Ever since the dawn of history, the question of the proper relationship between the Church and politics has always been sensitive. Two schools of thought necessarily emerge from this discourse. On one hand are those who unwaveringly believe that the Church should not intrude in politics. This school of thought further justifies its position by saying that the arena of the Church is the sacristy or the vestry. Such people wrongly believe that the Church is in an offside position if it meddles in politics. On the other hand, there are those who propagate the fact that a true Church cannot completely leave the political arena into the whims of political leaders. However, the Church has to act as the moral conscience of the society and of the political arena. A brief historical background of the relationship between the state and the Church will shade light on the struggle under which we have undergone to clarify the relationship between the Church and political leaders.
We get a feel of this relationship from the times of the Roman Empire. In this vast and magnificent empire, most of the emperors forced Christians to give up their allegiance to God and give it to the emperors because there was a general belief that unity in worshiping the Emperor would subsequently translate into a unified empire. However, the Christians refused to worship Roman Emperors and this refusal sparked widespread killings and persecution of Christians. However, this relationship changed because of a new emperor, Constantine who took over the mantle of power. He made Christianity the official religion in the Roman Emperor and this approval of Christianity automatically ended the persecution of Christians. A dramatic shift in the relationship between the Church and the state happened in the feudal age. In this age, Charlemagne, almost took over the running of the Church. He had powers to appoint Bishops to lead the people of God. As if that was not enough, Charlemagne even had the audacity to fire and remove Bishops from their office. In a way this was a shift from one extreme to the other extreme thereby completely defying the old age adage, which says; ‘virtue lies in the middle.’ Nevertheless, with time, the Church woke up and decided to claim back its authority. This did not please the Roman Emperors and created tension once again which culminated in the bitter relationship between the Church and state in the Avignon Period. In the 20th Century, the question of the relationship between the church and state has also been a smouldering question. Politicians generally limit the church to the confines of the bible. Such a stand is badly deficient especially when one takes into consideration the fact that Jesus died on the Cross-as a political prisoner. If really Jesus died as a political prisoner, one fails to see how the Church can avoid commenting on political issues.
We can now make a few considerations about politics and the Church. First, the Church comments on politics as a non-partisan player. The Church does this bearing in mind that the Church is the conscience of the society and works as a guiding star in the political field. Without the Church acting as a guiding star, politicians can easily abuse their political positions for personal aggrandisement. The Church acts as a referee and blows the whistle when politicians divert from the implementation of proper values that can improve people’s livelihood. The Church intervenes when poor people exclaim for help. The church as the home of the poor and the voice of the voiceless speaks on behalf of the poor people. In speaking on behalf of poor people, the Church does so in order to fulfil Christ’s desire to establish the Kingdom of God, in which poor people can smile and afford a laugh. The Church will never hesitate at any point in time to bail out those who are consigned to the jaws of selfish political leaders. Nevertheless, in fulfilling its mission of speaking on behalf of the poor, the Church fully respects the political leaders who govern the political order. Concisely then, we can say that a healthy relationship between political leaders and the Church is desirable. This is so because the Church fully understands and appreciates the role of politicians in governing the political order. The society as such needs people who can govern and distribute the resources among the citizenry. Such a task is noble and we cannot belittle it. However, such a momentous task needs the counsel of spiritual leaders who can properly guide the conscience of politicians not to divert from national issues, which serve the interests of the poor. Our task therefore as Malawians is to foster a proper and healthy relationship between politicians and religious leaders.
*Fr Charles is a holder of a Masters degree in Bioethics from Italy. This article is exclusively property of The Maravi Post, but can be reproduced with due acknowledgment. It is a new column that will appear on every Mondays.~~Editor