A PAPER DELIVERED BY HON JUSTICE AYOTUNDE PHILLIPS (RTD)
AT THE CLERGY WORKSHOP HOLDING AT BISHOP HOWELL s ANGLICAN CHURCH (BAHM), HOGAN BASSEY CRESCENT, SURULERE , LAGOS ON TUESDAY 22ND JANUARY, 2019.
POLITICS IN AN IDEAL SOCIETY- THE ROLE OF THE HURCH
One of the current critical issues in the country, on which there is so much confusion, is about the relationship between the church and politics. Addressing this issue would not have been more appropriate than now; at this crucial period of our political history when Nigerians in less than a month time, will be electing their political leaders at the national and state levels, those that will be assigned the responsibility of steering the ship of the nation in the next four years. l, therefore, commend the insightfulness of the organisers of this workshop, for bringing this germane issue to the front burner of today s discourse.
Every day of our lives is rooted in politics. There is politics in the home, in the offices, in the religious settings- be it the mosque or the church and the larger society as a whole. It is often said that politics exists where two or more people come together to achieve a goal. This is because inherent in every man is his desire to influence another man, positively or negatively. On this basis, Aristotle opined that man is a political animal.
It may therefore not be an overstatement to say that an attempt to refrain from politics is an attempt to inherently engage in politics. Suffice to say, the politics of sit-down-and-look is politics itself, because all of human actions and inactions come with consequences.
The church is an integral part of the society. Its pivotal role in the world of humanity cannot be overemphasized as the shaper of people s faith and beliefs. Through the church, people not only learn to cast their trust on a supreme being called God; but also, get to know some of the dos and don’ts of the society. The church therefore becomes a moral agent for shaping people s perceptions and opinions. It is on this basis that the church is regarded as one of the critical agents of socialization with other being: the family, the mass media, the peer-group, and the school because of its role in the transmission of societal values and beliefs.
Christians and by and large, the church operates within respective societies and nations. Most nations are now finding it difficult to fulfil the basic reasons for their existence; few have been described as failed states as they could no longer guarantee security of lives and properties of the citizenry. The question today is whether the church, by inference, the Christians should continue to fold their hands while the vast proportion of humanity wallow in abject poverty and misery while states are helpless in the situation of blood of innocent people being shed?
Evil will continue in the society in as much as men and women of goodwill fold their hands and do nothing. In the Holy Scripture, the wisest man ever lived – King Solomon was quoted as saying: ‘when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.’
Before we go into the crux of the discourse, there is a need to briefly explain the basic concepts of ‘ideal society’, ‘politics’ and ‘church’, for a clear understanding of the subject.
WHAT IS AN IDEAL SOCIETY?
Ideal society is a collectivity composed of members of all ages hailing from various nationalities, cultures, religions and backgrounds; uniting this group is a common ideal of fraternity among the people. An ideal society would, as a collective, recognise itself as an organism in which each individual is a cell that is integral to the organism.
From a broader and more relevant perspective, in an ideal society everyone must be given at least the means to live freely within society regardless of their abilities or circumstances, a place which everything is perfect, pleasant, organised. It therefore connotes if there is ideal or perfect society, there is also imperfect society.
WHAT IS POLITICS?
Politics simply defined, is the art of directing and administering states and political units, it has something doing with art of struggling for power, exercise of power and governance.
It is unfortunate in Nigeria and most third world countries, the term politics is poorly presented and due to this, people have different views on the subject, partly informed by the vices being exhibited by most politicians in our clime. However, the fundamental objectives of politics in an ideal society are;
To promote the common good of all
To promote the right to life, to employment, to education, to medical care among others
To promote the right to living and facilities to ensure people live a healthy life
To promote the right to educate children in the faith one chooses or confesses and freedom of worship.
MEANING OF A CHURCH
Church in the context of this topic, means a body of Christ, composed of everyone who has received Christ as their Saviour. It is not a building but a group of people not restricted to a denomination but people loving and glorifying God and teaching about a saving knowledge of Christ.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH AND POLITICS
Historically, discussions on church and politics are often referred to the relationships between the formal institutions and leadership of the church and officials of the government. Over the years, particularly in the western world, the issue as to whether the church should be involved in politics is no longer a debate. The question therefore, is to not whether churches should be involved in politics but how and to what extent the church can contribute to democratic politics without losing sight of its mission, vision and indeed, credibility.
There are four major reasons why Christians should care about politics;
i. Christian worldview covers all areas. Christian worldview speaks to all areas including political engagement. In fact, there are references in the bible to faithful engagement of believers in civil government and politics. In the Old Testament, Joseph and Daniel served in civil government and they exerted much positive influence to further the flourishing of their nations even in foreign land.
Our Lord Jesus Christ engaged in holistic ministry, caring for the spiritual and physical needs of the people in the course of His ministry here on earth. Apostle Paul enjoined all Christians in Galatians 6:10, ‘As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone’. Doing good works by implication included participation in politics to positively impacts lives.
ii. Politics are unavoidable. There are biblical examples of how membership in the earthly city can be leveraged for furthering the reach of the heavenly. Paul s appeal to his Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37, 22:25) is a model of this.
