It will be forced to declare that it is apolitical. Being apolitical is a very difficult position to take without being hypocritical.  What then follows is that if a church supports the government, it is not being partisan. Chastising the government becomes or is interpreted as being anti-government.

What the church is being asked to do is to see no evil, hear no evil for it to be safe. For the church, this will be suicidal. So, what the church should do is to go for the jugular and call a spade a spade despite the consequences. This is important for it calls for times of reprimanding each other for the sake of the well-being of the people.

Perhaps this is the only way the church and governments should look at each other as having the common interests of people at heart. Indeed, the two institutions primarily are there to serve the communities they superintend.  The roles and functions may differ but at the end of the day, they should compliment each other.

When the president warns people about false prophets, the church should study the statement and research on it so that it is also seen to be concerned about the abuse that is going on, where people are being used and their hard-earned monies are being fleeced by false prophets. These are profiteers who are using the problems bedevilling people to rob them by claiming that they have solutions, which is not always the case.

In most African countries, the church is usually perceived as supporting the opposition. When will we learn that if governments are being chastised by the church, it is not a question of the church having preference for the opposition?  It is a known fact that churches supported liberation movements so that people could be freed.  That was not the end of the concern for the church towards the people.
The same should happen in case the opposition gets into power. the church should play a similar role to protect the rights of the people and to see to it that justice is done.

The churches should not compromise truth telling and fighting corruption in order to please anyone. The church should speak truth to power in uncompromising terms. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matthew 5: 11) In this case, the church should do its homework so that as they speak they are backed by facts.

Even those waiting to get into power — the opposition — they should also have their fair share of chastisement from the church. The church becomes the voice of reason in the midst of confusion. We have witnessed this when there are issues that need mediation. 

Come election time, parties are fighting for political space to win the hearts and minds of people. The church plays its role of being a pacifier. The role of the church in this instance is to bring harmony for the scriptures say “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.”(Matthew 5: 9).
Sitting governments will not find it disturbing being supported by the church. Opposition parties would also find it disturbing being shunned by the churches. In normal democracies, the government in power should get the full support of churches. At the same time the church should nurture the opposition knowing that they are a government-in-waiting.  The problem arises when the sitting government is determined to stick to power through foul means.
Let us move from politics of hatred to politics of competition.  If politics is viewed as a race, then we are meant to enjoy the democratic systems which we all cry for. Today is my day and tomorrow it may be yours.  Such a peaceful atmosphere should be created by our leaders. When such an atmosphere prevails, our people will be the most free and well-served communities.
My experience has been that one cannot talk strongly against excesses of government in Africa without being accused of having a regime change agenda. It is almost unpardonable to talk about regime change. 
In a normal society, there should be nothing wrong with changing governments. In most two-party democracies, it has been the case that these two have to rotate to rule their countries. Africa has had some of the majority of the longest serving leaders. Perhaps there is lack of succession plans/strategies.  The opposition leaders in Uganda accuse Yoweri Museveni of vying for life presidency.

In other countries, the sitting president is declared a life president before he even gets to a rally. The state run papers would already have published what is going to be declared by the people who will be addressed in a couple of days to come. Such is the politics in Africa.  It’s like child play.

The state capture of public institutions is beyond comprehension. The argument is that this is their moment and they have to use it because come next time it will be yours. If it was as simple as that then there would be no problem, but the intention is that never should the opposition have an opportunity to be in power.

It is our hope that one of these days, churches would be free to invite any leader of any political party to come and address them at their gatherings without undue pressure to stop them from doing that. This has been the practice of many an African government. The intelligence organisations have always put pressure on leaders or influential members of the church not to be inclusive in their invitations.

Let those with ears hear!
Levee Kadenge is a Theologian based at United Theological College, Harare. He can be contacted on leveekadenge@gmail.com

*As The Standard celebrates 20 years, it pays tribute to the late Bornwell Chakaodza who was editor of the paper from 2002 to 2005.

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