Church and State in our New Constitution

zimbabwe_mapZimbabwe is trying to reconstitute itself as a State. At the moment we are lawless. We are.............

not really a State, there is no rule of law. We seem to be drifting in the direction of Somalia.

There is an old constitution, there are laws, there is a justice system. But we do not respect all this since it is not ours. Certain parties and politicians use the system for their own selfish purposes. But there is no sense of statehood, no common purpose, no awareness of the common good, no respect for the people as citizens.

We try to become a State which is really ours by writing a constitution which defines Zimbabwe as a social and political entity with which all can identify.

All groups of society must be involved in this. Not just politicians and political parties. We will never obtain statehood if we leave politics to the politicians. That would be a recipe for another disaster.

We need free media as a public platform, as our dare (meeting place of elders) where this debate can take place, we need an open market place where there is free trade of ideas without interfering policemen confiscating our intellectual property.

The Church (or churches) is not a player in the political power game. But she deals with people and builds community. The same people the State is dealing with. But her aim is different.

More than voters

Her mission is to reconcile people with God and with their fellow men (We use man/men in its inclusive sense, meaning all people, both male and female).

Her mission is to remind humankind of the greatness and dignity of the human person, any human person, man, woman and child, born or unborn, young or old, rich or poor, educated in science or following traditional wisdom, regardless of religion, culture or language. They are citizens and voters, and yet more than that.

People are more than workers, taxpayers, consumers. They are more than work tools or cogs in a machine. They are sons and daughters of God. This gives them, all of them, a unique dignity. The State must be aware of that.

The State does not own the people, cannot use them or dispose of them as it likes. The State has authority, but is not the ultimate authority. It is under the authority of God and must respect human dignity.

The people are not there for the State, but the State is there for the people, and must serve their common interest and be guided by the common good. Faith in God and the awareness of our dignity as Gods children protect us against a State that considers itself divine and claims absolute power over us.

The people are the true owners of the country. All power and authority rests in them. They delegate that authority through the vote to their representatives and make them leaders. They must not grant them excessive, unlimited power. Only as much authority as necessary while retaining as much freedom as possible.

Children of God

We believe in the freedom of the children of God. Our God is no tyrant, and our Creator means us to walk upright, not to cringe like slaves before their masters.

The prerogatives and responsibilities of the President, the length of time he is allowed to remain in office, his accountability to the nation and answerability to parliament are crucial questions for all who believe in human dignity.

The Church representing people of faith must be involved in working out the answers in a new Constitution for this country. People speaking for the Church must help define the relationship between State and Church based on freedom of religion as a fundamental right.

They must insist on the dignity of the human person to be the foundation of our Constitution and spell out what follows as practical consequence from this fundamental dignity and precious value of the human person. This is done in a Bill of Rights which forms the preamble of most modern constitutions.

The first human right is the right to life. This is of critical importance in a country like ours with its sad history of violence and bloodshed. The political class, given its origin in violent confrontation, took it for granted that human lives can be sacrificed for political ends. We have to unlearn violence. We have to leave our bloody past behind and learn how to deal with conflict in a manner which makes us see even our rival as a fellow human being.

Gift of life

Modern technology has given us control over nature, even our own human nature, in a way never seen before. The danger is that we turn all living things, even human beings, into work tools, instrumentalise even ourselves. Biotechnology allows us to create embryos which will be used as suppliers of human spare parts.

Embryos are disposed of without any awareness of their humanity. We need to face the fact that human life begins at conception. The Church must keep reminding society that it is not the owner of life. The human person is not produced and moulded merely by its social environment. Human life is a gift of the Creator. In the process of working out a new Constitution the Church must be the tireless witness to this truth.

She will be credible if she is seen to care for mothers and be concerned for children otherwise unwanted. Which means that the law must give space for church welfare work. What the churches can do for the defenceless, the abandoned and disadvantaged the State must not try and usurp.

People are more than the economic value which they produce. Even the unproductive have a right to life. The handicapped, the elderly, the frail and bedridden must not be seen as useless and therefore disposable. Even life nearing its end is precious. This is another truth of which people of faith must keep reminding society as it organises itself into a constitutional State.

For a long time the State claimed the right to take life. It sent convicted criminals to the gallows and its young men into war. The Church, admittedly, rarely called this into question. But we are learning from history. After Auschwitz and Hiroshima, Cambodia and Rwanda we no longer trust the State with the power to take life.

Too often the State was more of a murderer than the killers it executed. In our own country the death penalty was used for political purposes. Respect for human life demands that we no longer give the State the power to take life.

The Church used to uphold the theory of the just war. But in actual history there has never been a just war. Every war involves much cruelty and injustice. In Africa armed forces were often enough the cause of war and violence and did not prevent such human disasters. If we need the military at all it must serve peace and stop violence. Military expenditure must not exceed spending on health care, education and development.

Moral values

The citizens of the country get to know their culture and learn basic social values in the family. If marriage is no longer respected and there are no stable families who will teach the next generation civic virtues?

The State must not try and control the Church, and the Church must not use the State to promote her own interests. Nevertheless, the dignity of women, the responsibility of men, the proper upbringing of children concern both State and Church who need to work together as partners.

The old regime used the Church in its own interest and pushed her aside where her independent voice irritated the one-party-state. The current harassment of the Anglican Church is an attack on all the churches and a clear breach of the right to freedom of religion. If the State despises the moral values faith communities provide it undermines itself.

Human dignity finds expression also in the freedom to worship on a day free from the drudgery and the hustle and bustle of work. To keep the Sabbath holy is not just a religious rule. Sunday is a symbol of freedom which demonstrates that people have an ultimate destination beyond their daily struggle for lifes necessities.

The State should protect workers from the exploitation by employers who do not respect Sunday and what it stands for. Ask any shop assistant who is forced to work seven days a week without a break. Here too Church and State should cooperate.

While some party politicians threaten anyone not prepared to support their draft of a new Constitution the churches should offer free space where an open and peaceful debate of opposing views can take place.

Post published in: Opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *