The clergy and political partisanship in Malawi

“Tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?  Then saith he unto them, “….Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matt 22: 17, 21 KJV.

A reverend, Dr Lazuras Chakwera who serves Malawi Assemblies of God church as president since 1989, declared his interest to contest for the presidency of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) at the convention scheduled to take place on April 27. Though it is his aspiration that has awakened the thought behind this article, my argument is mere expression of personal views on the general involvement of members of the clergy in politics.

Members of the clergy, starting with Reverend John Chilembwe, freedom fighter against colonialist during the first decade of the 20th century, have played various central roles in national and party politics of Malawi and led prolific revolutions, yet religious Malawians, including Christians who are called by the same Christ, and adhere to prescripts of the same Holy Bible, subscribe to extremely conflicting opinions and discrete beliefs on the involvement of the clergy in politics.

The first reason is that the Bible is very tolerant and accommodating; it can be interpreted anyhow to suit the level of understanding of the interpreter. The second reason is that the Christian domain is flooded with various denominations that are found on diverse doctrines.

Rev Dr Chakwera: Aspiring to be MCP president
Rev Dr Chakwera: Aspiring to be MCP president

Politicians too hold different views on this. In the past, we had a high profile politician, who after his administration failed to cope with the wrath of the clergy, he stated that the clergy must take care of congregations and leave politics to politicians. On the contrary, his successor was insistent on the involvement of chiefs and members of the clergy in politics. He even paraded them to the State House, when circumstances demanded in order to enhance their involvement.

As a member of the Christian fraternity myself, I do not find the involvement of the clergymen in politics much of a bother because I consider that there are two ways through which their involvement can be exercised. The two ways are participation and partisanship.

Participation in politics is a civil obligation of every citizen, including members of the clergy, while partisanship in politics is a civil right even of members of the clergy. However, I feel clergymen must constrain their political involvement within the scope of political participation and refrain from partisanship.

I will draw a clear distinction between political participation and political partisanship later because one must first espouse the correct philosophy and definition of politics, in order to appreciate the roles of the two.

“Politics is the art and science of managing and governing one’s entire social and economic affairs, interactively in conjunction with the rest of the community, especially the collective governing of a political entity such as a nation (Bahram Maskanian). I find Maskanian definition to be a paradigm political definition of politics. It derives its philosophy from the origin of the word politics itself. The word politics has its roots in the Greek word, Politika, meaning “of, for, or relating to citizens.”

Thus, the goal of politics is to build and maintain communities, and establish communal social services and to protect and promote the democratic rule of law for all citizens. Politicians whether in government or opposition are partners in development not enemies or opponents, and together with the rest of the members and constituent institutions of the society (including religious institutions) ought to interactively and collectively govern and manage public affair.

The clergy can enhance their involvement in politics for instance, by voting, paying taxes, advocacy, civic education, provide checks and balances, and establish faith based initiatives to respond to needs of the public, without adhering  or conforming to ideologies of any political party. That is political participation, or rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

On the other hand, a political partisan is “a committed member of a political party (wikipedia).” Partisans adhere to and identify themselves with ideologies and policies of a particular party.

Partisanship is very unsafe for members of the clergy especially in Malawi where politics is wrongly conceptualised and defined through a fallacious traditional concept of “Ndale.” Ndale is the art or science of striking your opponent down by knocking his feet hard and swift enough especially when does not expect.

While both definitions have art and or science in common, the art and science in Ndale is used to scheme evil, incite violence, insults, accusations, lawlessness, corruption, hatred and deception against fellow politicians. In the politics of Ndale, parties are not necessarily vehicles of development; they are enemy camps where war is strategized against rival parties.  There is no code of ethics or morality.

Members of the clergy have a sacred call, to witness for Christ and save mankind from eternal damnation. They are called to minister to spiritual needs of the people, and prepare them all for a kingdom not of this world, but heaven.

When members of the clergy divert from their sacred call, and plunge themselves into partisan politics, which is tainted with Ndale, they confuse not only themselves, but congregations that look up to them for spiritual nourishment and guidance.

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