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The Dilemma of Christians in politics

Short story By: John Wanjora
Religion and spirituality


Do religious leaders venturing into elective politics distinguish between church and state on the one hand, and religion and politics on the other?


Submitted:Sep 5, 2007    Reads: 178    Comments: 4    Likes: 1   


There are two issues which seem alike to the public yet there is a clear line between them. These are the question of church and state on the one hand, and religion and politics on the other.

When we talk of church and state, we are looking at the interactions and practices of two separate institutions - one governed by divine laws issued by God and the other by secular laws made by human beings.

This interaction raises a number of important issues, chief among them being the extent to which one should interfere with the existence and activities of the other. To illustrate this, think of a situation such as in China where the state passes laws that limit people's freedom of worship. Think also of a situation whereby a religious sect in a free state like ours, which though operating within its legal freedom of worship, comes up with practices such as human sacrifice which go against the laws set by the state.

Talking of religion and politics, on the other hand, we examine a delicate relationship between two important areas (not institutions) of life existing at the same time within the same individual. For instance, though we belong to the Christian religion, we nonetheless live in a political setup known as Kenya.

Ideally, a political situation exists whenever there are relationships that involve power - be it in a children's game where one of them is the captain; in the family where the father heads, followed by the mother; or right inside the church, where the Bishop calls the shots, followed by the pastor, church elders and so on. This means that Christians, like followers of other religions in the world, live and engage in politics whether they are aware of it or not.

When Christians seek elective political positions, they are in other words seeking to have more influence in the second area that I have just explained - religion and politics. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and people of other faiths (even atheists have faith though in nothing) have an interest in this domain, since the key purpose of politics is to influence processes of governance in favour of the individual as well as the people that he or she represents. This being the case, I would be the first person to vote a believer into parliament so long as he or she has the necessary leadership qualities.

Although Kenyans belong to different religions, and although our current and past two presidents have been Christians, we live in a state that is governed by laws made by our parliament as opposed to from any holy book. This is unlike states such as Iran and her neighbours in the Arab world which are governed by the Islamic Sharia law.

This means that even should a Christian bishop take over Kenya's political leadership, he or she would still operate within the laws of Kenya, and any attempt to turn the country into a Christian religious state would most likely face the same fate that the proposed entrenchment of Islamic Kadhi courts faced during the recent constitutional review process.

Just to refresh your memory, one of the most fundamental issues that was raised over entrenchment of Kadhi courts in the constitution was why Christians and other religions should be made pay taxes to support a religious institution which they had nothing to do with.

Needless to say, the same issue would be raised if a Christian bishop president attempted to marry the church and the state. Otherwise, as Christians, what justification would we have to make other religions pay taxes to support Christian institutions? This would definitely be the beginning of religious fundamentalism whereby other religions would fight against this form of religious oppression.

Now that we have an idea of the difference between church and state on the one hand and religion and politics on the other, let us briefly examine the possible motivations behind heavy weight Christian preachers turning to elective politics. We will also look at their chances of achieving their missions, as well as the likely implications of their actions to the church of Christ.

To quote Pastor Pius Muiru of Kuna Nuru Gizani, "when lawyers get into parliament they do not close down their legal firms; neither do doctors give up their medical profession once they get into parliament". Therefore, by default, Pastor Pius Muiru won't give up preaching once he ascends to Kenya's presidency.

Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, in one of her TV programmes, recently said that those thinking that she is getting into elective politics are wrong: she is already in it! She further explained that the Kenyan political scene can only be reformed by voting into parliament God fearing leaders for indeed, "Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).

We already have the likes of Hon. Bishop Kihara Mwangi (MP for Kigumo) and Hon. Rev. Moses Akaranga, (MP for Sabatia) and they are doing quite well both on the pulpit and on the political podium. In the Bible, Moses, Joshua, Prophet Samuel and King David were among leaders who excelled in politics as well as in their relationship with God. In Proverbs 29:2 we find that: "When the righteous rule, the people rejoice; but when the wicked man rules, the people groan and sigh".

