FILE: Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, Energy Minister Christopher Yaluma (right) and  Kasama Archbishop Ignatius Chama second (left) at the ordination ceremony  at St. Johns Cathedral Catholic Church in Kasama.
FILE: Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, Energy Minister Christopher Yaluma (right) and Kasama Archbishop Ignatius Chama second (left) at the ordination ceremony at St. Johns Cathedral Catholic Church in Kasama.

Archbishop Chama’s message far removed from Pope Francis’ message

The foreignness of democratic political structures, on which Zambia is built, has forced many people to view politics as a secular act, which religious leaders ought to avoid. On August, 2014, for example, Kasama Archbishop Chama reportedly called on Catholic “priests to concentrate on their pastoral work of evangelisation and refrain from being agents of political and social change.” To the Bishop, his priests must ignore the political and social challenges their people face—but concentrate on preparing the Catholic faithful for the Kingdom of Heaven—which is ridiculously heretical and far removed from the ministry of Pope Francis whose ministry has a very strong political and social justice angle.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has constantly argued that Christianity ought not to be the religion that Karl Marx called “the opiate of the people. A church that tries to pacify us, telling us not to concentrate on the things of this world but of the other, the next world, needs to be treated with withering scorn and contempt as being not only wholly irrelevant but actually blasphemous. It deals with pie in the sky when you die––and I am not interested, nobody is interested in the postmortem pies. People around the world want their pies here and now.” Sadly, this is what Archbishop Ignatius Chama wants us to believe—Christian will live well in heaven but not on Earth!

Why do African Christians stay away from politics

So why do some African Christians and religious leaders believe that Christians should stay away from politics. In my book, Raised Hopes, Shattered Dreams, I argue that African cosmologies do not define politics in terms of distinct spheres such as economics, religion and sociology.

In Africa, so Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz argue in Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument, “the political realm overlaps extensively with all the other spheres of profitable human activity, from the religious to the commercial. Consequently, and crucially, there has not emerged in Africa the kind of differentiated political realm, which is the foundation of politics in the West.” Thus a serious student of African politics ought to pay attention to all aspects of African life.

The most telling example of this observation is the word “politics.” Most African community cultures do not have a word for it. Ifikansa or ifyongo fyacalo is a Bemba phrase used to translate “politics.” Notably, ifikansa or ifyongo can be translated as “noise” or “fighting,” and ifyacalo means “of the world/worldly” or “of the land,” thus, politics is fighting over the world. The Chewa of Malawi employ the word ndale for “politics.” But like the Bemba word, ndale carries a negative connotation, since it means “to trick someone or to make someone fall.” Among the Shona of Zimbabwe, the word zve nyika (things of the world) is equally employed to define “politics.” In all these cultures, the vocabulary for politics still carries a very pessimistic connotation.

Equally important are the political experiences of many Africans. The political violence and oppressive character of colonial and post-colonial rule define what politics means. To Africans, the blood that was (and is still being) shed during the change of governments confirms that politics is about fighting. In addition, the violence that still characterizes African politics in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and many other African countries has done little to purify politics in African eyes. This understanding is still shared by some people in the West. Politics is often described as a dogfight.

Pressing the important etymological point further, many African community cultures do not have words for “democracy,” “vote,” “parliament,” or even “political party.” Among the Bemba, the word icilonganino ca calo (worldly gathering) is used to employ political party. Ukulonga means to pack, while ukulongana means to gather or to meet. This same word is employed for the Church (icilonganino ca kwaLesa). From this usage, then, some Christians have spiritual reasons for viewing politics negatively. If churches are ifilonganino fya kwaLesa (God’s gatherings), while political parties are ifilonganino fya calo (worldly gatherings), and Jesus called us to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-15), then Christians should be apolitical.

The identification of politics with worldly things has led many Christians to lose interest in political engagement. In Zambia, religious leaders are involved in the democratization process. But this involvement does not translate into ordinary believers accepting their religious leaders’ political engagement as part of their Christian calling—the assumption that Roman Archbishop seems to promote. This situation raises even more questions. Why should Christians run for political office while religious leaders are barred from the same? In addition, how can the Church help African Christians see politics as a sacred duty? Also, how can the Church transform the negative image of politics among God’s people? In a country where more than 80 percent self-identify as Christian, it is evidently clear that Christians are among those who avoid the polls, and also engage in politically related violence. So respectfully, Archbishop Ignatius Chama’s guidance is highly misleading!

By Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma

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13 COMMENTS

  1. The Church must in fact lead the way in speaking for the oppressed. In Zambia, for instance, where we have an oppressive regime, the church needs to be in the forefront speaking on behalf of the people. In this case the Bishop was totally wrong. Maybe he is also one of the many featherbrained PF cadres.

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  2. Is the bishop trying to say Catholics made a mistake to support PF ? we need to know so that we can also tell off these priests who will be attacking Govt on social responsibilities .GOD is watching

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  3. Ignatius Chama is RIGHT, please leave Christians out of your intellectual academic exercises. The men of the cloth are called upon to stay away from worldly rule which comes to an end very soon and concentrate on preparing people for God’s eternal rule. That’s why some clergy is obsessed with sex, material wealth and politics because of your worldly ideologies!

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  4. If only Christians could follow Jesus’ example they would stay away from politics. People tried to make Jesus king but he ran away, today’s Christians would kill to be president or king. Satan asked Jesus to kneel down and worship him in return for a position as head of the worlds kingdom, again Jesus declined. I doubt the clergy of today would hesitate to accept such a lucrative offer if they were offered under the same conditions. The Bible doesn’t encourage Christians to participate in worldly politics because the Bible’s view is that this world is controlled by Satanic forces opposed to Almighty God and that’s probably why politics is so turbulent.

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    • Could you kindly give 1 or 2 references in the Bible where people are advised to stay away from politics. And be careful when you talk about christians and the bible. the bible is both old and new testament. The old testament does not of course have any christians. The new testament makes few references to the term ‘christians’. Also, you cannot ignore the social aspect of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of Heaven.

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  5. Don’t be hoodwinked, the Catholic has been running the world since time immemorial. All the political leaders are mere puppets. Read your history. Jesuit agenda is pure evil.

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  6. @Namona, you are intelligent. Paul tells believers that though they are not of this world, they are still in this world. If I gave you $30, what rate would you use, heavenly or national? Christians, you are still here, be part of how you are ruled. Make a choice!! Kwati nifi Chitawala!

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  7. @Namona
    There’s lots of references: Here is one or two: John 17:14-16 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”
    John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
    But why is it so serious? you may ask. Because 1 John 5:19 says: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one”

    @kakolwe
    You can live in Chibolya for example and not be part of the drug dealing criminal…

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    • Wantanshi Thankyou!!! I like the references you give from the Gospel attributed to John the apostle estimated to have been written around the years 90-100.
      CONTEXT: John 17 is a chapter with a title “prayer of Jesus”. this was a prayer of Jesus for his disciples and all believers. For John’s structure, the prayer (ch. 17) comes immediately ch. 18 (beginning of his passion). So ch. 17 must be read and understood in close connection with ch. 18. Jesus knows the persecution he has received and will receive from politicians because of his message. Jesus expects his disciples not to compromise the message for fear of politicians. His disciples will preach to politicians, hence his prayer. The christian message will always challenge evil social structures. If it does not, then its not good…

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  8. Lets get talking. Bob Proctor quoting Napoleon Hill says, “To be educated is to be open about all subjects”. Time has come for the new Zambian to be open about all subjects and be ready to debate all subjects openly. I see people finding all excuses and gimmicks in avoiding one of the real issues we have failed to debate in our country. I think tribalism must be debated openly and squarely. While all of us can be right at any given time, we cannot all be right at the same time while using the same yard stick. Once tribalism is debated and set aside, real politics of issues and development will begin and we will become a delight to ourselves. What the media says about KK, late FTJ, late Levy Mwanawasa, RB or MC has more to do with tribalism than actual performance of these leaders.

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  9. Kapya is an ignorant person, who has never done any research in his life. If he had spent a few minutes on research, he would know that Pope Francis has been criticized and condemned for keeping quiet and been close with a brutal dictator in Argentina. Millions of people went missing and even today nobody knows want happened to those people who were kidnapped from their homes.
    Desmond Tutu is a senile old man, it is people like him why South Africa underbelly is rotten! After Apartheid ended he has been pushing for all things which are contrary to christian teachings so that he can feel relevant like formation of a gay party! Politics and religion should never mix, we do not want Christian fundamentalists telling us want to wear or eat and shoving the gospel forcefully on us!

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