Has the Clergy a Role in Politics?
A GNA Feature by Clemence Okumah
Accra, May 13, GNA - The role of the clergy in politics has been a vexed and controversial issue since time immemorial. The draping reverence of the cassock, the incisive reference and interpretation of the gospel had not insulated the men of God from the necessity of seeking this day "our daily bread". This has pushed some of them to compromise the principle of religious zeal customised in the interest of the supernatural being to the gratification of material trappings.
Indeed, as the Church is growing so also are the problems of the congregation increasing.
Consequently, the high public respect for the clergy still create room for people to advocate the need for the chosen few of the Lord to assist in finding answers to the social and economic problems confronting their flock and humanity in general.
But is it easy for the Clergy to make an impact on the society and at the same time extricate itself from politics, which to a larger extent is central to development?
Nowhere in the world are Clergymen legally banned from participating in politics, but some people including Christians think that Churchmen should not engage in state affairs, especially politics, because the religious body is sacred. Interestingly, each time the question as to whether the Clergy should participate in politics or abstain come up, it assumes varied and delicate dimension.
Some people are of the view that the Clergy should be involved in politics to assist in the fight against injustice and corruption to bring hope to those are being discriminated against and to contribute to development.
Indeed, "Men of God" have been participating in politics for a long time. Some clergymen have been instrumental in establishing political systems. Others tried to work to improve politics and quite a great number of them are admired and remembered for their campaign against racial discrimination, abolition of slavery and fight against colonial rule and oppression.
In the Bible, Samuel is said to have played a significant role in the establishment of a political system (The Institution of the Monarchy) for Israel by guiding his people in the selection of the first King, Saul. Prophet Elijah also instructed Jehu to wage "a prophetic revolution" in Israel, in which King Ahab, the wife, Jezebel, and other people including 450 Baal prophets were killed. The Prophet's action was a protest against immorality, injustice and corruption that had engulfed Israel.
Even though Jesus Christ's mission on earth was religious, he ended up clashing with the Roman authorities and the Jewish elites, who considered him as a threat to their political authority. Christ, who professed salvation, peace, love and compassion among other virtues could not extricate himself from politics. No wonder the accusations that sent him to the Cross included a political one: "He claims he is King of the Jews".
The Early Church Historian, Henry Chadwick says that the early Christian congregation was indifferent to the possession of power in this world. According to him it was a "non political, quietist and pacific community".
A history of Christianity says: "There was a conviction widely held among Christians that none of their members should hold office under the state..... As late as the beginning of the third century, Hippolytus said that historic Christian custom required a civic magistrate to resign his office as a condition for joining the church".
The Roman authorities such as Emperor Nero did not tolerate the Early Church and persecuted the members for interfering in state affairs. But a sudden change in Roman's Government gave Churchmen the opportunity to engage in politics when in the year 312 AD the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine embraced nominal Christianity.
Shockingly, the Church Bishops co-operated with the Emperor in exchange for the privileges as the Church became implicated in high political decisions. This development also provided fertile grounds for the spread of Christianity.
Saint Augustine, fifth century Catholic theologian of Hippo, envisioned the Church ruling over the nations and bringing peace to mankind.
But Historian H.G Wells wrote: " The history of Europe from the fifth century onwards to the fifteenth is very largely the history of failure of this great idea of divine world Government to realise itself in peace."
He noted that Christendom did not bring peace even to Europe, much less to the world. Many Clergymen and Church leaders went into politics with good intensions but found themselves participating in misrule, injustice and evil.
Martin Luther, preacher and translator of the Bible, is famous for spearheading the Reformation, a sixteenth century religious movement, which sought to transform the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in the establishment of Protestantism.
Luther's revolution also took a social, economic and political turn as it urged the Princes in Europe to rebel against the Pope, Head of Catholic Church, who apart form his religious authority, wielded great economic and political powers.
Luther became powerful and begun meddling in politics and lost the respect of many. He supported the peasants, who were revolting against oppressive nobles, but latter he encouraged the nobles to suppress the rebellion thereby butchering thousands.
