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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Churches take politics to the pulpit

Religious leaders and politicians are on a collision course following the former s use of the pulpit to indulge in politics, ahead of the Southern African nation s general election next year.
Charles Banda

The fiery hullabaloo began early this month when the outspoken General Secretary of the Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), came in the open to support an alliance of opposition political parties, which is being planned as the only way to oust President Bakili Muluzi's ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) in next year's polls.

Reverend Daniel Gunya, who has turned out to be the most fearless critic of President Muluzi s administration, said he was convinced the UDF had to pave way for another leadership, for failing to revive the economy.

Opposition parties in Malawi are currently working out an alliance similar to Kenya's National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which overwhelmingly defeated former ruling party, Kenya Africa National Union (KANU), in last December's elections. KANU had ruled the country since independence in 1963.

Gunya, who is also the chairman of Forum for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), asserted that his view had over 70 per cent support from Presbyterian Christians throughout the country. FDD is a grouping of human rights and church organisations focussing on safeguarding good governance, democracy and the rule of law.

I could say that over 70 per cent of the members agree with our initiative and people are appreciative of what we are doing. There have been no condemnation from people against us, said Gunya

He added: "I am interested in the opposition's electoral alliance and I am currently in the process of making consultations, because the UDF cannot change the lives of the people. I want the UDF to be kicked out of power," said Reverend Gunya.

He said that his denomination, CCAP is to embark on a civic education programme to change the mindset of the electorate on political issues, Gunya s remarks however did not go down well with Malawian politicians, who slammed the clergy for taking partisan stand in politics.

Malawi s Second Vice-President, Chakufwa Chihana, at a political rally he addressed recently in Malawi s central district of Kasungu accused the Church of meddling in politics using the pulpit instead of "leading the flock".

I believe politicians and political scientists are the right people to comment on political issues and campaign for political offices. It is a religious suicide for a church minister to use the pulpit to tell his or her followers who to vote for or vote against, Chihana said.

He explained that church leaders should occupy themselves with their Pastoral work of guiding and leading people to the Kingdom of God.

According to Chihana, interference of some church leaders in politics have ended up sparking civil wars and genocide in some countries hinting that it is no surprise that some religious leaders in Rwanda have appeared before international tribunals that are probing genocide cases.

Chihana s observation has irked the church fraternity. Rev MacDonald Kadawati, deputy chairman of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a body, which comprises various religious organisations among others, described Chihana's utterances as unfortunate.

"He is a confused fellow," remarked Kadawati, adding: "No politician in Malawi can dictate what the Church should do.

As the fierce battles of accusations and counteraccusations continue, the Roman Catholic Church in Malawi has issued a statement explaining that it does not have a stand on which presidential candidate its faithful should support in next year s elections.

Deputy Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Reverend Father Leornard Namwera in a statement said the Roman Catholic Church would let its members vote for Presidential and Parliamentary candidates of their choices.

The statement comes after a Roman Catholic Priest at Limbe Cathedral, Phillip Mbeta during a Sunday worship told his flock not to vote for a candidate, whose party is giving out handouts to buy people s votes. This was in direct reference to the ruling United Democratic Front presidential candidate Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika.

But Reverend Father Namwera said the Catholic Church does not get directly involved in partisan politics but has a duty to direct its faithful on moral issues. He said whatever the priests are saying on presidential candidates, they are doing so from their individual assessment of the situation in the country.

Of course, priests have a role to teach people issues of justice and peace but I can t say that the church has a stand on which candidate people should choose or not, said Namwera.

Individual priests have come up with principles on choosing a president but that does not mean the church has a stand on the matter. The church only teaches citizens to be responsible, he added.

He also said the church's stand on any issue is made known through Pastoral Letters which are written by the church s bishops.

Roman Catholic Bishop, Joseph Zuza of the Northern Malawi s Mzuzu Diocese however said in an interview that Malawians need to pray hard so that God helps them choose leaders that have the backing of the people around them and that they are able to deliver to the masses especially the poor and the underprivileged.

What I can say is that God guides people in everything, and as such we should ask him to guide us, in the choice of our leaders this time around, said Zuza.

He however said it was wrong for a church minister to stand up at the pulpit and mention names of politicians his followers should vote for.

In a bid to ease the tension, which exists between the State and the clergy, President Muluzi is mending bridges by visiting church leaders. Recently, he attended a special conference convened by Blantyre CCAP Church, where his critic Reverend Gunya was present.

Speaking at the conference he said that he strongly believes in Church-State relations, because both institutions serve the same people. Muluzi explained that it is therefore imperative that the Church and Government should work together and meet the aspirations of the people they serve.

He also told the Church that if it has some grievances to air out on every issue including politics, it should contact government officials including himself rather than making emotive outbursts at the pulpit. Muluzi said that any advice given in good faith is good advice. It is easier to take it from our respected clergy when it is not given as an agent of a political party, Muluzi said.

The Malawian leader reminded the church leaders to always bear in mind that they look after Christians who belong to different political parties. He also lectured on the need for religious tolerance and greater unity among different faith communities if the nation is to realise social and economic development.

Despite Muluzi s reconciliatory advice some church leaders and politicians continue to trade in mudslinging. Partisan church leaders continue to campaign for some politicians while openly de-campaigning others. The sour relationship promises to escalate to the worst as elections near.

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