The New Times (Kigali)

17 November 2012

Rwanda: Should Religious Leaders Participate in Politics?

analysis

The question of whether religious leaders should take part in socio-political affairs or not is clearly not my innovation. It is as old as the human race. Of course, many would continuously agree to disagree or disagree to agree.

I, for different reasons, belong to those who don't find difficulty in appreciating religious leaders' interest in employing pulpit politics. More often than not, some active or retired politicians - part of religious congregations - would express discontent with respect to pulpit politicking. Some would hasten to suggest that religion's participation in politics is drawing a line in sand. Nay, it's not!

So, I would not trace any wrongness in a situation where our regional religious figures are coming out to condemn instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, northern Uganda, Burundi or elsewhere. In simple and holy amount of words, religious and political leaders should be distinguishable but at the same time viewed as strategic partners in socio-political transformation and sustainability.

There is a rationale - at least uncontested - for religious leader's participation in the political arena. And this rationale is based on the fact that political maneuvers have, in one way or the other, an impact on members of society whom the church or faith-based organisations serve. This loudly justifies the relevance of pulpit politics, loathe or not.

About eight years ago, some churches in the United Sates never shied away from political business. Actually, at that time, they passed a resolution condemning the invasion of Iraq as "unwise, immoral and illegal". The huskiness of the language was quite bothering and there was a wave of fear that it would have a polarizing effect.

Given the current state of affairs on our African content, just a few religious leaders would have a brave heart to take a stand on public issues of moral concern.

The late Joseph Kiwanuka (RIP), Uganda's Archbishop in the 1960s, is the perfect example of such a scenario. In 1965, Obote's government underwent a political crisis, and Kiwanuka responded by publishing an inspiring pastoral letter on political leadership and democratic maturity. This was Kiwanuka's final legacy, for he died suddenly on February 22, 1966, the day before Milton Obote assumed unconstitutional powers.

I remain ensconced in the hope that this is changing with no twist in development, and that it must be a matter of time. I was indeed impressed last week when the International Conference on Great Lakes Region called religious leaders from the region and formulated a forum through the clerics that will contribute towards peace and security in our region. This depicts the level of establishment our society is getting to.

However, we must be extremely cautious! Religious leaders should be diligent when dealing with political issues and avoid scandals. Much as I subscribe to the thinking that there is no offence in as far as religious leaders' involvement in politics of a country is concerned, I still get jittery. Religious leaders should focus their energies on persuading their own people, not on making pronouncements to the nation.

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