As we approach 2023, it is a good time for Church leaders to be reminded of the principle of the separation of church and state.
Customarily, in Nigeria’s pseudo-political culture, pastors and church leaders alike in moments like this–when election season is approaching–are found passing subtle endorsements of their political favourites.
For selfish personal benefits, they put out prophecies and declarations of who will become the next president or governor. Some others tread the less conspicuous path of anointing candidates (the Old Testament’s sign of God’s divine selection) with the spectacle of a full congregation or other occasions captured by camera.
With Nigeria being one of the most religious nations in the world and aloes among the least literate, the Church remains a goldmine explored by politicians to woo voters to their sides. It is very simple: once you have managed to buy in the shepherd to yourself, you would have captured the whole flock no matter how large it may be.
We may delve into the analysis of why many Christians in Nigeria have chosen to practice a religion that does not question authority while wearing ignorance as a badge of honor, but I guess that would veer away from the objective of this article.
Rather, I hope to share with you an important democratic principle that should serve as a formidable deterrent to this massive brainwash carried out via political quarters. For a democratic political process to work, every right-thinking citizen must at least be given the unfettered opportunity of expressing his or her thoughts free from undue influence from any authority, in this case, the authority of the church.
The inventors of our democracy, understanding the need for this, conceived the principle of separation of church and the state.
Historically, the principle of the separation of church and state has its roots in some of the events leading to the American and the French revolutions of the 17th century. It arose as a response to the rising opposition against the English episcopal system. In France, the principle was birthed by the revolutionary criticism of the ecclesiastical hierarchy on the one hand, and also from the desire to guarantee freedom of the church.
Although in the Soviet Union, the separation of church and state was put in place for the sole purpose of wiping out religious institutions and replacing them with secular ideologies, it must be said that religious institutions that are free from political interference serve democracy better.
I do not argue for the abdication of religion and moral values in the construct of our political life. In fact, it is very likely, and rightly so, that the citizen will vote for the candidate who best represents not just his economic interest but also his moral, social and religious interests.
However, a church leader who publicly endorses a political candidate on the pretext that “it is he whom God has chosen” is deviating from a thoroughly democratic process.
Democracy underscores the general notion of self-responsibility: the rational member of society knows his desires and aspirations and has the moral fortitude to make the right choice of who best represents this interest at the polls.
Whether this notion is true or not, the fact of history and logic teaches us that there is no better alternative. Therefore, the popular cultural acceptance that justifies that politicians should necessarily bend the knee and seek the endorsement of a religious figure (and by consequence gather the support of his followers) violates the sanctity of democracy.
Simply put, you either practice democracy or institute a theocracy; there is no such thing as a blend of both. We either live up to our democratic ideals or drop them altogether.
The interference of the church in political matters does not only violate the sanctity of democracy, it likewise deprives the church of her sacredness. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus Christ, before Pilate, speaks of his Kingdom in heaven and makes it known that it is not of this world. The church as the body of followers of Christ must be concerned with the cause of God’s kingdom which is not of this world.
The God who ordained both the institution of the church and the state designed that the one be independent of the other because they serve clearly different purposes.
As we approach 2023, politicians will visit your churches, make fat donations, and even offer to help with ongoing projects. Your pastors will receive these envelopes and declare the blessings of God as he instructs you to stretch forth your hands to speak words of prophecy on the political aspirant. You have the right to ignore such endorsements and vote your preferred candidate.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Late Wire