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Political and Religious conflicts can set out country on fire

Filed under: Special Comments |
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By Daimone Siulapwa

Both religion and politics have one common goal: that is to acquire political power and use it to fulfill their aims.

However, to achieve this object, their methods are different. Religion mobilizes religious sensibilities of people in order to get their support to capture power; while politics uses intrigue, diplomacy, and makes attempt to win public opinion either democratically or by using other unorthodox formulas.

Politics is not the subject of religious figures like priests because they have a different domain of expertise and they serve people from a myriad of backgrounds.

Religious figures are well respected by the people, especially the poor, and whatever they say is taken seriously – sometimes out of context.

Religious figures should, therefore, desist from making inflammatory comments that are divisive and may trigger turmoil. Unguided political comments, such as the one attributed to Catholic priest Anthony Salangeta, tend to trump on the freedoms of congregants who equally hold diverse political views.

There is deliberate separation between the Church and the State and this is to ensure freedom of religion – real freedom! Religious figures need to understand that their flock has people who belong to different political parties and thus hold different political views. Others are not even apolitical.

To begin to patronize congregants just because you have an opportunity to be at the pulpit is absurd. Priests and pastors alike should not try to make Zambia less free by turning the country into a theocracy because of their political choices.

Now Fr. Salangeta’s statement against President Hakainde Hichilema has seemingly pitted the Catholic Church against the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) because the latter is where the President congregates. But then, both politicians and religious figures should learn to keep their lane – it is appalling and inappropriate for them to be trading bad words.

It is a known fact that the Catholic Church exerts so much political influence world over but to abuse this influence by its priests is unacceptable as it is a recipe for anarchy. Careless statements by religious figures and the subsequent reactions from politicians like President Hichilema are deeply polarizing the country.

In fact it would have been better for President Hichilema to reach out to the Catholic Church or indeed Fr. Salangeta himself through a proxy other than directly responding to the attack from the priest.

The Presidency is the highest office of the land and thus President Hichilema is the one who can change the polarization that the country is struggling with by being more conservative. Intolerance of another person’s opinion is a personal choice, not a requirement hence President Hichilema was not mandated to respond.

It must be understood that religion and politics can be polarizing, precisely because they deal with important matters that are deeply personal and close to our passions. But these discussions do not have to be polarizing or combative.

It’s absolutely fine for priests to have political preferences. But the instant they try and force others to believe in what they believe, and try to influence their flock, then they have crossed a line as has been the case with Catholic priests such as Bishop Alick Banda, Fr. Salangeta and a few others.

Priests like Bishop Banda and Fr. Salangeta are well known to be aligned to the PF and they have turned the pulpit into a political podium to advance their agenda. They have swayed from preaching the Holy Word and have embarked on an evil selfish scheme using an irrational tactic.

But whether they like it or not, people are entitled to their own political beliefs and opinions, and there is absolutely no reason why their beliefs should be trumped on by a few disgruntled elements in the name of priests.

The Catholic congregants should be wary of such priests. The behavior of priests Banda and Salangeta is a warning – they have indicated to the world a blueprint indicating their level of hatred. Fortunately, Bishop Banda, Father Salangeta and a few other like-minded priests do not represent the greater majority of the good men of the robe.

When the Catholic Church has any misgivings with governance issues, it ordinarily communicates through a pastoral letter issued by the church mother body like the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) and not through individuals like Bishop Banda and Fr. Salangeta.

Even the Jesuit Centre for Theological Research (JCTR) has distanced itself from Fr. Salaneta’s statement that mocked the use of graphs by President Hakainde Hichilema during the last press conference. This is because the JCTR, which is a Catholic Church organization, understands the importance of using graphs for illustration purposes.

By and large, religion and politics “should not mix” because when religion is used for political purposes, it empties religion of its eternal meaning and becomes just one more cynical method of acquiring power.

*Our memories are still fresh on how these religious leaders helped fun the Rwanda genocide. It was a few misguided priests who got involved in the rot and the whole church eventually got implicated.*

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists in a wave of violence sparked by the death of the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana – a Hutu – when his plane was shot down. Violence spread from the capital, Kigali, throughout the country, encouraged by the presidential guard and radio propaganda.

The killing was led by a militia called the Interahamwe, but ordinary citizens were urged to join in. In some cases, Hutus were forced by military personnel to murder their Tutsi neighbours.

Many Catholic priests and nuns were complicit in the manslaughter and some even took part directly in the violence. Thousands of people were butchered in churches where they sought refuge. An estimated 5,000 people were killed at the Ntarama Catholic church on 15 August 1994: the site is now one of six major memorials in Rwanda.

*One priest, Father Athanase Seromba, ordered his church to be bulldozed with 2,000 Tutsis sheltering inside. Another, Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, helped draw up lists of people to be killed and raped young women, according to charges issued by the UN’s international criminal tribunal for Rwanda in 2005.*

The Catholic Church was compromised by its longstanding political ties to the ruling Hutu elite. Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva sat on the ruling party’s central committee for nearly 15 years even as it implemented policies that discriminated against Tutsis.

Once the massacres started, instead of using his political affiliations to urge the regime to stop the killing, he refused even to call it genocide. Witnesses said he stood by as Tutsi priests; monks and a nun were taken to be murdered, such is the influence some priest might have on their congregants and we would not want such a thing to happen in Zambia.

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