5 October 2004

Zambia: Remove Christian Nation Nonsense


Lusaka — WHILE no one would oppose the protection of our people's right to a religious faith or belief, a right to profess a religion of their choice, we feel it was madness to legislate faith and religion into the Republican Constitution.

And apart from its potential for fundamentalism which could one day be used against Christians by a leadership of another religious persuasion which the Catholic leadership has aptly analysed, we feel it not even be justified biblically or otherwise.

And we agree and support the position taken by the Catholic Church in their submissions to the Constitution Review Commission that the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble of the constitution should be omitted.

Yes, Christianity might be the religion of the majority Zambians, but there are many dedicated Zambians who profess other faiths, or don't profess any faith at all, and that the constitution belonged as fully to them as it does to those that profess Christianity. And truly "no loopholes should be left in the Republican Constitution, which might, at some further date, lead to non-Christian Zambians being regarded as second-class citizens or even excluded from public office".

And we share the Catholic leadership's position that the Church and the state should continue to remain separate.

We also agree with their view that the nation was not Christian by declaration but rather by deeds, "Zambia can be a Christian nation only if Zambian Christians follow Jesus in a life of love and respect for one another, a life of dedication, honesty and hard work."

After all that has been said by our Catholic bishops on this issue, we remain with only one thing to say and we will say it at length.

In the Gospels, the totality of the human being is what brings life to the spirit. Thus, spirituality isn't the way you feel the presence of God. Nor is it the way you believe. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Thus, spirituality is a way of living life according to the spirit. They say "doing is the best way of saying".

For Christians, living is the best way of believing. Faith without deeds is worthless; as James stated, "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead." (James 2:14-17). Our way of life is the result of what we believe.

Our way of being the Church is a reflection of our concept of God. In order to know a Church, the best question to ask is "What do your faithful think about God?" It is a mistake to think that all believers believe in the same God. We forget that in the Old Testament the prophets were worried by idolatry, the gods created in accord with human interests. In the name of God, the colonialists colonized us.

In the name of God, multitudes of slaves were shipped from Africa to work the land in the Americas. Could it be that the name spoken by colonialists, slave owners, and capitalist oppressors is that of the God of the poor, of whom Jesus spoke? We remember the tragedy of Albert Schweitzer, who was a musician, doctor, and theologian. Influenced by Protestant research works on the authenticity of Jesus, he concluded that the young man from Nazareth hadn't expected to die so soon and that therefore the conspiracy woven around him had taken him by surprise. Now then, a god is never wrong. If Jesus couldn't anticipate the time of his death, it was because he wasn't God, Schweitzer concluded.

A few years ago, an English minister by the name of Robinson published a book that became a best seller: Honest to God. The author states that we must be honest with God and confess that we do not know him. What we know are sketches, such as the god invoked in official documents, at critical moments in life, and in political speeches.

How do you know a person: by what you think about him or by what he reveals? If true knowledge is derived from revelation, we can best know God in Jesus Christ, his historic presence. Even though medieval theology defines God as omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc., what we find when we open the Gospels is a fragile being who lives among the poor; cries over the death of a friend; feels hunger; argues with the Apostles; is enraged by the Pharisees; insults Herod; is aware of temptation; and, when in agony, goes through a crisis of faith when he feels abandoned by his Father.

Perhaps Albert Schweitzer wouldn't have lost faith in the divinity of Jesus if he had recognized that divinity is not expressed by the fact that Jesus had some kind of a computer in his head enabling him to foresee everything. According to the New Testament, God's main attribute is love. In his first epistle, John the Apostle is quite clear: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is loveî (1 John 4:7-8).

For the Greeks, who influenced the medieval definition of God, love can never be an attribute of a god; to the contrary, it is a lack, to the extent to which it implies a relation with the loved object. In this sense, Jesus is God because he loved only as God loves, and therefore He did not sin. He was a man centred not upon himself but upon his Father and the people.

This concept of a loving God led to the founding of a Church based on fraternity, on a community of interests, rather than authoritarianism. It is a concept which enables Christians to discover the presence of God in all those who, though lacking faith, are capable of attitudes of love. God is present even in those who lack faith, and he has identified historically with all those who most need our love: the oppressed. "For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink," Jesus said in Matthew 25. Love is necessarily a liberator.

Once you have clarified this question of a loving God, a God calling for justice and defending the rights of the poor, it is easier to speak of Jesus' spirituality. If we consider the Gospel accounts, we can clearly see that Jesus' spirituality wasn't one of withdrawal from the world, of moving away from everyday life in order to better serve God, of denying earthly realities. In John 17: I 5, Jesus asked his Father to keep his disciples from evil without taking them out of the world.

Jesus' entire existence was one of immersion in the ideological conflict, in the arena where different concepts and options for or against the oppressed were discussed. Nor was Jesus' spirituality that of moralism. That is the spirituality of the Pharisees, who turn their moral virtues into a sort of conquest of sanctity.

