A question has often been asked: “How can we explain the unfortunate paradox that Zimbabwe, a country with a large percentage of Christians and great natural wealth is riddled with problems of governance, corruption, disease, poverty and polarization?” It will be argued in this paper that the lack of godly involvement by Christian leaders in the socio-political issues of Zimbabwe gives the best answer to this complex question. The paper tackles the erroneous assumption of incongruity between the pursuit of spirituality (dealing with the things of God) and politics (dealing with the reality of people’s power and the promotion of the common good). We will therefore discuss in this paper: Christians as god’s agents of transforming the world, politics in general vs party politics in particular and healthy ways of political involvement. We will do it in numbered points for ease of reference.
B. CHRISTIANS AS GOD’S AGENTS OF TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
Jesus’ teaching about salt and light (Mt 5:13-16) lays the foundation for Christian leaders’ participation in the socio-political realities of our nation. From this Scripture, we learn that while we Christians are IN the world we are not OF the world. At the same time the very reason why we are in the world is to transform it, that is to make this world what God wants it to be. But how can we transform the world? Just as a stool needs all its three legs to stand, our witness needs the following three legs in order to be transformative: identity which comes from our relationship with God, integrity, being our character that makes us distinct from the world and involvement which seeks to change the world in various ways. Let us examine these in turn.
- Identity which comes from our relationship with God
We all have multiple identities: family, tribal, racial, professional, regional or political. Our most important identity as Christians, however, is that of belonging to Christ. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Salt and light stand for our vital relationship with the Lord showing our supernatural nature. We are not just ordinary human beings. We may be earthen vessels, but those vessels carry God’s nature. This Christ-centred identity must supercede all other identities. Even in our political involvement our identity in Christ must remain visible, for “neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house”.
- Integrity: our character that makes us distinct from the world
Salt and light also stand for the integrity that goes with our relationship with the Lord. The word integrity has its root in the word ‘integer’ which means “whole”. Remember from Maths how integers are whole numbers? From this we say that a person of integrity adheres to a godly value system in ALL areas of life, public and private. The Bible places a very high value on integrity. For example, Proverbs 22:1 says: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold”. It is not surprising that in Ex 18:21, Jethro advised Moses to choose for leadership capable people “who fear God, who are trustworthy and who hate dishonest gain”, i.e. who are not corrupt. So the searching light of integrity must shine on any political involvement that Christian leaders choose to engage in. If someone chooses to be involved in politics as a way of getting corruptly rich, they have become like salt that has lost its saltness. According to Jesus, such salt “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”.
- Involvement which seeks to transform the world
The third characteristic of salt and light is involvement. They must be involved in the realities around them in order to be transformative. Of what good is salt if it remains in the saltshaker and refuses to be involved with the food? Those Christian leaders who shun involvement in socio-political realities around them are like that salt, or the light that is put under a bushel and that cannot give light to the house. It is rather unfortunate that there is a tendency to exalt spirituality at the expense of involvement – to become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.
Maintaining our identity and integrity without involvement is as counterproductive as being involved while losing our integrity in the process. It is only by firmly holding on to all three (identity, integrity and involvement) that we can be God’s agents of transforming the world. I must agree with celebrated missiologist, the late David Bosch when he said: “Without a faithful and sustained contact with God the Church loses her transcendence. Without a true solidarity with the world she loses her relevance”. In the same way Article 5 of Lausanne Covenant which deals with Christian social responsibility says: “We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgement upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist”.
C. POLITICS IN GENERAL VS PARTY POLITICS IN PARTICULAR
- The original etymology of the word “politics” (politika) simply had to do with the affairs of a city. This meaning was later extended in various ways. For example, Adrian Leftwich said “Politics comprises all the activities of co-operation, negotiation and conflict within and between societies, whereby people go about organizing the use, production or distribution of human, natural and other resources in the course of the production and reproduction of their biological and social life”. From these definitions, neglecting politics is neglecting the common good of people because politics affects every department of life including education, health, economics and even family. For example, the recent crafting of the Marriage Bill was a political decision. If the church had chosen not to be involved “small houses” would have been legalized in Zimbabwe.
- In fact such non-involvement in politics is a form of involvement. If you see someone being robbed and you choose to do nothing you are helping the robbery to take place. Three former Minnesota police officers, Tou Thou, Thomas Kiernan Lane and J Alexander Kueng watched as their colleague Derek Chauvin was choking George Floyd to death. Those three officers were charged with the crime of aiding and abetting the 2nd degree murder of George Floyd. For evil to triumph all that is needed is for good men to do nothing. How much evil is triumphing in Zimbabwe because Christians chose to do nothing because they think politics is not for them?
- Section 2 of “The Zimbabwe We Want” document gives us a full explanation of the “mandate of the church” in its involvement in political affairs. It asserts that “the nature of the Gospel demands that we be involved in the transformation of the social, economic and political systems or environment within which God’s people live”. Furthermore, “the God that we have come to know in Jesus Christ is a God of love, justice, peace, and reconciliation and He has made us ambassadors of these divine values. Our task is to manifest God’s presence and activity in all spheres of life. Politics and economics are serious activities, which affect people’s lives and can therefore not be left to secular authority alone. We are therefore mandated by the nature of the Gospel to address all the issues that hinder the fulfilment of our hopes as proclaimed by God through Jesus Christ: “I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Therefore, “the Church’s concern with issues of good governance, justice and peace, is demonstration of God’s concern for humanity. From this we can say that true theology is not mere theory or orthodoxy but orthopraxis. It involves practice that arises from theological reflection, and the reflection that results from actual involvement in human socio-political realities. If theology is divorced from practice it soon loses its reason for being.
