Church and politics: Neutral arbiters or power brokers?

Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer|
Ever wonder what role the Church is supposed to play in politics? For instance, should our local pastors say anything about politics from their pulpits and what does the Bible tell us about how to vote?

On Tuesday, churches under the banner, Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHoCD) announced that they had approached the main political parties including President Mnangagwa and opposition MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa with a proposal to suspend electoral processes in the country for a period of seven years.

This, they say will allow the rebuilding of trust and confidence and chart a way forward towards a comprehensive economic recovery path in a non-political environment.

“In this light, we are calling the nation to Sabbath on all political contestation for a period of seven years to allow for the rebuilding of trust and confidence, reset our politics and chart a shared way forward towards a comprehensive economic recovery path in a non-competitive political environment,” said ZHoCD executive secretary Reverend Kenneth Mutata.

This is a noble cause from the churches if it is a genuine call to end the economic crisis the country is currently facing.

Although one cannot actually separate Church and politics, religious denominations ought not to be active in political processes.

Any signs of support for a particular candidate or political party or discussion of partisan issues from the pulpit is activism.

Encouraging a workable collaborative model between the ruling party and the main opposition is not activism, but the Church should not be seen to be influencing a structure between the parties as this diverts from their role in society.

To begin with, the Church’s highest calling and purpose is to fulfil the spiritual, eternal, invisible kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Thus the Church’s goal is to exalt Christ and to preach, teach, and model the message of redemption, over and above anything else.

What quickly comes to mind when the church delves into politics is how does the church be a church when it tries to influence a political policy.

According to the Holy Bible, the Church’s first priority is to pray for the government.

The book of 1 Timothy 2:1 reads: “I urge you, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases our God and Saviour who wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

On the other hand, Government derives its authority from God to promote good and restrain evil.

It is thus imperative for churches to pray for those in authority so that there is peace in the land and subsequently the call for a halt in elections may be successful.

The call for a sabbatical on elections for the country and allow the two main political parties to unite is suggestive of an indirect call for a Government of National Unity comprised of the ruling party and the main opposition.

“The fact that the two main political parties remain stuck in the post-election mode and will soon embark on a new election mode means that Zimbabwe is unlikely to realise any meaningful engagement between these parties towards a shared constitutional alignment agenda,” reads part of the statement by ZHoCD..

“Without a shared approach to national processes, the efforts by one are undermined by the other, while any positive contribution towards the national good by each is read only within a party-political perspective.

“We foresee that, whichever political party wins an election, the paralysis will remain, if the opposing parties do not learn how to collaborate. It is the people who will continue to suffer if as a nation we fail to establish some unity in diversity.”

For any democratic nation, elections are needed to choose a political government that runs the day-to-day affairs of the country.

The ruling Zanu-PF party was constitutionally elected by the people of Zimbabwe in 2018 and has a mandate to govern the country until the next elections in 2023. Despite being the winner of the elections, in May this year, President Mnangagwa launched the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) following calls for a discourse with all opposition parties to find solutions to the country’s problems.

During the launch, President Mnangagwa said: “The dialogue we are launching today will undoubtedly leave a lasting imprint on our country’s political landscape and help to contribute to the turnaround of the country’s socio-economic fortunes. This platform is designed to be a vibrant forum through which we proffer solutions to the challenges that confront us as a nation through peaceful, open and transparent discourse.

“The culture of dialogue we begin today must indeed be synonymous with us as a nation and as a people. This journey we are embarking on must ultimately lead us towards improving our democratic practices and culture. It must also lead us to a stage where we can compete and cooperate, always informed and guided by our national interests.”

Many opposition parties heeded to the call by President Mnangagwa except Chamisa, whose inclusion in the Government the men of the cloth are now lobbying for.

This is all under the name of creating an environment for meaningful political reforms and an inclusive economic participation for ordinary citizens.

Worth noting is that the opposition leader was quoted in the media as saying he would not be bulldozed into a “meaningless dialogue” with President Mnangagwa.

Speaking during a public lecture in Harare to celebrate the life of the late MDC founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in February, Chamisa vowed that his party was prepared to use its political muscle through demonstrations.

True to his word, demonstrations happened, with MDC-Alliance supporters looting and destroying property in various towns and cities around the country.

One wonders were these churches where when Chamisa and his supporters refused dialogue with the ruling Zanu-PF, but instead chose to demonstrate?

It is common knowledge that churches should provide a place for dialogue between individuals, but they failed when the people needed them the most.

Going forward, churches must not be in the political-influencing business whatsoever, and it should be reasonably clear that the Church’s role in politics is an ethical one.

Therefore, let the Church be the Church and preach and teach the truth of God’s word.

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