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.