By Ifeanyi Okowa
The first thing I want to say is that the subject of Christians in politics is as old as the modern church. This was not an issue for Christians in the early church who lived under a monarchical style of government. But with the advent of democracy where public officials are elected to govern the people, the debate about the compatibility of politics and religion has raged for centuries.
On the one hand, are the ‘purists’; those who believe that Christians should avoid politics like a plague. They see partisan politics as a dirty game full of intrigues, corruption, lies, hypocrisy, dishonesty, betrayals, and double standards that could infect the Christ-follower.
This school of thought finds refuge in the famous pronouncement by Jesus Christ that we “are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16) “Wherefore,” the scripture further admonishes, “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
It is the conclusion of this school of thought that a Christian, no matter how good or well intentioned, will end up being smeared by the harsh reality of politicking, and wind up losing his/her testimony thereby bringing reproach to the body of Christ.
On the other hand, are those who say Christians are obligated to participate in partisan politics for the overall public good. Since the policies and actions of government affect our everyday lives, they argue that it is incumbent on Christians to run for political office for the purpose of shaping public policy to entrench godly values and implement programmes that benefit humanity and glorify God.
This position has given rise to what is commonly referred to as Dominion Theology, a doctrine that has gained significant currency since the 1970s. Drawing from the dominion mandate given to the first man, Adam, this school of thought believes that Christians should leverage their faith to take over politics and govern the nations according to Biblical standards and values. Hence, it is further canvassed that the more Christians we have in politics, the easier it will be for this to happen seeing that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
Each side has its merits. It is true that politics, whether in Nigeria or the United States of America, can be full of dirty intrigues, power play, lies, and backstabbing. But nowhere does the Bible support insulation or isolation of God’s people from politics. If we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world as Jesus declared, we cannot do that by running away from politics. Salt has a cleansing, seasoning, and preserving effect. Just like you put salt into soup to make it tasty, Christians have to be involved in the political system to have any hope of reforming it or the society.
The Greek philosopher Plato once said that “one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Romans Chapter 13 emphatically declares that God ordained human government so it would be quite illogical for His children to be excluded from it. As Christians, we have dual citizenship – heaven and country of origin. It is evident from the whole counsel of scripture that God fully expects His children to participate in every facet of human life here on earth in order to enforce His will.
However, this is not to say that dominionism is God’s standard. While it is true that Christians must not shy away from politics, it is equally true that salvation does not come from any human government. Unwittingly, advocates of the Dominion Theology tend to redirect the faith of the Christian towards political platforms/leaders to redress humanity’s ills, thereby ascribing to human government what only faith in Jesus Christ can do. Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world. The problems of this world are the result of sinful humanity; indeed, the heart of the problem is the human heart. The ultimate hope of the Christian is not in any political platform or human leader but in Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we are not even under obligation to vote for someone just because he/she professes faith in Christ. First of all, there are hucksters who use religion for political gain. Secondly, just because somebody is a Christian does not mean he will be a wise or just leader. He must possess demonstrable capacity to govern and the moral backbone to resist corruption.
Thirdly, you don’t need salt in large quantities to make a difference; you just need a small quantity. I have said it before and I will say it again: It is not that Christians are not where they should be; it is that they are not always what they should be. The truth of the matter is that we have enough Christians in the political and civic affairs of this nation to make a difference. If this is not happening, then the question to be asked is why. What is apparent is that many people are Christians only in name.
Having established this background, I will now proceed to give a few thoughts on how Christians can be effective in partisan politics.
Be informed – God said through Prophet Hosea that “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). This simply means that ignorance carries a far more destructive power than the devil. That being the case, it is incumbent on every Christian to acquaint himself/herself with all the relevant information about how the political/electoral system works.
Every politics is local. But it never ceases to amaze me how some people, claiming to have the divine instruction to run for political office, will jump into the political fray not having the requisite knowledge or experience. In most cases, you discover that they have not been active in any political party and don’t even know the basics of how ward delegates emerge; they cannot tell you the different power configurations, the number of registered voters or the number of polling units in their wards. Yet they are contesting an election! Without that information, how can you make any intelligent projection? Ignorance has been the major undoing of many Christians claiming to have heard from God to run for political office.
Let me hasten to add that getting information is not only for those aspiring to political office. We owe ourselves the responsibility of knowing what the various parties and candidates in an election stand so that we can vote wisely. Too often, we don’t even bother to read the manifestoes of the candidates but rather choose to queue up along ethnic, sectional, or religious lines.
Be Involved – There are three major ways we can participate in politics namely; by voting, running for political office, and setting agenda for the government. I have talked a bit about the first in the preceding paragraph; we must exercise our right to vote whenever the opportunity comes.
It is the area of running for political office that is most contentious. I am aware that there seems to be a consensus to get more Christians involved in partisan politics. There is nothing wrong in that. I must, however, caution that as Christians, politics is not what we do as an ambition of the heart but out of a sense of calling to serve in that sphere of life. If God is the one leading us, we can be sure of His sustaining grace. That is the secret to the success of Joseph, Daniel, and Esther who served in idolatrous kingdoms of their day. So, it is important for me that we are absolutely sure of His leading and guidance before we jump into the partisan political arena.
We cannot all run for political office. Some of us may discover our calling in other areas such as forming an activist group or civil society organization to act as a pressure group on the government to do the right thing. We have witnessed the growing clout of these organisations in influencing governments all over the world. But it does seem to me that they tend to be dominated by people with questionable values and motives. I will like to see Christians form NGOs to advocate for the right persons to be elected into office, eradication of social inequities, and enthronement of righteousness and justice in the political space.
Be prayerful – The Bible enjoins us to pray without ceasing. This is a commandment we can ill afford to take lightly. For the Christian in politics, the danger is greater. If you don’t pray you will become a prey for the enemy. Prayer is our declaration of dependence on God; it is our acknowledgement that we cannot do anything apart from Him. We need clarity of mind as political leaders to function with godly wisdom and deliver good governance; prayer is our insurance against demonic influence.
One of the qualities that stood Daniel out in his political career was his prayer life. “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being opened in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10).
A Christian in politics must guard against prayerlessness; it is a clear and present danger confronting him/her owing to the very nature of politics and the pressure of work. To neglect the prayer factor is akin to depending on your abilities, intelligence, and skills. If that happens, it is very easy to lose focus and direction. King David wrote: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:5).
In concluding this address, I wish to stress that we must take advantage of every available means, including politics, to promote the kingdom agenda. Events around the world clearly point to the imminent return of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We must, therefore, gird up our loins and brace up for the unfinished task of global evangelism.
We do not have to wait until we occupy public office to influence public policy or governance. Wherever God has placed us is our opportunity to be good ambassadors of the Kingdom by reflecting Christ in our words and actions; we must walk the talk and let our works outweigh our words.
We must embrace humility and lead by good example (1 Peter 3:3-5). In or out of office, the Christian in politics must always strive to affect lives positively, especially the poor and vulnerable. We must have a distinctive character that truly portrays the Spirit of Christ in us. The change that we desire begins with each person choosing to do the right thing wherever he/she is.
Okowa is Governor of Delta State.
Being excerpts from an address at the Joint Council of Knights Conference, The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) at the Cathedral of All Saints, Ughelli, Delta State.