By William Phiri
(BA) Religion, MA (Higher Education Administration)
I am deeply startled and likewise worried, not only at the implausible rate, but at the trend the Ministry of Religion and National Guidance is systematically asserting itself as the arm of the State. I am very much apprehensive with the marriage of inconvenience between the Church and the State in Zambia. When brought before Pontius Pilate, the State Governor, to answer numerous charges against Him, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews” John 18:36 (King James Version). Jesus categorically denied any involvement with the political establishment. Neither did he insinuate, at any time in His teachings that the Church and the State ought to collaborate. Church history attests that when you unite Church and State, the inevitable result is terror. Either the government will persecute and terrorize those who will not conform, or a certain people will rebel and be a terror to society. My discourse is not referencing any individual. My objective is to show case a system of governance that has fallen short. From the genesis of the church at Antioch, in 1st Century AD, historical data ascertains that two yellow lines must separate secular power from ordained ministry on the way to peace. Allow me to elaborate further with examples.
The Early Church
After the ascension of Jesus Christ, the church remained pure and spotless from politics. God appointed the church to fully display the love of God to the world. Any person who betrays this sacred obligation commits treachery to the One who paid the price for its redemption. From its inception, the organization and operation of the church was under the faithful souls. In every ensuing generation, God appointed leaders to sustain the work. He safeguarded the church through the sundry years of conflict, persecution and trial. The first century church depended wholly on Jesus Christ. Although it existed among the earthly kingdoms ruled by honorable nobles, it preserved a distinct Wall of Separation between Church and State. Jesus Christ established His church for one reason only; to glorify His name. Its unique purpose is to be a blessing to the world, and not to entangle itself in the geo-political arena. It was not to bargain its purpose of being of service to humanity, nor enter into the gates of political schisms and mingle with the earthly kingdoms. The fundamental objective of the early church is its great commission; to remind the people that the same Jesus, who was crucified in Jerusalem, is coming again. And through the love of God exhibited by the early Christians, many joined the church. Hence the church fulfilled its mission. God’s name was glorified. His word established. The kingdom of the grace was set up. From its initial base at Jerusalem, it spread all over the world.
Christ spent forty days with His disciples after His ascension. Never is it recorded that He asked them to align themselves with the political establishment. When selecting His disciples, he did not choose the learned Pharisees who possessed high academic achievements from Theological Seminaries. He knew that such persons would easily associate themselves with political power. He chose humble fishermen. They were moved by the power of the Holy Spirit and not political power. The Wall of Separation between Church and State was firmly established. God knew that their work will only be effective if it is preached by hearts made warm, and lips made eloquent, by the knowledge of Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The Dark Age
At the time when Emperor Nero ascended the throne, Christians were grievously persecuted for their faith and beliefs. Christians were mocked, scourged, and imprisoned. Great numbers were killed. They were hanged, fed to lions in amphitheaters, and thrown in the fire. They were denounced as insurgents against the empire; denounced as foes for religion and irritants to society. Citizens assembled to watch Christians fed to animals in arenas. Their dying agonies were greeted with laughter and applause. Nonetheless, even in the midst of this fiercest persecution, Christians kept their faith unsullied.
The political establishment persecuted the ‘church’ for one reason. They wanted the church to compromise its faith. They wanted the church to ‘unite’ with the State. Constitutional democracy was unheard of in the early centuries. The Emperor retained absolute power; both political and religious. The political establishment’s objective was to regulate all forms of worship. Every religious practice was unjustly subjected to the States regulation and guidance. There was to be one form of religion that conforms and stands accepted by the State. Any other arrangement of worship, or religious activity was banned. The Emperor’s religious advisors held supreme authority on religious activity and recommended to the Emperor who and what activity was not in compliance to the empires dictates.
Despite the intense persecution, Christians could not yield their faith. They held on to the truth even if it meant death. As they fled from place to place, their blood was seed. From Jerusalem to the other parts of the world, the seed of truth was planted, just as Jesus Christ had commanded them.
The Case for America
Beginning with the arrival of Calvinistic Puritans to America, in the 17th Century, Christians in North America have sought to worship God with a free conscience. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States says that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The National Anthem (Star Spangled Banner), sings a distinctive tune; a song of freedom, a song of diversity, a place to worship God as one pleases. Where did these ideas originate? To whom do Americans owe these treasures which have been a blessing to the country? Back in the 17th Century, one man dared to believe what Jesus said in Luke chapter 20. His name is Roger Williams. Williams came to the ‘new world’ around 1620. Like all the Puritans, he migrated in search of religious freedom. He believed that that freedom was an ‘inalienable right’ of everyone. Williams devised the doctrine of Liberty of Conscience. He writes;
“The public or the magistrates may decide,” he said, “what is due from man to man;
but when they attempt to prescribe a man’s duties to God, they are out of place,
and there can be no safety; for it is clear that if the magistrate has the power,
he may decree one set of opinions or beliefs today and another tomorrow . . .
so that belief would become a heap of confusion.”
Williams viewed any effort by the State to dictate, regulate, or promote any particular religious ideology or practice, to be forced worship. He asserted that the State could legitimately concern itself with principles of civil order, but not religious belief. He writes that there’s no warrant to use the political establishment to regulate religious practice in the New Testament. Rodger Williams is the first man to apply the phrase, “Wall of Separation” to designate the affiliation between Church and State. This notion is the foundation of the religious clause of the US Constitution.