From this we find that God rejoices in the righteousness of the people with whom He entrusts the task of political leadership. With this understanding, I am excited with the prospect that by voting fellow believers into parliament or any other position; we would be promoting righteousness and justice in our state of Kenya.

Nonetheless, we know that politics is a game of numbers and that whoever commands a majority wins. I would thus have every reason to worry when the head of a church develops a third eye that sees his flock as a suitable political force with which to launch his political ambitions. Isn't this the road to Galatia?

In the Bible, and to Paul's dismay, Galatians had abandoned their life in the Spirit and gone back into the legalism of self-effort and rules. Jesus said that you can not serve two masters, and I can still hear Paul's voice to church leaders concerning this issue: "Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" (Galatians 3:2-3).

There is a worse form of injustice that is being done to believers in churches that are being converted into political movements. For instance, what should believers do when church leadership uses the pulpit to push forth political agendas that parts of the congregation do not believe in? What do such believers feel when the leadership invites speakers from only one side of the political divide to campaign in the church?

Also, what if there were other contenders within the congregation who were interested in the same post as the church leader, would there be fairness in soliciting votes from the congregation? Rules of fair play dictate that others too should be given an equal opportunity on the same platform to defend their political convictions. Otherwise, bringing elective politics into the church would be the easiest way of not only sowing seeds of dissent, but also splitting the church over issues that have nothing to do with the Great Commission that we were given by our Lord Jesus Christ!

In a wider sense, I am looking at a hypothetical case whereby Pastor Pius Muiru, who sometimes back declared his interest in Kenya's presidency, actually won in the forthcoming general elections. Given his deep Christian foundation, would he allow other religious leaders such as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the rest to pray for him as is the tradition on the great day of swearing in? Would he also allow them to offer prayers for him and for the country during other important state functions such as Jamhuri and Madaraka days?

If he indeed allowed them, would he not be permitting worship of other gods in the land that Jehovah God has put under him? And if he didn't allow them to offer such prayers, would he not be infringing on their constitutional right to freedom of worship?

I am also looking at a scenario whereby Bishop (Dr.) Margaret Wanjiru actually made it to parliament and was appointed Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, so that fairness may reign in Kenya. Given that she still has a legal battle in court with her alleged ex-husband, would the Bishop decline the appointment to avoid conflict of interest? If she accepted the appointment, would Mr. Kamangu, who alleges to be her ex-husband, expect fair play in the case? Assuming the independence of the judiciary was maintained, how then would she handle a situation whereby the House passed a bill, say, legalising abortion, which though then made legal in the secular law, remains an abomination in the eyes of God?

The number of dilemmas that face Christians seeking elective political posts is countless. The threat of polarising the church into those who are pro or against certain religious-political leaders can not be ignored either.

However, a more critical matter at this point would be how well the church is prepared for succession once the spiritual leaders go full throttle into elective politics. Notably, two of the Christian religious leaders venturing into elective politics are heads of ministries which are largely founded on their individual personalities than as independent institutions. This means that if the leaders went away, chances are that their Christian ministries would sink.

For Church leaders seeking political positions, there is need to ensure that their flocks vote independently and out of their own free will. Going against this would amount to arm twisting the congregation to follow you to places they never wished to go.

Finally, I know that you are as eager as I am to know this: The religious leaders have told us that God has called them to serve us better through politics. They have actually sought God and found Him, they have heard His calling. But what will they tell us in the unlikely event that they fail to secure the elective posts that they are contesting?

The future and destiny of Kenya is in God's hands. The general elections are just around the corner, and may you make a prayerful decision when casting your vote in December.

- John Wanjora

First Published in teh September - December 2007 issue os the Christian Trumpet Magazine, Nairobi, Kenya




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