By Munshya wa Mushya
On 29th December 2015, Zambia celebrated 24 years since the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation. It was on December 29, 1991 that President Frederick Chiluba stood between two pillars at State House to dedicate Zambia to God. President Edgar Lungu has continued the Christian nation legacy. This article provides a brief history of the faith of Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba.
According to Phiri (2003:405; 2008:101) and Gifford (1996), Frederick Chiluba’s religious background began, just like Kenneth Kaunda, as a member of the United Church of Zambia (UCZ) in Ndola. However, he became “born again” after reading the book, From Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers. This was while Kaunda had imprisoned him on politically motivated charges in 1981 (Smith 1998:153; & Yong 2010:9).
This religious profile of President Chiluba presents a complex mix of faiths and doctrines. He, being a member of the UCZ, became “born again”, and later received “the gift of tongues.” The historical origins of the UCZ, in terms of policy and practice, never advocated for “being born again” as of any significance to being a Christian or as a prerequisite into its membership. Therefore, by claiming to be born again latter, Chiluba seems to have acquired a clear evangelical perspective of what it means to be a Christian.
Another significant element adds to Chiluba’s “born again” status. He received the “gift of tongues” in his spirituality. This reception of tongues is a clear reference to Pentecostal/charismatism. As such, Chiluba was not only a Christian as member of the UCZ, but rather he became born again and eventually received tongues. Jefferson (2002:75) even puts Chiluba as a member of the Pentecostal community.
A discussion of Chiluba’s attitude and conversion to Christianity is significant as it assuages the claim that he may have become a Christian while in office to use religion as a way of gaining and keeping power. Chiluba’s Christian story, at least, at this time is similar to that of Kaunda. They both had strong leaning towards the Christian faith way before they assumed power. Kalu (1985:114) is instructive in this regard when he mentions that: “President Chiluba who declared Zambia as a Christian nation …was born again before ascension into power.”
Religious ecumenism for a Zambian leader was not new with Chiluba, however. Kenneth Kaunda as well showed some affinity for religious miscellany. For Kaunda, he combined his Christian beliefs as a member of the UCZ with Indian mysticism. Chiluba on the other hand, combined religious diversity within the Christian religion by embracing different doctrines and faiths. Between these two types of syncretisms, it is apparent that Zambians were more tolerant of Chiluba’s religious or denominational ecumenism than they were, of Kaunda’s inter-religious affiliation in the 1980s.
Isabel Phiri (2003; 2008) has pointed out how after winning the presidency Chiluba refused to enter State House (his presidential palace), until there had been a cleansing ceremony. To cleanse State House, Chiluba relied on his charismatic friends who prayed and fasted over State House to exorcise evil spirits. It was believed among those in evangelical circles that Kaunda’s involvement with Eastern Mysticism had brought evil spirits to State House and consequently to the nation (Yong 2010:9). Therefore, exorcism was going to form a crucial role in Chiluba’s ascension to power.
To understand how Chiluba reasoned, it is prudent to refer to Zambian traditional worldviews. In the ZTR worldview, the spirit world is extremely alive and could have impact on the physical world. Consistent with this worldview, therefore, it is not unusual that as an evangelical and charismatic believer Chiluba decided to use the Christian faith to provide the necessary tools and support to exorcise State House. Actually, it should not be controversial that Chiluba’s faith in Christianity led him to find evangelical pastors to exorcise the ghosts of State House since had it not been for his alleged Christian beliefs any African leader would resort to witchdoctors to perform such exorcisms.
This cleansing ceremony is very significant in the sense that through it Chiluba had sent a clear message that while Kaunda had entertained Eastern Mysticism; Chiluba was going to return State House to the Christian faith. This is the same Christian faith, which was part of the foundation of Zambia in the first place.
Coupled with the cleansing of State House was the cleansing of The David Universal Temple, which Kaunda had constructed as a syncretic house of worship. The worship that is definitely alien to the Christian faith. The government, after exorcising it, later leased out the David Universal Temple.
Shortly after assuming power Chiluba went to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, an iconic Church in the centre of Lusaka, to be anointed as leader over Zambia by no less than the leaders of the three Church mother bodies—the EFZ, the CCZ, and the ZEC (Phiri 2003:406; Freston 2001:158). During that anointing service, the Anglican Bishop Mumba charged Frederick Chiluba to lead Zambia with integrity and with the fear of God.
The fifth president of Zambia, Michael Sata had a similar coronation service on September 25, 2011. For President Sata however, it lacked the pomp and splendour that characterized Chiluba’s anointing service. President Michael Sata knelt before his parish priest who prayed for him and his wife to lead with wisdom. For his part President Sata committed himself to rule the nation by biblical principles and the Ten Commandments.
It appears like the Christian nation declaration is safe and sound under the leadership of President Lungu as well. An analysis of Lungu’s faith will need another article.