Rodger Williams’s philosophies provided religious and civil freedoms to all people in Rhode Island colony where he had settled. Williams declared these freedoms to be “inalienable rights of all citizens.” The Anabaptists or Baptists also found refuge in Williams Rhode Island colony. The Anabaptists had two lawyers; Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These two Americans became the advocates in the cause for the establishment of the Wall of Separation between Church and State. Thomas Jefferson wrote the “Declaration of Independence,” and James Madison drafted the “US Constitution.” Rodger Williams laid the fundamental principle that every man should worship God according to the “dictates of his conscience.” Hence the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson;
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . that
to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government
becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,
and to institute new Government” In Congress, July 4, 1776.
And the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States affirms that;
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”
The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion. It forbids congress from, both, promoting one religion over others, and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. Rodger Williams Rhode Island colony became an asylum of the religiously oppressed; all forms of ‘fake’ prophets trekked there. It increased and prospered until its principles, both, Civil and Religious, became the foundation for the American republic.
The Case for Zambia
Declaration speech by Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba, President of the Republic of Zambia.
“Dear God, as a nation we now come to your throne of grace, and we humble ourselves
and admit our guilt. We repent all our wicked ways of idolatry, witchcraft, the occult,
immorality, injustice and corruption, and all other sins that have violated your righteous
laws. We turn away from all these and renounce it all in Jesus name.
We ask for your forgiveness dear father and cleansing through the blood of Jesus
Therefore, we thank you and that you will heal our land. We pray that you will send
healing, restoration, revival, blessing, and prosperity to Zambia, in the name of Jesus, Amen!
On behalf of the nation, I have now entered in to a covenant law with the living God.
Therefore I want to make the following declaration: I declare today that I submit myself to the
Lordship of Jesus Christ. I likewise submit to the entire government to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I further declare that ZAMBIA IS A CHRISTIAN NATION. That will seek to be governed by the righteous principles of the Jesus Christ. Righteousness and justice must prevail in all levels of authority, and then we shall see the righteousness of God exalting Zambia. My fellow Zambian’s, let this message reach all Civil Servants in all levels of government, the time of corruption and bribery is over. For too long these two wicked practices have been tearing down the nation, now the hour has come for our building up. The hour has come for stability . . . My fellow countrymen, fellow Zambians, a new dawn has come to Zambia. May God bless and help us all to live according to His righteous laws.”
On December 29th, 1991, not long after becoming President, Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia a Christian nation. This declaration was formalized by inscribing it in the Constitution which was enacted in 1996. Since this landmark declaration, freedom of worship has thrived with no persecution of other smaller faiths. Successive presidents have endorsed and embraced this declaration (whether to appease the masses or out of genuine convictions). Christianity is practiced (or at least identified) by over 90% of Zambians.
However, President Chiluba’s declaration occupies a broader perspective. It assures that no one will be constrained to worship; or be prohibited to practice his/her Christianity according to his/her conscience. Zambia is a constitutional democracy. Article 35, clause 2, of the Constitution asserts people’s right to “manifest any religion or belief through worship, observance, practice or teaching.” Therefore the question remains: From what premise does the Ministry of Religion and National Guidance derive the powers on to ban ‘fake’ Prophets, when the constitution guarantees citizens to manifesting their beliefs through whatever worship or practice they choose?
In his article, The Referendum and Zambia’s Christian Nation Declaration,” Mr. Elias Munshya, a Zambian Theologian and Canadian Trained Lawyer, writes that,
“Ours should be a theology of hospitality, not arrogance. An evangelical political
theology in Zambia must begin reassessing the theory and practice of its Christian
faith, particularly as it relates to the relationship between the Church and the State.
Zambia is not a church; it is a liberal republic . . . the fact that we have declared
ourselves a Christian nation, has led to a theology of arrogance that lacks the hospitality spirit of our Lord.”
He continues to say;
“Evangelicals need a prophetic distance from state favour by refusing to eat from
Caesar’s table as a way of insulating itself from trouble. Government must provide
an enabling environment of freedom and let Christianity compete in an atmosphere
of liberty without coercion.”
The arrogance is evidently exhibited by the Ministry of Religion and National Guidance in the persecution of certain pastors and prophets. A marriage of inconvenience between the Church and State in Zambia substantiates the attested testimony that the apparent governance system is a peril to the free exercise of religious practices by citizens. The Clergy must construct a Wall of Separation from the political establishment. Uniting the two has an inevitable potential for fomenting violence against other smaller faiths. In retaliation, the minority faiths may fall out of favor of both the Church and State, and may opt to resist in the name of ‘self-preservation,’ and in claiming their fundamental constitutional rights, and their duty to their ‘God.’ Zambia’s constitutional democracy guarantees any practice of religion without any form of coercion from any entity.
The Ministry of Religion and National Guidance must tread prudently. There exist a greater potential to esteem certain religious congregations over others. And this tradition has an imposing potential to divide than unite. When Church and State merge, there remains a greater temptation for some religious organizations to jostle for favor from the political establishment.
What is the role of Government in religion? Beginning with the 1st Century church, When the government ‘inconveniently’ marries the church, will the church have the ultimate voice in choosing who the true or false prophet is? Should Christians resist when state governments forcibly regulate religion? Are Christians ready to be persecuted by the State for resisting their regulations? Should the Bible be the only standard of religion? Modern religious liberty revivals guarantee the principles that Jesus Christ espoused as he came face to face with the political establishment of His day; (1). Freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience. (2). Total separation of Church and State, and (3). The power of the government would rest with the people.
First and second table of the law…