Many Christians will not participate in politics, claiming that 'drinking and driving don't mix, and neither do religion and politics. They regard politics as a dirty game that Christians should avoid. This attitude is rooted in our colonial history and in a failure to distinguish between party politics and political participation. Political participation includes exercising one's right to vote and be voted for, speaking out against any wrongdoing by those in power and holding leaders accountable for their actions. Such behaviour has deep roots in the communal orientation of traditional African society, where decision making was based n democratic principles that formed the basis for community relations. That tradition fits well with current Western values.
While Christians tend to avoid political participation, Muslims understand its importance. Consequently they control political power in many African states, even those where they are a minority. Unlike Christians, they do not believe in the separation of church and state because it encourages secularism. Nor
should Christians because as we read in the scripture quoted above that “The earth is the LORD's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” – Psalm 24:1-2.
Jesus, too, did not separate religion and politics. In His mission statement He declared that his ministry was to those suffering various forms of bondage and oppression, including economic oppression (poverty), physical oppression (diseases, disabilities), political oppression (injustice and oppressive rule) and demonic oppression (various forms of occult practices). “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” – Luke 4:18-19. These same evils plague Africa today.
Because of constitutional separation, Christianity in the form of the institutional, organized church is constrained form formal integration with government. But Christianity in the form of an individual's theological identification with the body of Christ can and should play a part in the political process.
Engagement and not Seclusion
Working as individuals within the political system is not contrary to our Christian faith. We believe in the redemption of humanity, a redemption that takes place on an individual basis, not on an institutional basis. Likewise, our political influence comes from the involvement of individuals not institutions. In fact, any free and democratic society must be based on the strong participation of individual citizens. Without this, it devolves into an elitism or anarchy. The vision, abilities, character, and skills of individuals are a positive and necessary force in a democracy.
Jesus admonished His followers to become the Salt, the Light and the east in society – Matthew 5:13-16; 13:33. Wherever these elements are added, they transform the environment. In the same way, we must penetrate and permeate political institutions with Christian values and beliefs.
We can have far more impact by working within a secular political organization to help our laws reflect Christian values than by separating ourselves and banding together with other believers as a “Christian Political Movement.” Some Christians believe that being salt and yeast means being separate from the political process. But the common denominator of every political issue is a spiritual problem. For instance, when we deal with environmental problems, we are not only concerned with the environment for the sake of the environment; we are also concerned with the spiritual issue of stewardship. When we talk about an unfair tax system rife with loopholes, we are talking about the spiritual issue of fairness and justice. When we consider the problem of corruption in politics, again we are talking about the spiritual issues of honesty and integrity. We need to maintain a spiritual perspective on these so called secular issues.
Christian Involvement is Biblical
Even if we are not involved by our actions or by public identification with a political party, we still have important political roles to play. We have a responsibility to vote. Even more important, we are instructed to pray for those in political office – 1Timothy 2:1-2. We need to pray for the issues confronting our society and for the hurting individuals within our society. And we have a responsibility to reach out to minister to the poor.
Whether we choose to work directly in politics or to support it with our votes and prayers, the political process in a democratic country gives us a vital opportunity to demonstrate our love for Christ.
Many biblical examples of political participation including Joseph in Egypt, who saved many from hunger and starvation – Gen 4:1; Amos, who warned the political leaders of his time against injustice – Amos 4, 7, and Daniel and his three friends, who changed the political equation in Persia – Dan 3, 5, 6.
Nehemiah, too, made a special sacrifice in order to serve his people – Neh. 1-2, 5. In the NT, Paul refused to give up his rights as a citizen when the political authorities put him in prison and flogged him without giving him a proper trial – Acts 16:37-38; 22:25.
Throughout history, the common people have turned to the church in times of need. The Church has followed Christ in recognizing their suffering of the people and giving them a voice to speak out against injustice and oppression. Moral bankruptcy, corruption, poverty, disease, disease and ignorance: all clearly call for Christian participation in politics. Some African Christian Leaders have responded to the call. Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam of Nigeria led protests to Queen Elizabeth II of England during the Nigeria Civil War. President Matthew Kereku of Benin convened a reconciliation conference to apologize to African Americans for the role of African leaders in the nineteenth century slave trade. Archbishop Desmond Tutu played a strong role in liberating South Africa from the apartheid regime and continues to work for reconciliation. Here in Ghana, the Christian Council and the Conference of Catholic Bishops have spoken on countless occasions against oppression, corruption, moral decadence and lately are championing the inclusion of Moral and Religious subjects in our Educational Curriculum.
Other Christian leaders such as former president Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria have, however, disappointed their fellow Christians by their actions or lack of action regarding corruption in high places. One reason for their failure may be that they lacked support from fellow Christians and were thus exposed to the corrupting influence of non-Christians.
African Christians need to understand that the destines of their nations rest on their political participation. As the Bible says, 'When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan – Prov. 29:2. Good people can enjoy life when the righteous are in authority, but people will always suffer under wicked regimes.
God is the Ruler of Nations
As Christians we must remember that our world is ruled by God. The following from Romans 13:1-5 are helpful:
1. God is the ultimate Authority – 13:1. Government as an institution has been established by God to serve His purposes. God raises up and does away with leaders.
2. Both followers and leaders are ultimately accountable to God – 13:2. Submission to human authorities reflects our submission to God's authority.
3. God uses governments to carry out His good purposes on earth – 13:3. Without question, some governments sometimes persecute those who do good. But mainly, it's the lawbreaker, not the law-abiding citizen, who has something to fear from government.
4. Obedience is a matter of inner conviction as well as external law – 13:5. Our motivation to obey must go beyond fear of punishment. As believers, we serve the highest of all authorities, God Himself.
Remember to tune in to Sunny 88.7 FM this and every Tuesday at 5:30am for our usual Bible Studies and on Saturdays on Asempa 94.7 FM at 6:30-7:00am.