The 2016 amendment to the constitution of Zambia has maintained the status of Zambia as a Christian nation. One of the greatest questions that something like the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation provokes is whether by its nature such a Declaration would be able to enhance human rights and promote religious liberty.
Little (2008), defines religious liberty as the “condition in which individuals or groups are permitted without restraint to assent to and, within limits, to express and act upon religious convictions and identity free of coercive interference or penalty imposed by outsiders including the state.”
On the other hand, according to Shepherd (2010), “human rights” can be defined as “rights granted to a human being upon his or her birth.”
In this regard then, it becomes not only necessary but also essential to evaluate the Declaration in terms of at least three questions. First, whether the Declaration does have the potential to impinge on religious freedom.
Second, whether the Declaration by its nature impinged on religious freedom, and thirdly, whether the Declaration in its effect or practice has impinged on religious freedom.
a) Does the Declaration have the potential to impinge on religious freedom?
b) Has the Declaration by its nature impinged religious freedom?
c) Has the Declaration by its effect and practice impinged on religious freedom?
There has so far been no report of religious persecution because of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation.
However, there have been some sentiments in the evangelical Churches; supported by a government minister at one time, calling on Zambians to be vigilant against the infiltration of “Satanic Churches”.
Hon. Peter Chintala, a deputy minister during the Chiluba regime threatened that government was ready to ban any religious denomination that engaged in satanic activities that contradicted Zambia’s Christian heritage. To date the word “satanic” in Zambia remains vague even among the most vocal Pentecostals.
Obviously, in so saying Hon Chintala was targeting the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) that at that time had faced some accusations that it was practicing Satanism (Freston 2005). So pronounced was the uproar over the UCKG that one of the foremost evangelical leaders Bishop John Mambo suggested to government that the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia should be the one to be responsible for the registration of new religious Churches to avoid the infiltration of these satanic Churches. The UCKG won almost of its cases in court when the Zambian government claimed to deregister it.
The above-mentioned issues, lead to the idea that the Declaration does have the potential to breed intolerance towards other religions or other religious establishments. However, the Church’s role here should not be one of indifference towards the Declaration, but rather it should be informed with clear theological foundations on what should constitute an appropriate relationship between itself and the Christian government.
The Christian Church should be able to hold the State to account taking cognisance of the reality of the State’s Christian self-proclamation. The church cannot give up its prophetic mandate.
Nevertheless, as noted, the role of the judiciary has been very forceful in protecting religious freedom to individuals in spite of the Declaration, as was the case in the UCKG court actions.
The accusation still stands that the Declaration has the potential to breed intolerance and religious persecution.
It is for this reason that the evangelical movement need a clear theoretical paradigm through which it can effectively engage with the State and the rest of the Society in the way that a Christian nation should relate to society.
This relationship should at least guarantee religious freedom.
First, the state should keep away from an overtly partisan or denominational preferences.
President Lungu of a Christian nation, must demonstrate his Christian faith without having to discriminate, in harmful ways, against followers of other religions.
The state should not be an evangelistic arm of the evangelical church. Even though the state has proclaimed itself to be Christian it still nevertheless guarantees religious liberty to all.
Second, the state should tamper its desire to control religious churches. Zambia and many African countries have now been invaded by an interesting transnational prophetism.
One preacher claims to have so much money as to lend billions of dollars to nations such as Zambia. Drilling a little into these claims, however, yields the sad picture that this transnational prophet does not have the billions he claims to have.
Kenya and Cameroun are going after these churches by banning their television shows and limiting their registration.
South Africa is trying to regulate some of these churches. As a Christian nation, Zambia must not take after Kenya, or South Africa or Cameroun. Sometimes the temptation to control these churches might consequently lead to violation of religious liberties. If these churches are committing crimes, then the state has the right to go in and punish criminals.
The state should not proscribe churches simply because it does not agree with the church’s demand for a tithe.
Third, the state should watch its direct interference into spiritual and religious areas. Lungu’s state temple might sound like a great idea.
But a Christian nation really does not need another temple sponsored by the state. Zambians already have churches they go to.
President Lungu can demonstrate his faith by becoming a member of a local church and submitting himself to pastoral leadership. It is not necessary for him to try to build a temple for the state when Zambia has churches all over the place.
I am very sceptical that the fundraising committee established by the state will raise the $10 million needed to build this state-sponsored temple. It is quite unnecessary.
Our duty to the Christian nation presents an invitation to all of us to enquire into its attitude towards others, towards the rights of others, and towards the religious liberty of the other.