13 June 2018

Zimbabwe: Christianity and Democratic Panoply in Zim

opinion

Everybody (Christians included) has a duty to give the world a reason to commit to the tenets of democracy: the rule of law (not rule by law); fundamental human rights and freedoms (whether perceived as African, Asian, Inter-American rights or Eurocentric rights); supremacy of the constitution; gender equality; good governance and so on.

Of course, there are some who quickly talk about democracy as essentially contestable; non-existent; an elusive concept; democratic despotism; tyranny of the majority; anti-minority politics; the hysteria of the majority and so forth. Some even criticise the forms of democracy such as illiberal, fortress, Orwellian and progressive democracy as amounting to the tyranny of the powerful.

The objective of Christians is to harvest a crop. The wolf may come to attack the ripening field or those who come to harvest, but the Christian comes to simply show that church and politics are interwoven. Christ allowed Christians to contribute to state building. Christians had to work to pay taxes to Caesar. This is why Jesus had to send them to get money from the mouth of fish. The fish was to become a symbol of the Christian faith alongside the cross.

Christ also declared and decreed the liberal gospel to the blind, the captive, the lost and so forth.

The Book of Ephesians shows that Christ even went to the second heaven to capture those in captivity so that they would become his servants. The Christian is allowed to live in the world; being earthly useful. He or she mustn't simply strive to be heavenly-minded.

At one point he left a judge confused. Pilate could only ask the question which we haven't answered to this day: "What is truth?" We loathe or love political justifications about Christian roles in a society.

A Christian is seen as apolitical in many instances. But what do we say of the late Archbishop Abel Muzorewa; the Reverend Canaan Sodindo Banana or the late Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole who were political figures? Never mind their weaknesses as political figures.

What do we make of figures who signed anti-sanctions petitions during the tenure of former president Robert Mugabe? We have stalwarts in democratic literature such as the late Catholic priest, Patrick Chakaipa. We have witnessed the effects of the mediatory roles of figures such as Father Fidelis Mukonori.

We have seen programmes such as Faith for the Nation". In all this, can a Christian be apolitical?

We have seen presidents preaching or joining religious gatherings to drum up political support.

We have also seen campaign strategies like #Godisinit. We have seen faith-based groups forming civil society organisations that are active in politics. We are currently following the "I Pray, I Vote" mantra which encourages Christians to assert their right to vote on July 30.

We have clergy who are perceived to be ZANU-PF or MDC-low-key or high-key. Effectively, therefore, being a champion of democracy is part of the Christian's way of furthering the Lord's voice, "Go, I am sending you". Even our homegrown Constitution entrenches the recognition of the rights of religious groups. The individual or group can assert freedom of conscience within the bounds of the Constitution. They can assert their thoughts, opinion, religion or belief; practise or propagate and give expression to their thoughts, opinions, religions or beliefs in private or public, individually or collectively and so forth.

But it is to be noted that every venture to spread the voice is both a source of opportunity and opposition for the sharer. Sharing the voice is an opportunity to make the hearer or listener accept the gospel message. It is an opposition because some in State structures strongly believe that Christians must stand outside power structures.

A Christian who preaches about justice and equality may be accused of using the bully pulpit to meddle in political affairs. He can be accused of being a low-key opposition mouthpiece amongst other stereotypical images. The perfect example I can use here of a Christian minister who was accused of meddling in political affairs was the late Methodist minister, Reverend Colin Morris.

Those in the high echelons or corridors of State power who have read the "Black Government" know how the late clergyman met former Zambian president Dr Kenneth David Buchzya Kaunda during in the twilight years of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. Kaunda used Gandhian methods of non-violent means to resolving political impasse. But through the work of Rev Collins, the pulpit was used to advance the cause of justice for the society.

Even Kaunda the politician was to write years later about Zambian humanism, which was anchored in the Supreme Being. He enumerated the eight principles of Zambian humanism which included: human person at the centre; dignity of the human person; non-exploitation of man by man; equal opportunities for all (egalitarianism); hard work and self-reliance; working together; the extended family; and loyalty and patriotism.

I may compare Zambian humanism to contextualised democratic forms such as fortress democracy in Israel; Ataturk democracy in Turkey; liberal democracy in Western Europe; or constitutional democracy in Zimbabwe. One may find twisted spikes in each form but I am not going to delve into such issues here.

Whether one has a lion's whelp, occasionally reads a handbook for dictators or watches the animated rules for rulers, it is noted here that political leaders try to adopt ubiquitous ways of governance equivalent to vexing a red hen.

The wisdom of our elders taught us that the hen can enjoy the comfort of her nest not knowing that she would be used to ensure that some duck eggs are kept warm until those little peepers are brought to life.

The hen will quickly forget the egg shells and is conquered by her basic bird instincts as a mother. It all takes a pond of water to warn the confused hen that the offspring swimming in fun isn't hers. Why? Chickens don't swim!

There are some important lessons in this wisdom story for anyone involved in consolidating the gains of democracy in a polity through religion, churchy lifestyle or spirituality - whichever word appeals to your conscience. Ultimately, religious virtues in a particular society have a lot to teach that society about people's power (popular sovereignty or governance). In religious circles, certain virtues taught to catechumen by catechists are easy ways of entrenching democratic ethos to a congregant.

Those who grew up in the mainline churches are highly in the know of the four cardinal spiritual virtues which epitomise the secular versions of democratic tenets: justice; temperance; fortitude and prudence. All those Christians who wish to be brides and grooms of democracy in a polity need to rub head and shoulders with those virtues.

I may add the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity to the above list. Basically, the Christian faith creates an enabling atmosphere for its holder to do certain things. This ability was given to Christians in proportionate to their faith in Jesus Christ. Without faith, it is impossible for Christians to please God. Further, this faith is shown in the Christian Bible as a concept that is closer to hope. Those who despair and concentrate on finite disappointments and abandon infinite hope in Christ cannot understand the gains of biblical faith which enjoins them to have faith in the scriptures - a concept known as scriptura fide.

Even if I decide to talk about the nine orders of biblical angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels, I know that some in my country may accuse me of behaving like a frenzied hen pacing around a pond, hoping to save its brood frolic enjoying her fun in a sea of water. But my answer to the critics is to be derived from the democratic lessons from our virtuous counsellors. They taught us that the love and comfort of a hen may be transposed to the love of our mothers, brothers, and fellow humans using a simple truth: before we could take away the eggs from a hen's nest, we must pause to think about their contents - some serve as our alarm clocks while some make us enjoy the beauty of their swimming prowess.

Sharon Hofisi is a lecturer in Administrative Law and Constitutional Rights.

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