Clergy Should Abstain from Party Politics

Published on 6th February 2007

Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu asked pastors who wanted to contest political positions to resign from the ministry. Speaking in Nairobi during the World Social Forum 2007, Archbishop Tutu affirmed that the church must be involved in politics, but not party politics. "The two cannot go together," he told a press conference at the All Africa Conference of Churches.

Catholic Archbishop, Zachaeus Okoth, who accompanied Archbishop Tutu, agreed that there is a level at which the church must be involved in politics. "We have to say to Governments and the people that we must live morally and uphold the dignity of the human being," said Archbishop Okoth, adding that if politics derailed this dignity, then the churches had to speak out.

Rev. Benjamin Keya (Programmes Officer of Africa Institute for Contemporary Missions and Research) shares his personal insights on the clergy and politics, with Josephat Juma of The African Executive.

Q. Of late, a good proportion of the clergy are agitating for parliamentary seats. What do you think is driving them?

A. Human beings are driven to act in a particular way by a myriad of things and for many reasons. Therefore, I can only be confident in answering this by looking at church teachings, history and the contemporary context of their pronouncements. It is however clear to me that the drive is purely political. The ministers of religion seem to be wallowing in a false sense of popularity. I don't think they can sustain a spiritual motive.

Q. Is it right for the clergy to hold parliamentary seats?

A. There are divergent responses to this question. Basically, I think it is wrong to hold church leadership as well as political leadership. It is common knowledge that in such a state of competing interest, the church suffers.

Q. What would be the side effects of a politician cum clergy on the flock?

A. Show me your company and I will tell you what sort of person you are! If the clergy join the politicians, their reputation will be like that of any other politician. Society expects ministers of religion to live and behave in a way that promotes truth, unity and peace. If they join a political party, there is an immediate problem because not all members of their flock will belong to the same party. This will in turn make it difficult for the legislators cum clergy to relate pastorally to all, especially in political matters.

The office of the king and that of the prophet must, of necessity, be separate. Prophets should be free to confront absurd kings with the message of truth. This calling will fizzle out if the prophet is bogged down with party politics which seems to make politicians into choir members doing a set piece of convenience! Looking at the pros and cons, I think it is unwise for ministers of religion to double as kings.

Q. Do you think a theocratic government would lead to Africa's development?

A. Not at all! Theocracy failed to impress even God's chosen people. It will not do for Africa or any other place for that matter. Three things here need separation if Africa is to develop: 'theo', 'cracy' and development. The first is the rightful province of concern for the ministers of religion. The second has to do with politics/governance. This permeates other provinces. Through social contracts however, it is entrusted to politicians. The third which is development will only come about if freedom and choice abound in society.

Q. History is replete with accounts of mass genocide/persecutions orchestrated by religious regimes. Do you think a government under the church is safe?

A. I am glad you mention history. Jesus of history taught a separation between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World. He referred to one of the kings as a 'fox'. You don't want a scene where foxes are mixing with lambs! Those who follow Jesus Christ in spirit and truth will discern the difference between these kingdoms and act accordingly.

The church has a different calling from the government; that of reconciliation. To be a politician requires a conscious decision to stand on one side against the other. This is made worse in our country which is bedeviled by institutionalized corruption and tribalism.


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