The 1979 Iranian Revolution strongly reminded the world that religion and politics cannot be separated. It was political revolution that was led by a religious leader- Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. Up until then with a fallacy from the enlightenment era and the confusion on the meaning of Westphalian Sovereignty (separation of church and state – mind you this did not mean separation of religion and politics ), political scientists were comfortable with the idea of considering religion a matter outside politics. Even politicians and political scientists who are Christian had put a blind eye on Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus Christ that “The Government will be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6). Politics of Cold War and the relative stable world in the same era had also played a part in ignoring the force and power of religion in politics.
Even without complicating matters with academic outlook, let’s be practical. With a very simple language- Religion is about ‘followership’ – it is an institution made of people who are sharing similar beliefs of a supernatural being / power. As an institution, religion has become very strong due to resources, transnational character (crosses beyond country borders), loyalty, and unmeasurable convincing power mixed with faith. We know politics is about controlling and distribution of resources. Religion has all these qualities of politics. Moreover, its controlling power is through soft means- belief- , which is more powerful than coercion. The powers of religion can be exemplified by its ability to mobilise for good things ( development activities, reconciliation, revolutions to oust authoritarian leaders, and for demanding democratic and self-determination rights-such as the work of the Catholic Church in Latin America) and for bad things such as crusade wars, slavery, colonialism and recently terrorism.
“Human Beings are political animals” – how do you then say an institution of people (religion) can be separated from politics while it is an association of the very same people the politicians are “leading” or rather “ruling”?
Well, this brief entry is my brief contribution to the reactions on the recent statement given by Bishops of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania as well as the previous statement by the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Tanzania – on the political situation in the country among other issues. One of the popular reactions against these statements is that the church should not interfere in politics. I find this to be such a feeble statement.
In Tanzania, religious groups must and have to interfere in politics because when politics go bad its the religious groups that first and foremost bear the burden. Religious groups are faith-based civil society. Bad politics directly affect not only the followers of religions but also their very mission in the country. The Lutheran and Catholics churches in Tanzania provide significant health and education services. Although I do not have statistics with me here, in hindsight it is almost safe to argue that the combined healthcare service provision by these two churches is more than the one provided by the government. The churches own referral hospitals , district hospitals (most districts are served by church owned hospital- some of them in partnership with the government), and hundreds and hundreds of health centres and dispensaries. Most secondary schools and a number of big universities with campuses across the country are owned by these two churches. How then can you tell them to not interfere with politics, while the government itself depends, hugely, on them to provide public services to the very people it collects taxes from? How can you tell them to stop talking while they are the ones to take care of suffering people when the country’s economic situations go bad out of bad politics?
If you are a poor government (in terms of GDP and all other standard economic indications), it is best to embrace religious institutions and respect them because they bail you out. Developing countries, such as Tanzania, are (even if unconsciously) at the mercy of religious organisation for their survival.
So lets fix our situation and stop blaming responsible religious leaders who are there to serve people. In whatever case, from time immemorial, religion has never and can never be separated from politics.
Not everything spoken by a religious leader is religious. If a religious leader argue in a political way, there is no problem with that. Consider this statement “we have seen unexplained whereabouts, restrained freedom expression and press and escalating levels of poverty, we need a new constitution to change this”. This statement has nothing to do with religion even if it comes from a religious leader.The problems come when he tries to argument his statements/views with “divine”. I’ll have this example here. ” God told me to tell you all that the new constitution is the sole help you can have “. With this statement we have religion (which is purely unjustifiable, imaginary and subjective) trying to justify political matters(what happens in real life) which I think is totally wrong and misleading. If this is allowed to flourish, political parties I’ll go by religion which is devastating in consequence. I think this is the only scenario where religion has to be separated from politics and its important (in that case). My views here do not consider the recent statement released by religious leades in TZ.
You do not separate religion and politics simply by asking religious leaders not to comment on political matters. In fact, it is not possible to separate religions and politics. It has never been done anywhere. Not even in Trump’s United States, Indonesia, Nepal, Brazil, England, Italy. Even our traditional governance systems based on chieftaincy were and are religious – all these societies are based on religious values.
And you will be naive to think that a call to separate religions and politics has a literal meaning. In fact, the current administration is probably the most religious we have ever had. Our current rulers are always trying to draw their legitimacy from and justify their actions by claiming that they are godsent. They always ask people “Watanzania mniombee”. Or claiming that what they are doing is so godly that once they have departed, “Mungu atawafanya kuwa viranja wa malaika”. “Msemakweli ni mpenzi wa Mungu”. Policies such as denying victims of teen pregnancy re-entry into schools are religiously charged. You just can’t separate religions and politics for politics is imbued with religious values. The call to separate religions and politics is therefore contradictory. So, the call to separate religion and politics is metaphorical. It is a call for religious leaders to stop criticising because their criticisms hurt. Political leaders would care less if they were not religious themselves. When receiving trucks that will be used by MSD to distribute drugs to hospitals, the president said we spend billions to import drugs from abroad. This money could benefit our economy if we manufacture these drugs in-house. And he challenged religious leaders to preach manufacturing in Tanzania instead. He is not saying that religious leaders should remain silent when it comes to political matters for he knows everything is political. He wants religious leaders to praise him for his actions are godly. A demand to separate religion and politics is a confession that criticisms cannot be tolerated. Our rulers are saying “we abhor criticisms”.
If you don’t believe me, think about this. Imagine a situation where religious leaders issued a statement showering praise to the President. And calling for “mkesha” to pray for the President for the good job he is doing for the country and to wish him well. And to rally people behind “maandamano ya amani kwa ajili ya kumpongeza rais kwa kazi nzuri”. Do you think the reaction to such a statement would be “keep religions out of politics” because it is dangerous?
Tanzania has maintained a policy of religious neutrality for centuries . Mwalimu Nyerere the founder of this Nation once said ” The country of Tanzania does not belong to any particular religion but Tanzanians have their own religions”
The purpose of neutrality is to bring peace and harmony by discouraging segregation in political leadership and allowing people to enjoy the freedom of choice embodied in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.
The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania provides a number of Rights one is entitled by the virtual of being citizen in Tanzania. One of these rights is the freedom of speech and expression.
One does not loose these Constitutional rights only by being a religious leader. Any religious leader enjoys the rights just like any other citizens without violating the law of the land. The argument that religious leaders should not be involved in political matters is very weak and unfounded.
Any fair comments made by religious leaders against those in power should be respected not because they are of religious leaders but because in the eyes of law are viewed as citizens exercising their Constitutional rights. Religion cannot be a ground to outvote ones complaint against the evils he sees in the government.