By Promise Adiele
At the forefront of these issues of religion and politics are the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
Should religion and politics mix? Can they be separated from each other? Is there a difference between religion and politics seeing that sometimes we speak in terms of the religion of politics and other times, the politics of religion? These questions have animated and dominated public discourse in the last week in Nigeria.
For some people, both the church, RCCG and the umbrella body, PFN have conspired to commit apostasy by creating a Directorate of Politics and Governance in their rank and file. In all honesty, have PFN and RCCG committed any crime by kick-starting a political awareness within Nigeria’s Christendom? Certainly no.
My first direct encounter with religion and politics was on the pages of T. S Eliot’s Murder In The Cathedral, a verse dramatic composition redolent with the inevitable relationship between religion and politics.
In the play, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket fell out with King Henry II who in turn banished the Archbishop to France.
The Archbishop had served under King Henry II as a Chancellor of England, a political position which he combined with his religious duties. However, as time passed, Thomas Becket took exception to some of the King’s policies because they were inconsistent with his religious beliefs.
The King cried blue murder and accused Thomas Becket of treachery. After seven years in France, Thomas Becket decides to return to England to continue with his religious duties. But unfortunately, he was murdered inside the cathedral by four knights who claim they were sent by King Henry II. While some people think that Thomas Becket could not reconcile the King’s political policies with his religious stance, others think that Becket died because of his inordinate desire to become a martyr.
It must be noted that while Becket served as the Chancellor of England, through his compassion, he positively transformed the lives of the common people and gave impetus to the general revival of the working class who were hitherto deprived, denied, and wallowed in extreme poverty. Compassion is an undeniable derivative of religion. Should religion and politics mix?
For me, religion should mix with politics. PFN and RCCG are explicitly redefining the general contours of our political behaviour by spurring Christians out of their lethargy, challenging them to participate more in politics. If other religions do so, then it is a welcome development. These religions cannot continue to criticize, preach, and point accusing fingers at politicians, leaving the political ocean for people they term as misfits and marauders to determine our collective destiny.
Since the PFN directive to their affiliate bodies, the media has been aflame with opinions – constructive and reasonable, jejune and pedestrian. Those who take exceptions to the RCCG move query why a church should foray into politics.
According to these people, politics and religion should never mix. Those who hold this view are more vehement in castigating RCCG and PFN for the offending directive. Alarmed by the damage this move may pose to his political ambition, renowned journalist and publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu has cried out
condemning the RCCG and PFN.
At this point, we must, as enlightened people draw the line between sentiments and the apparent illogicality in the cognitive process associated with the view that politics and religion should never mix. How on earth is it possible for anybody to argue that two inherently intertwined phenomena, politics and religion, should never mix seeing that both have always retained a dialectical potentiality?
Is it possible to separate religion and politics? Can they exist independent of each other? Is a religious person necessarily a spiritual person? The answer is no. But most religious people are certainly spiritual.
Politics can be interpreted and understood from different prisms depending on the intention and purpose of the interpreter.
Setting aside all the semantic, recondite jargon of the political lexicon, we can, for the sake of this essay, say that politics is the aggregation of interests to influence or control power. Human existence naturally enthrones different systems of power control by which interests are either protected or jettisoned.
Religion, politics or power control are present in every human gathering – within the family unit, in the traditional village setting, in schools’ alumni associations, in the corperate world, in classrooms, in school administration, universities and other tertiary institutions, in churches and mosques, and international relations.
It is this inexorable presence of politics and religion everywhere in a human occupation that led Aristotle to submit that “man, is by nature a political animal” and Karl Marx to maintain that “religion is the opium of the people”.
Although Marx maintained that religion should be abolished to free the workers, 21st-century realities prove that religion can never be abolished at least in our part of the world. Even within the individual body ravaged by need, there is religion and politics, The Trumpet gathered.
So when people aver that politics and religion should not mix, they inadvertently betray an abysmal lack of knowledge of the tenets of modern political engagements.
Raising the bar of the discourse further, many people subscribe to different religions and tenaciously hold onto their doctrines.
It is simply axiomatic that millions of people structure their lives after their religious inclinations. So, if the existence of millions of people is sustained by their religious beliefs, people who are active participants in the State, who pay their taxes and fulfil other civic responsibilities, who vote and contribute to the emergence of a political leader, then it is purpose defeating to say that these people should not aspire to political offices or collectively support one of their own to aspire and possibly win elections.
As a conscientious observer of Nigeria’s political climate in the last thirty years, I am aware that presidential aspirants in Nigeria always balance the equation with religion in their choice of running mates to garner votes from the electorate.
I have had such things as Muslim/Muslim tickets, Christian/Christian tickets, Muslim/Christian tickets and so on. This type of religious balancing in politics has always been a factor in Nigeria and there can be no better mixture between religion and politics.
Muhammadu Buhari is a Muslim. He got millions of votes from his religious base, those who didn’t think twice about voting for him.
Some Christians too voted for him. Instead of criticising RCCG and PFN, Nigerians should encourage religious organizations to participate more in politics instead of preaching it. Nigerians should draw a line between religious bigotry and religious participation.
To the best of my knowledge, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is not the only Christian or even RCCG member in politics interested to contest for the office of president.
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To narrow RCCG’s response to PFN’s directive as drumming support for the Vice-President (the VP has not even declared interest to contest the next presidential election) is to question the transparency and integrity of the Christian faith. RCCG recognizes the importance of practising politics instead of continually preaching it and criticising political actors.
PFN has thrown down the gauntlet, RCCG has responded. Let other affiliate churches do so without delay.