What’s the big deal?
Earlier this year, before the Corona Virus pandemic was on the lips of every Zambian, there was a video of a prominent prophet who alleged that the current Zambian government had used his ‘Juju’ to win the elections. He said that he regretted helping them win because they had become arrogant and were using his ‘powers’ to oppress the people. Then, he went on to give a 20-day ultimatum to every person in the government who had used his ‘stuff’ to give it back or else suffer the penalty of death. I actually watched the warning video myself and I could tell you that it was as funny as it was shocking; Newspapers around the country picked up on the story and went crazy. It was as if one man had held an entire country ransom and its government at the mercy of his self-proclaimed ‘supernatural powers’.
Now, for all of you who didn’t know, Zambia has a legally instituted Ministry of Religious Affairs… (yep, you heard me right, that wasn’t a typo). And its task is to…well, regulate religious affairs in the country. At this point, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist for you to know that Zambia is probably the most religiously- conservative country in sub-Saharan Africa. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on what the color of your toothbrush is. So, anyway, the guy’s allegations, obviously, could not go unanswered. The minister of Religious Affairs addressed and condemned his ‘impassioned’ rhetoric and what was his response? He threatened her that if he wanted, he could visit her at night (and not physically by the way) and make her life very difficult. Now, let’s pause right there, what are we talking about here? This is our government addressing a religious issue while millions upon millions of our countrymen suffer from starvation! Do we even need a Ministry of Religious Affairs? Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian and I believe that God should have a say in the leadership of a country but this? No way this can help us …
The way forward?
A question that has strongly been running through my mind is: should the country have a separation of church and state? (This is where I start to sound like homework). It is vital to mention that before the Constitutional Amendment of 1996, Zambia subscribed to Humanism and didn’t particularly adopt any particular religion for the entire country. In fact, the Mwanakatwe commission didn’t like the idea of Zambia being declared a Christian nation. Politically speaking, this is starting to look bad for me. I bet some high-spirited Christians would view me as nothing short of another heathen drinking the Western world’s Bootleg. But that’s not the case at all.
Anyway, by separation of Church and State, what do we mean by that you might ask? What we mean is that should the country make a law that puts up a wall between government business and religious business just like France or the United States of America for example.
I was surprised to find that this thought is actually very old. The disagreements between Pope Gregory and Emperor Henry IV in the 12th century marked the very beginning of the idea. Over the centuries, as democracies evolved alongside secularism, governments incorporated the idea into their laws. One such government was the United States of America, which we will now use as a case example.
I am not a fan of some American ideologies but I think they were unto something on this one. After the American Revolution, which spanned from 1775 to 1783, most of the states’ constitutions provided for freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. But the Federal Constitution which was drawn up in 1787, had no such provisions, which caused many states to go against its ratification. So, to fix this problem, the first congress of the United States came up with amendments, which later on became the American Bill of Rights. You see, the framers of that constitution wanted a secular state which wasn’t based on any particular religion. So, contrary to popular belief in Zambia, the United States of America has never been a Christian nation.
The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads:
“Congress shall make no law, respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
The first part of this sentence is known as the Establishment Clause while the second is known as the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits Congress from making any law that legally establishes any religion. While the Free Exercise Clause prohibits Congress from making a law that legally stops the practice or exercise of any religion. These provisions sometimes conflict with each other and that was the whole plot or issue in the movie God’s Not Dead 2 (please see it, it’s a nice movie).
An example of an issue that may arise is: should the American government tax Churches? If they do, doesn’t that mean that they violate a Church’s right to free exercise? And if they don’t, does that mean that they are respecting an establishment of religion? Views have been diverse and I think it would be out of topic to consider this any further.
So, coming back to my country, I think that Zambia should institutionalize a separation of church and state. If such a separation was made, I highly doubt we would have drama like the one I alluded to earlier. To add a little bit more, it is no secret that politicians in our country use Christianity to get political leverage and votes. Its almost like, ‘since I believe in God and I am a God-fearing person, I have every right to do as I please.’ What surprises me is how we can say we are a Christian nation with so much rampant corruption? I think it’s deceptive. We have two options, either we institutionalize separation of church and state or we make strict laws that hold the leaders directly responsible and answerable to the people. At the current pace we are moving, I think it’s easier to make the former than the latter. However, the consequences of the separation of church and state in Zambia would be grave. It means that a law like section 158 of the Penal Code Act of Zambia, which prohibits homosexuality would lose its saltiness and come close to amendment or even complete repeal. Such a result, I agree, would be unintended and would meet with strong opposition from various people in the country. Anyway, I had explained my position on Homosexuality in a previous post, so I won’t delve into the gory details. Article 5 of Constitutional Bill No.10 of 2019 clearly shows an intention to institutionalize Christianity throughout the state. It reads,
“Article 8 of the Constitution is amended by the deletion of paragraph (a) and the substitution therefor of the following paragraph:
(a) Christian morality and ethics;”Article 5 of Zambian Constitutional Bill No.10 of 2019
As a Christian, I believe this is a good thing but I also lament the abuse that would follow by politicians. If we are to follow this way, we must ensure that all of the Christian values are adhered to. This means that there should be no tolerance for corruption, impunity and, injustice. For these are not only democratic principles but they are also Christian values as well. If we cannot do that, then a separation of church and state would be the way to go about it.
To conclude, I believe the separation of church and state can help clean the political process in our country and keep politics from the church as well as the church from politics. As Jesus Christ himself once said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”