Politics have real-world implications for Christian evangelism, missions and preaching the gospel, therefore Christians ought to engage the political process by leveraging their rightful authority, advocating for laws and policies that contribute to human flourishing.
iii. Doctrine of Love. Followers of Christ are called to love and serve their neighbours (Mattew 28:19-20) When asked about the qualifications of a neighbour, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), indicating that irrespective of race, background, social status or occupation, neighbourly love is owed. Fulfilling the biblical mandate to love neighbours and care for the least of these should be a priority for every Christian, influencing laws and government policies that enhance human flourishing, prosperity and freedom of a society should be among the divine assignments of Christians on earth. Christians should be positive reference and catalyst at the realm of politics.
iv. Government s overbearing capacity on wellbeing of the citizens. Apostle Paul taken cognizance of the notion that government derives its authority from God to promote good and restrain evil, in Romans 13:1-7, urges that prayers be made for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may live a peaceful and quite life. Also in I Timothy 2:1-2, he invariably expressed the need for Christian participation in government. Good government encourages an environment conducive for people living peaceably, whereas bad government fosters unrest and instability.
Historical records are full of Christians, who at one time or the other, asserted their influence and redeemed government to promote good and restrain evil. William Wilberforce, a committed Christian, was a force behind the effort to abolish slave trade in England. Martin Luther King Jr, a Christian pastor, helped lead the civil rights movement against racial discrimination and suppression in United States. Christians ought to work through civil authority for the advancement of justice and human good to provide critical illumination, personal example and vocational leadership.
Jeremiah 29:7 says; ‘but seek the welfare of the city where l have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’. From the foregoing, it could be deduced that Christians are saddled with responsibilities of positively influencing the politics and praying for those in the corridor of power.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN AN IDEAL POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT
The reasons why Christians must have interest in politics have been highlighted in earlier paragraphs, the roles of the church as a whole is hereby summarily explained ;
I. To provide the needed vision and inspiration - by design, church is expected to have the ears of God. The Christians speak and hear from God from time to time, and this place them at a better pedestal in receiving appropriate strategy and heaven resource for solving life problems. Indeed, our partnership with the Holy Spirit gives us a hedge over others since we communicate with Him moment by moment. Thus the church can provide the needed direction for the society to follow.
I. Serves as problems solvers – there is what is called market place anointing which made it possible for the Christians to solve seemly intractable problems and issues. The example provided by Joseph in the Book of Genesis 41:1-36 and Daniel in the Book of Daniel 2: 31-45. Exodus 35:35 says: ‘He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers--all of them skilled workers and designers.’ If God did it in terms of old, he can still do it today and in the future to come.
III. Provide the needed leadership – as the light of the world, the Christians are expected to be pacesetters steering the course of humanity in every facets of life including the political environment. We are not just expected to be prayer warriors but players in the political activities of our country. Our political participation must goes beyond voting in an election to joining political parties, aspiring and contesting for offices, as well as managing the affairs of the country.
III. Pray for the Country Decision Makers and Leadership – the Book of 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says: ‘First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men, for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.’ There is no doubt that an average Nigeria Church is an expert in this regards; while this is good, it is also important we play our roles as political animals in the larger society.
V. Provide the Needed Counsel - According to the Proverbs 11:14 – ‘Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety’. Decision is an everyday activity for both the leaders and the followers. For leaders, it becomes more challenging as a result of mountainous issues that they have to resolve daily. It is in this regards that godly and wise counsel becomes crucial for the people in authority. The church leaders have a role to play in guiding people in authority on what to do from time to time.
V. Serve as watchman to people in authority – to err they say is human, to forgive is divine. The church has a critical duty of being the voice of God in drawing men to the path of truth when they are found wanting. The prophets of old like Elijah, Elisha, Samuel and Jeremiah spoke truth to power from time to time without mincing whose ox is gored. Today, how many of our church leaders are doing the same? The church must regain its pride of place in the society if the society is to get it right.
VI. Serves as leadership recruitment centres – ideally, the churches provide a lot of platforms for building future leaders based on its organizational ability. The various positions and offices in the church provide the people platforms to horn their leadership skills and unleash their potentials in solving problems for humanity.
The church roles enumerated above in an ideal political environment are by no means exhaustive; nonetheless, the performance of the stated roles by the Church will go a long way to move the society forward. It therefore becomes necessary for the church to rise to occasion in performing its expected responsibilities.
Thus if we say politics is a dirty game and we leave it to the unbelievers, then we can be sure it will continue to be dirty. The dirtiness of politics itself is as a result of the population of the political sector by the unrighteous and wicked people. To me, when people with faith and love for God and fellow humans occupy the position of authority, then, we can be sure of good governance and leadership.
The thrust of the foregoing is that there may never be an ideal political environment except it is created by the church. More than ever before therefore, the church and by inference, the Christians have to come into the political arena to make politics desirable for good men and women with apposite character, competence and courage to move the society forward.
The church must have a stronger voice than just isolated individual religious leaders; the church must help denominations to work together on certain social programs co-operatively and provides them with an effective platform for dialogue between them and the state. However, in doing this, church leaders must reject to compromise or be bribed by the State to rationalise political issues. They must remember that they have dual functions; the spiritual mission of building the kingdom of God and also as citizens of their earthly country, they should be the conscience of the society.
i. The Responsibility of the Church for Society - The Gospel, The World and the Church ed. Kenneth Scott Latourette 1946 Harper Bros, accessed via: https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-responsibility-of-the-church-for-society/
i. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – Reasons Christians should care about Politics, David Closson
i. The Relationship between Church and State, Kasomo Daniel & Nalla Geolffry Nappo 2012, Scientific & Acdemic Publishing, US
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