The Oasis Reporters
December 5, 2018
Bishops, Reverends, pastors, imams and traditional priests all have the legal right as citizens to feel for a political candidate, think with him, and defend him, personally, openly and even using their religious platforms. Nothing in the theory of citizenship says a priest should not openly love a political movement.
In the past, some people have used religious platforms to enslave people, while some others too have used religious platforms to push for the emancipation of enslaved people. Of the former are early racists, and of the latter one can mention Malcolm X (1925-1965), who vigorously used the Islamic Nation and his Muslim Mosque Inc. as platforms to advance the interest of Black Americans against predatory White-driven racism.
As teachers of beliefs, religious ministers have no legal or moral barriers against teaching politically relevant beliefs, only with the proviso that they are not untrue defamatory statements about persons, untrue sensitive statements about peoples and tribes, purely fake news, or hate speech. Having an assembly of people who believe in one’s spiritual leadership and teachings is an opportunity for an enlightened religious leader to mobilize a sizable population for a political cause. And I think we cannot have a universal law that says priest do not have the duty to guide their followers in social and political decision making. They have the duty, like everyone else. But they are also lucky a good number of people follow them as leaders.
If there are no laws preventing the clergy in general, are there norms that prevent them from openly supporting a candidate in elections?
There are none, except those that a priest should observe in expressing his political concerns.
1. As a priest, understand the climate of your country. Is it politically volatile due to religious differences, tribal affiliations and other factors?
If yes, you must be wise about your political leadership of your assembly. Guarded statements, civilized claim-making approach, reliance on fact and research and good argument rather than the fraudulent ‘the Lord said…’ etc should be your personal laws.
2. Understand the composition of your congregation. Your assembly may be uniform, it may be culturally or ethnically varied. Despite this it may not be divided because they have found a mindset of family under your leadership. In other words, you may have created a herd and carved an hedge around them. If this is the case, you have nothing to fear about the unity, stability, growth and expansion of your ministry if you say mostly whatever comes to your lips. But if not, you will scatter your sheep and the renegades will mobilize outsiders against you.
3. Work with your sincere understanding of the people’s interest at heart, or pretend to do so. Your campaigns must be about the good of the people. This is not a law, it is the goal of politics. Politics is about the people and when you strive to advance the general interest, you’re on the right path even in persecution.
There is this tenet held by most people outside the clergy, most especially religious critics, that priest are not supposed to play an active role in politics. We don’t know the source of this idea. It is usually stated that priests are supposed to show the people the way to salvation in heaven—the one which comes after life on earth, and close their eyes to earthly politics.
But how can a priest close his eyes to earthly politics when he knows that earthly policy affect earthly living in which people take decisions that grow them for heavenly living?
How can a priest continue to guide his people from hell after death when they are living in hell already?
This is besides that priests are citizens too whose lives are affected by government policies as citizens, though with some priestly waivers.
4. Know where and when it is free ride to talk and where and when you should keep shut and watch. Since politics is sensitive, most especially in very religiously divided society, an astute leader knows that he needs the integrity people can most time depend on, so he needs to mind his tongue, and let the spirit rest some times.
5. Need we say, abide by the regulations made by the higher authorities and conventions of the ministry to which you belong. Beside these, it smirks only of intimidation and blackmail to throw punches on priests who show public support for candidates in elections. Some people, of course throw these punches because of the corruption and rot of politicians, which defenders of the holy altar of God should not mingle with, talk less of patronize. This feeling seems fair, but there are people who seem to understand that till world’s end, if there is, there will never be perfect human institutions, perfect social processes, less a perfect world. It may be that a social actor must make use of what is available.
Observe that I did not say a priest will always make sense when he utters politically relevant statements. Observe that nothing in this essay suggests that a priest will be reasonable in his speech even for once. And observe that I have not said you ought to believe a priest when making your political choices. I have only defended their right as citizens and their role in the eye of the nail.
By the way, those who cannot openly support a candidate in an election are traditional rulers, because they head a filial community and they are meant as fathers for the communities they head. Being a father of all in the community, a traditional ruler must be a father of all lawful points of view. Varied and even conflicting opinions and ideologies must all be thought out, hatched, nurtured and harmonized under him, under his fatherly protection, so that community can advance by the collective will of everyone.
The only time when the traditional ruler will have no excuse for not associating with, owning or defending a political side openly, is when his community is clearly under a threat of ethnic hatred, victimization, incapacitation, genocide in whatever significant form. The first role of the traditional ruler is to lead his community against the threat, and this he must do by carrying all his people along in ideology and action to defend or redeem his community.