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Thursday, 27 October 2011

On Civil Religion

The Jubilee Centre in Ndola puts out very interesting perspectives on social justice, politics, economics and religion. We will be sharing some of their thoughts going forward. In the latest piece Lawrence Temfwe questions whether the latest presidential pronouncement will reinforce "civil religion" at the expense of true spirituality. 

Did evangelical Christians, many of whom were afraid he would nullify the Christian Nation clause, breathe a sigh of relief when President Michael Sata stated he will rule the country by biblical principles? Or did they ask what did he meant? After all, the political power of using religious language like “praying for the peace of the nation” is frequently employed to draw people together for a common cause. But Christianity can also be a powerful force to drive people apart. One only needs to look at South Africa during apartheid to see how evangelical Christians were in a crisis of faith as one section was being oppressed and exploited by another section of the same faith.

To put President Sata’s statement in perspective we need to look at the recent history of our young nation. In 1991, the MMD government, through its first President, the late Fredrick Chiluba, identified itself with the political agenda of Evangelical Christians by declaring Zambia a “Christian Nation”. Since 1991, a number of influential Evangelical leaders have been active participants in Zambian politics - particularly in the MMD, and they have focused much of their attention on the issue of a Christian Nation. In their zeal to maintain the Christian Nation clause some of these leaders chose to close their eyes to the moral disregards and outrageous deeds of political leaders. Even though most Christians knew the MMD kept the clause to ensure the support of the church and not out of a sincere conviction that Jesus is Lord, they were willing to support the MMD because they believed it was the only party who would sustain the clause.

Like President Chiluba, President Sata’s declaration, to put his Christian faith into action as he conducts the affairs of the nation, is grounded on his personal testimony and Christian conviction. Is the church going to Christianize the Patriotic Front because of this declaration? In 1998, the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice contended that the government failed to achieve national consensus in support of the Christian Nation declaration. Will they challenge President Sata in the same way? Will evangelical and charismatic church leaders, who supported President Chiluba’s approach as being the best way to ensure the term “Christian Nation” is sustained, agree with President Sata’s declaration?

One way to measure the benefit of the Christian Nation declaration is to ask whether the church has grown numerically and spiritually since the declaration was made. Have we become a nation known for justice, opportunity for the poor, the fatherless, the widows and the aliens? Have we experienced a revival that is causing bars to be closed, AIDS to be reduced, and the elimination of corruption? Has our Christianity become more important in our daily lives or has it become just another aspect of our culture similar to Kuomboka, Umutomboka, witchdoctors, and the price of mealie meal?

The church must not reinforce the impression that Christianity is primarily a civil religion. Civil Christianity is mostly concerned with praying at political functions, displaying religious symbols on national monuments, and engaging politicians on social issues. As Christian leaders we are better to spend our time and energy doing authentic Kingdom work like building faith communities focused on growing disciples-President Sata included. If we “keep the main thing the main thing” – making disciples – we will see individuals and socio-political systems transformed in deeper and more lasting ways than affirming a Christian Nation could ever accomplish.


  1. Interesting you mention Evaneglicals as they pretend to be spiritual but careless about the poor. Zambian Evangelicals are no different from the Western Evangelicas, they are into prosperity than speaking against the government. If it were not for Fr. 'Red Card'Frank Bwalya the MMD would still have been in power. Tell me a single name of one Zambian Evangelical minister that went to jail because they were fed up with MMD's corruption. In short it's not enough to rejoice in Zambia being a Christian nation, it's the action of the religious and political leaders that God cares about and that my fellow brethren is the essence of spirituality.

  2. Religion is a major component of many political ideologies. The Zambian Constitution does not specify that a President should rule by the 10 commandments. What I have observed is that the constitution of Zambia have shared values in accordance with Christian principles. Separation of religion and state should is not clearly incorporated but let the people practice their freedom of worship as part of the fundamental human rights. Governance is critical in implementing the real meaning of change in the manner in which Zambia is governed. Chiluba declared Zambia a Christian nation but the conduct, corruption, embezzlement, and malice become the order of the day. I would advise that such pronouncement be taken with a pinch of salt because should power grip to the Sata's mind, then he is likely to abandon all biblical values. The people will judge and so will God do the same.

    Kunda KM.

  3. The relationship between you and your God is personal that is what your so called christian scriptures tell you. You cannot go to heaven on account of your friend's or relative's faith. It has to come from yourself. Jesus Christ the son of God was here on earth; and he did not stand on Mount Everest and declare a 'Christian World' but supposedly gave everyone the democratic right to either believe or not believe in him. Fast forward 2000+ years later a mere mortal declares 'his' country a 'christian nation'.what a load of nonsense! This speaks to the current backwardness of Zambia a country ruled more by emotion than reason! It is very very sad. Please keep your religion out of the state and govt!


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