State anarchy: can the church do better?

In many countries people are disappointed by leaders who fail to keep the promises they made at the time of Independence.

 Pastor Robert Gumbura - sentenced to 40 years on 4 counts of rape.
Pastor Robert Gumbura – sentenced to 40 years on 4 counts of rape.

Many consider politics a dirty game for dishonest, selfish people who play power politics for their own private interests, without regard for the people who voted them into office.

Some people are so disaffected that they do not want to vote again and consider elections a waste of time and money. They feel leaders are corrupt and dishonest, they lie unashamedly and contradict their own rules concerning free and fair elections – just like SADC!

The only alternative seems to be to join the “ruling party” and take advantage of the situation by becoming clients of the “big men” – selling oneself to them in exchange for “favours”. But people with self-respect do not want to do that.

The liberation of Zimbabwe might never have happened. People have lost faith in the state, its constitution and laws. It is a lawless, anarchic situation. Many people are experiencing complete loss of hope.

The church is called upon to give hope where there is only cynicism and despair. The church must show a way forward where people see no light. But first the church must restore her own integrity.

The danger is not that the state will persecute and suppress the church. The danger is that governments try to “co-opt” the church and make her part of the system, by giving favours. Individual church members, clerical or lay, go to state officials and ask for special favours (passports, immigration matters, building permissions, subsidies) and by so doing become part of a corrupt and corrupting network of “good relations”.

A basic rule of such networks is that you get “nothing for nothing, and only something for something”.

Once you accept “favours” you have to pay for them sometime by doing government favours in return, e.g. by singing the praises of government, paying compliments to leaders, being seen with them in public in animated conversation as between friends, by curtailing your public criticism etc. The church is also vulnerable if there are scandals (sexual abuse, financial mismanagement, embezzlement of church funds etc.). As long as the church is trying to please government, government keeps silent. But if the church speaks up and denounces corruption, mismanagement, bad governance etc, politicians unearth those sins and publicize them to embarrass and discredit church leaders.

The church can only demand accountability and transparency if she practices these virtues herself. Are we accountable to our own people about the use of donated funds?

We must teach sound principles of dealing with the life of the community, public affairs and society as a whole on all levels. Many Christians still refuse to accept such teachings and reject them as “politics”.

One of the greatest failures of post-independent governments is that they do not aim at the Common Good and fail to show solidarity with all citizens, especially the poor and disadvantaged. They only consider their own interests and those of their “clients” who keep them in power. This is not to say that the church should only operate in public by denouncing politicians and exposing their crimes. There must be direct dialogue with them, especially the more responsible ones. Bishops and other church representatives must meet with government in an open atmosphere where can they can “call a spade a spade, and corruption theft and thuggery”.

More thought has to be given to effective communication. Long public statements once a year, which media find boring and some priests refuse to publicize for fear of incurring the wrath of politically partisan church members or local politicians, are not the only way. The Social Gospel can be propagated also through leaflets, songs, DVDs, social media, etc.

Christians must above all read the Scriptures and understand the prophetic message of Justice contained in both the Old and New Testament. Here is a random example, “Your princes are rebels/ and comrades of thieves; each one of them loves a bribe and looks for gifts. The fatherless they defend not, and the widow’s plea does not reach them.” (Isaiah 1 : 23). Jesus called tyrannical King Herod “this fox”.

Just apply these words to our situation, and the Bible becomes subversive literature. The aim must always be to give hope to the people, to show them there is an alternative to the present rotten politics and to give them courage to involve themselves in public affairs and not run away from social responsibility.

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