By Dominic Liche
Over the weekend, we have witnessed two church services taking place on the grounds of State House, hosted by new President, Hakainde Hichilema. Yesterday, the church service was led by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Today’s was led by the Catholics. Whilst hosting the services may in themselves be problematic to the naked eye, a bit more reflection may uncover some salient problems with such a practice, in its justification and probable sustenance in the coming weeks and even years.
It seems to be a very bad start for President Hakainde Hichilema in hosting these church services at State House because the many questions that the practice evokes could uncover deep seated problems in the Zambian governance system. These questions include, but not limited to the following: Is this the best use of our resources and his presidential time on Saturdays and Sundays to bring different churches to State House to pray? Will he next bring UCZ, Bread of Life Church International, Northmead Assembly of God, different Pentecostal churches, New Apostolic Church, Zion churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses (if at all they can accept such!), Moslems (oh, I forgot this seems only directed at Christians), Hindus, and other religious churches to State House for church services? Just what is the motives behind these church services at State House? What is expected to be achieved by these State House prayers? Are they some form of cleansing of State House grounds? Are they some form of anointing of the leader? Are they some form of appeasing religious leaders and their followers for some role they could have played in the election victory? Are they some form of seeking acceptance of and from Christians especially for a person who was unfairly painted unchristian, Satanist, free mansion, and other names by his political rivals, mainly the Patriotic Front? Are blessings being sought as he is undertaking a five-year mandate as the president of the country?
President HH has apparently opened the doors of State House to these pastors, elders and priests, and religious fundamentalists (as can be seen already by comments on the President’s page around these two events) who have different expectations and agendas of their role in the new government. Some want to be close so that they can siphon off and benefit from the new government. Some want to show they have power and are close to the powers that be and can easily call on the President for favours. Others want to make sure that things like the Christian nation declaration remain in the Constitution, that the so-called National Day of Prayer, Fasting, Repentance and Reconciliation remains on the calendar and a holiday, that the inter-denominational House of Prayer is completed, that the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs remain unscathed, etc. For yet others being invited to State House is nothing but for pomp and pride for selves and their peers.
Very soon we may hear that a church is being built in State House or a permanent tent has been erected for this weekly church services. Or at the very least, some religious charlatans calling for such.
This kind of approach, if not guarded or reflected upon, is one that made former President Lungu very arrogant and even believe that God had anointed him and chosen him to lead this country away from the role that citizens played in electing him into office. He stopped listening to the very people who was elected to lead. He stopped seeing the economic malaise, corruption, maladministration, because the so called Christians and maybe even pastors for Lungu told him otherwise. He stopped seeing the suffering of the people. Yet he faithfully shared Bible verses every day with pictures of himself with hands clasped looking holy and humble on his social media platforms. He laughed when people were complaining that life was hard. Youths wanting to voice out their concerns were called names. He thought ‘God’ was enough without Christian acts for the people he was supposed to serve. Songs were even composed to the tune that God had already chosen and elected him as President in this election even if people were not to want him. He was misled by religious leaders who did not prioritise good governance, democratic tenets, respect for rights, freedoms and liberties of all in society, and doing unto others as they would want done unto them. The religious leaders prioritised holding national prayers to pray for kwacha stability, improved economy, and other things that needed practical hard work of governance systems. They prioritised painting any person with a divergent view as anti-Christ, painting the opposition as Satanists, unchristian, free masons, and other bad names. They prioritised building a national temple as though churches have no church buildings to pray from and as if the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that has thus far served as an interdenominational prayer centre was inadequate.
If President HH is not careful, he will fall in the same trap as his predecessor.
I ‘pray’ for a day and generation when our politics and governance system will be divorced from cheap religiosity and unquestioning religious fundamentalism. When religion will not be used to win elections or advantage one qualifying candidate over another. When religion will take its proper place in servicing the spiritual and social needs in an unbiased manner. With these church services and maybe a few more to come, President HH might be seeing himself as being anointed or consecrated by God right now by religious leaders of different churches and denominations to legitimately, in a religious sense, take his place as the national leader of this country. He may be begin seeing himself as God’s representative in this nation as some our past leaders have. He may stop seeing himself as master and not as our servant. Something he has correctly, helpfully and repeatedly asserted about his servant leadership style of governance. Some religious leaders may begin pumping into him the view that as the anointed one, citizens cannot and should not question his decisions and authority. As they say, touch not the anointed!
But after this, how is President HH to do away with the so-called Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs which is a total waste of taxpayers money? How is he to annul or reverse the building of the interdenominational temple in the recently degazetted forestry, that I think should be turned into a government complex (offices and business) or a scientific or special skills college? How is he to say no to some gullible religious leaders when they want special favours from him?
Yes, coming from a place where he has been called so many unchristian names and accused of many unchristian acts, he may want to prove himself to be none of those things. But in doing so, he should be wary of religious selfish opportunists and vultures who have nothing to do with real faith but want to gather for the niceties that come with being close to the ruling elites. Those that may poison his honest good intentions for this country, the intentions that led to a massive voter turnout with a majority of citizens voting for him.
The President may slowly be entangling himself in a vicious web of religion that will be very difficult for him to disentangle himself from. this entanglement can be seen in an increase in daily bible verses on his social media platforms. Between former President Lungu’s social media page and that of President HH, not much difference can be seen in terms of these Bible verses. Beyond these bible verses if they are seen as key, more should be done to share bytes from his governance plans, priorities, and immediate areas of focus, and daily reflections on key issues affecting us citizens. Bible verses could very easily dwarf us into not calling our leaders into account for many will easily say, Amen!, and not ask critical questions on what the President has done or is doing.
Yes, it is good to have a prayerful President, a President who is Christian. One who wants to pray alone and with others. One who wants to inculcate some useful Christian values and principles in his leadership style. But, the most he could have done or should do going forward is to go to different churches each Saturday or/and Sunday to pray like any other Christian, if indeed he considers Christians to be fellows.
For what would be his excuse for refusing another Church that requests to hold a service at State House after this?
The Author is a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at the University of Zambia.