- A distinction needs to be made, however, between involvement in politics in general, and involvement in party politics in particular. Zimbabwean politics is highly polarized, and highly polarizing. It involves hate speech mainly in the form of slogans which either proclaim “down with so and so” or “Hezvoko, bwa!” This makes it highly risky for a Christian to be involved in party politics in such a context. The likelihood of losing one’s sense of Christian identity and integrity becomes very high. In the process also, the possibility of alienating followers who may belong to different parties becomes very high. Dividing Christ’s body in this way should be seen as a serious matter. Therefore the most credible form of political involvement in our context is that of political influence and advocacy for godly values. Does this mean a prohibition of party politics on the part of Christian leaders? No. We have notable examples of people of Christian leaders in Africa and in Zimbabwe who chose the party political route. In Malawi pastor Lazarus Chakwera has become the latest example. In Zimbabwe Rev Ndabaningi Sithole and Bishop Abel Muzorewa are some of the examples of Christian leaders being involved in party politics. We may assess their successes differently. But from a kingdom of God perspective one must be convinced that God is calling them along that route of party political involvement, and further convinced that their influence will be stronger than any established ungodly culture of that particular party.
D. HEALTHY WAYS OF POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT
If, as argued above, party political involvement is hazardous for the Christian leader, what then are the healthy ways of involvement in our socio-political realities?
- Pray for governing authorities
In 1 Tim 2:1-2 Paul says: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. Paul is not (necessarily) saying that we should “support” governing authorities. He is saying we should pray for them because what they decide will affect the quality of our lives for better or for worse. So we should pray for them that they should rule in the interest of those they lead, not leading for selfish gain. And please note that it is governing authorities (not political parties) that we are being exhorted to pray for.
- Be a leader by influence.
In our churches, among our families and acquaintances we have politicians whom we know, who respect us and whom we can influence on the side of righteousness. We influence others by words and deeds. Once we ourselves embrace and practice the values in the “Zimbabwe We Want” document, we can then use the same values to influence other people around us, including the politicians already referred to. That is what the church did when in 2006 we published the National Vision document, “The Zimbabwe We Want”. That was our attempt to influence politicians without ourselves becoming party politicians.
- Speak up for truth and righteousness – without fear and without favour
Our country is crying out for prophetic voices which are raised up to promote righteousness, justice and peace in the nation. Too many of those who can potentially make a difference by speaking up are compromised either by their own past corruption, or by being captured and muzzled by the system. We cannot speak prophetically unless we are non-aligned to the ruling party or to the opposition. Those who are aligned to the ruling party in most cases stand captured, and most of the time they are beneficiaries of political patronage. So they only speak as mouthpieces of the system, sometimes trying to create the impression of representing the church when they are on the payroll of the system. Those who are aligned to the opposition usually speak up, but only as political activists who oppose even the good that governing authorities sometimes do. Brothers and sisters, we need to speak up for truth and righteousness without fear or favour. If we do not stand for the weak and oppressed, who will? If we do not do it now, then when? Of course not all Christians have the capacity to speak truth to power. But why wait until we can do deeds of greatness”. Why don’t you start speaking up for truth and righteousness in your family? Your Bible Study Group? Your pulpit? On your Face Book page or twitter page? Words have power no matter where they are spoken, and to whom they are spoken. Let us prophecy (speak forth God’s will) even to the dead bones of our currency and our economy that they may live again. Let us speak up against corruption and other evils in the country as instructed in the Bible. And not speaking up may imply being complicit in the evils practiced by those occupying high office. And if you fear speaking forth God’s will then you have not yet developed a strong enough conviction.
- “Remove the stones”.
A while ago a video by Fr. John Chinenye Oluoma of Nigeria went viral, showing how much it resonated with the thinking of many troubled Christians in Africa and in Zimbabwe. The emphasis in the video was “Remove the stone”. It was based on the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Jesus requested those around to remove the stone, and it was only Jesus who prayed for the raising of Lazarus. So many times we do so many prayer meetings concerning evils of our society but our suffering continues. What we fail to realize is that we need to remove the stone. We need to remove corrupt leaders through elections, or through peaceful demonstrations. When I listened to this video I couldn’t help thinking that 2023 is around the corner so yet another election is coming up. Are we going to use the power of our numbers to remove the stone of corrupt and uncaring leaders, or are we going to be bought by temporary mealie-meal, sugar and false promises to vote in the same corrupt people – only to be followed by another 5 years of suffering? God forbid. Remove the stone!
- Take up a position of influence which does not compromise your Christian identity and integrity.
Those who are so gifted and called by God to do so can also aspire for position of authority in the civil service, local authority or even national political positions. As they do so the identity and integrity that we articulated at the beginning should never be compromised. My question to Christian leaders who become active members of political parties is: “Will that not muzzle you in their duty of being the salt and light of our world? Will that also compromise your love for Christian brothers (or even your own flock) who may belong to different parties? Standing for political office at whatever level as an independent may be a credible way of involvement without losing one’s Christian testimony or dividing God’s people.
Social science tells us that there are three kinds of people when it comes to transforming situations. Firstly, there are few people who make things happen. Secondly, there are many who watch things happen. Thirdly, there is the majority who have no idea what is happening. If you are want to be true salt and light to our Zimbabwean situation I hope you will decide to be part of the few that make things happen. You owe that to God, and you owe that to suffering Zimbabweans who look to Christian leaders to be transformational agents in the socio-political realities of our nation.
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).