By Sycorax Ndlovu
Is it really worthwhile for President Edgar Lungu to establish the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs given the stringent opposition by the two main church bodies the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Christian Council of Zambia?
It is not surprising that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has opposed the establishment of the Ministry. The church hierarchy has have never supported any semblance of Government involvement in religious affairs.
What is surprising is that the protestant Christian Council of Zambia has also joined the campaign against the Ministry.
So far only the mainly Pentecostal churches and bulk of membership among the Catholic and Protestant membership divided with the stance taken by their mother bodies which they believe did not have a right to speak for them membership without first seeking their mandate.
This is however neither feasible nor possible in the Catholic Church which is a highly hierarchical where the laity have little or no say over church policy matters.
It is also true that the appointment of a Pentecostal, Pastor Sumaili as Minister for the controversial Ministry has not helped matters as the main church bodies now feel even more estranged.
It has thus come to pass that the Ministry is under attack from the same constituency it should be serving long before it has been established.
Already Zambia is a Christian Nation in spite of the opposition that the Catholic Church mounted against the declaration. If members of the Catholic Church are among the strongest supporters of the appellation as they feel that it provides moral and spiritual support for national endeavors.
President Chiluba declared, Zambia a Christian nation on 29 December 1991, when he announced that Zambia entered into a covenant with God. Standing between the pillars of a government state house building, President Fredrick Chiluba (1991) made the Christian nation declaration, on behalf of the nation of Zambia, as follows:
On behalf of the nation, I have now entered into a covenant with the living God and therefore, I want to make the following declaration. I say here today that I submit myself as President to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I likewise submit the government and the entire nation of Zambia to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I further declare that Zambia is a Christian nation that will seek to be governed by the righteous principles of the word of God. Righteousness and justice must prevail in all levels of authority and we shall see the righteousness of God exalting Zambia. My fellow Zambians let this message reach all civil servants in all government departments. The time of corruption and bribery is over. For too long these wicked practices have been destroying and tearing down the nation. Now the hour has come for our building up. The hour has come for our stability. Proverbs 29:4 declares ‘Who is greedy for bribes tears down a nation, but by justice a king gives the country stability.
It was his intention to govern by the principles of God and that God should be officially regarded as the father of the nation.
Then Vice President Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda reaffirmed the declaration, saying:
Zambia has become the ‘chosen nation’ the ‘new Israel’.
He followed up the declaration with the establishment of a Religious Desk at State House and publicly donated money to Christian churches.
Agianst opposition from the church the Mwanakatwe Commission instituted in 1993 to reform the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia received mixed feelings among the different Christian bodies themselves with regard to the Christian nation declaration. The Pentecostal Movement strongly supported the declaration, as it righteousness and blessings to the country.
The Catholic Bishops and the Council of Churches in Zambia made submissions were against the declaration. stating that Christianity should not be imposed.
The declaration passed leading to a constitution that stated:
We, the people of Zambia by our representative, assembled in our parliament, having solemnly resolved to maintain Zambia as a Sovereign Democratic Republic; Determined to uphold and exercise our inherent and inviolable right as a people to decide, appoint and proclaim the means and style to Govern ourselves; Recognize the equal worth of men and women in their rights to participate, and freely determine, and build a political, economical and social system of their own free choice; Pledge to ourselves that we shall ensure that the state shall respect the rights and dignity of the human family, uphold the law of the State and conduct the affairs of the state in such a manner as to preserve, develop, and utilize its resources for this and future generations; Declare the republic a Christian Nation while upholding the right of every person to enjoy that person’s freedom of conscience or religion; Resolve to uphold the values of democracy, transparency, accountability and good governance; and further resolve that Zambia shall ever remain a unitary, indivisible, and multi-party and democratic sovereign state. Do hereby enact and give to ourselves this constitution.
Again when the new constitution was proposed Catholic bishops opposed the declaration of Zambia as “a Christian nation” .
In explaining their stand, the Bishops said that “a country cannot practice the values and precepts of Christianity by a mere declaration- a country, they said, could not practice the values and precepts of Christianity, by a mere declaration.
They said the principle of separation between State and Religion must not be lost.
“If Zambia is a multi-religious Country, a fact that was recognized in the preamble of the first draft of the Technical Committee, to say that Zambia is a Christian nation would be in contradiction with this fact,” they submitted.
Therefore any expectation that the two church mother bodies would support the Ministry yet to be established is misplaced. They are determined to keep Government “out of religion”
It is interesting that in their opposition to the Ministry the church mother bodies gave among other reasons that “ In view of the various financial and economic challenges our country is currently facing, we neither see the creation of the said ministry as a top priority nor a prudent decision. After all, we believe that Zambians want their country to be a democracy rather than a theocracy”
These are hardly theological reasons but point to a very strong position which goes beyond religion.
The President may do well to reconsider the position instead of opening off opening new avenues of differences with the church.