Many Christians have been trained along these lines and lose strength in their faith because they don 't manage to adjust to the pharisaical moralism they seek. God seems to live on the top of a mountain, and spirituality is taught as a manual for mountain climbing to be used by Christians interested in scaling its steep slopes. Since we are of a fragile nature, we begin our climb over and over again - it is the constant repetition of the Sisyphus legend, rolling the stone uphill.

Now then, one of the best examples of Jesus' nonmoralism is the story of his encounter with the Samaritan woman. From the point of view of the morals prevailing in those times, she was an outcast - for being a woman, a Samaritan, and a concubine. It was to that woman, however, that Jesus first revealed the messianic nature of his mission.

An interesting dialogue took place between them: "The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw. ' "Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come here. '

The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying, "I have no husband"; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.' Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4: 15-23).

At no time did Jesus recriminate with her for having had six men in her life. He was interested in verifying that she was real. She didn't lie, didn't take a pharisaical position; therefore, she was able to adore "in spirit and truth," in a subjective opening to God and in an objective commitment to the truth.

Thus, Jesus showed that the Christian life wasn't a movement of man toward God; before that, there is God's love directed toward man. God loves us irremediably. It only remains for us to know if we are more or less open to that love, for every love relationship demands reciprocity and entails absolute freedom.

Christian morality, then, doesn't stem from our pharisaical intention of being sinless; it is a consequence of our love relationship with God, as love imposes fidelity in a couple.

The parable of the prodigal son is a good example of the gratuitousness of the Father's love. "But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20).

The father's pardon and happiness is expressed over the mere fact of the son's return even before the latter explains the reason for his absence and apologizes. So is God's love for us. We see that Jesus' spirituality was life in the spirit, within the historical 'conflict, in a communion of love with the Father and the people.

This spirituality was the result of his opening to the Father's gift and of his liberating commitment to the life aspirations of the oppressed. For Jesus, the world wasn't divided between the pure and the impure, as the Pharisees wished; it was divided between those who favoured life and those who supported death. Everything that generates more life - from a gesture of love to social revolution - is in line with God's scheme of things, in line with the construction of the kingdom, for life is the greatest gift given to us by God. Whoever is born is born in God to enter the sphere of life.

At the same time Jesus' spirituality contradicted that of the Pharisees, which consisted of rites, duties, asceticism, and the observance of discipline. Fidelity is the centre of life for the Pharisees; the Father was the centre of life for Jesus. The Pharisees measured spirituality by the practice of cultural rules; Jesus measured it by the filial opening to God's love and compassion.

For the Pharisees sanctity is a human conquest; for Jesus it was a gift of the Father for those who opened up to his grace. Jesus' spiritual vigour stemmed from his intimacy with God, whom he familiarly called Abba - that is, Father (Mark 14:36). Like all those who believe, Jesus had faith and he spent hours in prayer to nourish it. Luke recorded those hours in which Jesus allowed his spirit to be replenished by the Father's Spirit: "But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (Luke 5: 16); "In these days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6: 12); and "Now it happened that as he was praying alone" (Luke 9:18).

In that communion with the Father, he found strength for struggling for the scheme of life, challenging the forces of death, represented particularly by the Pharisees, against whom the Gospels present two violent manifestos (Matthew 23 and Luke 11 :37-57).

And in this sense, all who struggle for life are included in God's scheme, even if they lack faith. "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me'" (Matt. 25:3740).

It is your fellow man, and especially the one who lacks life and needs justice, in whom God wishes to serve and love. They are the ones with whom Jesus identified.

Therefore, there is no contradiction between the struggle for justice and the fulfillment of God's will. One demands the other.

All who work along that line of God's scheme for life are considered Jesus' brothers and sisters (Mark 3:31-35). This is the best way to follow Jesus, especially in Zambia's present situation.

We prefer to say that Jesus had a spirituality of the conflict - that is, a vigour in his commitment to the poor and to the Father who granted him immense internal peace. That faith gave Jesus the necessary will for carrying out the scheme of life, even by sacrificing his own life in confrontation with the forces of death, such as oppression, injustice, and religion made sclerotic by rules and rites.

Clearly, what really matters is not what one believes in but how one uses his belief or faith to constantly increase his respect for the people, to pay systematic attention to the social and human problems with which our people are faced, to struggle to raise the level of economic efficiency, to raise the quality of the services and education, to increase internationalist awareness and to do our specific jobs the best we know how.

It is our collective duty to give millions of Zambians an essential piece of dignity in their lives - the dignity that comes from having a solid roof over your head, running water and other services in an established community.

Yes, we must nurture values. There's no alternative; authentic values are those practiced in the greatest freedom and not imposed by some ill-conceived constitutional provisions. Therefore, there's need to remove the Christian nation nonsense from our Constitution.

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