Luther also encouraged the nobles in their revolt against the Catholic Church Emperor. In fact, the Protestants, Luther's followers, formed a political movement and this corrupted him. He urged his political friends to execute by burning those who opposed "infant baptism".
John Calvin was a famous Clergyman in Geneva, but had enormous political influence as well. When Michael Servetus advocated that the trinity had no basis in scripture, Calvin used his political influence to execute Servetus, who was burned.
Despite all these, in contemporary times, many are those who believe that Church and its leaders in particular should use the pulpit to speak on political issues to liberate the suffering people. In contemporary times, internationally, many clergymen have played remarkable roles in the political system in the countries in which they found themselves.
Martin Luther King Jnr (1929-1968), a Black Baptist Minister, led a civil rights movement in the United States(US) from the mid-1950's until his death in 1968, ending the legal segregation of Blacks in the South and other parts of that country. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, also a Baptist Minister, politician and America civil rights leader, is the first Blackman to make a serious bid for the US Presidency.
In Africa, many Clergymen are reputed for making significant strives in politics. Desmond Tutu, Former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, a civil rights campaigner and Allan Boesak, Priest of the Dutch Reformed Church, contributed to the abolishing of apartheid and subsequent attainment of independence for that country. In Ghana, many Churchmen played great roles in the independence struggle and others participated actively in politics thereafter. The Rev Ametorwobla, Rev. S. K Dzirasah and Rev C. K, Dovlo, all of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, actively participated in politics of the First Republic.
For instance, after Mr Kobla Agble Gbedemah, Convention People's Party Member of Parliament for Keta Constituency, went into exile, Rev C. K Dovlo replaced him. Since Independence, Churches in Ghana, have been vociferous on topical national issues in a bid to ensure good governance, justice, peace and stability required for nation building.
Expressing his views on whether the clergy should play a role in politics or not, the Reverend Professor Elom Dovlo of the Department for the Study of Religions, University of Ghana, Legon, appealed to the Government, to regard religious bodies as key players in efforts to forge political tolerance and national unity.
He said the role of the Clergy in politics especially, Ghanaian politics, is indispensable. Rev Prof noted that even before Ghana attained independence, religious leaders had been involved in resolving conflicts or other national crisis, especially those concerning governance.
In an interview with the Ghana News Agency, Rev. Prof. Dovlo said the Clergy should be allowed to speak against issues that are likely to result in woes: poverty, disunity, conflicts, violence and instability.
He said the Clergy should participate in national politics to change the society for the better but they should be non-partisan. Rev. Prof Dovlo said: "If an economic, social or political system is bad, and church members go to their Pastor for prayers, he or she cannot merely tell the folk to continue praying."
Pastors should be capable of leading the congregation in expressing their opinion on a deplorable situation to bring about the desired innovations.
But is the current political terrain in Ghana conducive for the Clergy to continue playing such a role?
Though some members of the Clergy are playing various roles in the political development of Ghana, they have to do so with caution. The contribution of the Clergy to the success of the 2004 General Election provides fresh evidence to argue that they are indispensable in politics. Individuals, organization, political parties and the government persistently appealed to the Clergy and leaders of other religious bodies to educate their members and pray for the success of the polls.
They responded to the call by calling on Ghanaians to be tolerant and to accommodate the views of their political opponents to ensure free, fair and violent-free elections. Some even allowed politicians to use the pulpit to disseminate their message to the electorate. But despite the efforts of the Clergy in ensuring a peaceful political atmosphere for national development, anytime the Clergy become decisive about absolute rule, tyranny, bad policies, corruption and economic mismanagement, they are scolded to restrict themselves to spiritual matters and at times physically suppressed by political leaders.
The Clergy should not be dormant in political activities since their office makes them opinion leaders. But they have to be circumspect when participating in the political process.
They can engage in national politics but should not use church members and resources to achieve their objectives. The Clergy can accept appointment by government to serve on Boards of State Institutions and Committees of Enquiry as a prophetic call to national duty.
No matter how committed the Clergy might be to the political process of their country, they should be wide-awake not to actively engage in politics. But they should be able to effectively use the political machinery to unite the State and the Church towards national development.