The Referendum and Zambia’s Christian nation declaration

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Ours should be a theology of hospitality, not arrogance. An evangelical political theology in Zambia must begin reassessing the theory and practice of its Christian faith, particularly as it relates to the relationship between the Church and the state. Zambia is not a church; it is a liberal republic. We cannot run Zambia is if it were a church. Zambia is not a congregation and Lungu is not its priest or prophet. Jesus is no more king over Zambia, than he is king over Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Jesus is the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords. We do not need to enthrone him, for him to be king. The fact that we have declared ourselves a Christian nation, has led to a theology of arrogance that lacks the hospitality spirit of our Lord. We are an overindulged lot and it is only after we have reassessed our spoiled theology that we can return to a more balanced approach of the faith as it relates to our republic. There is nothing wrong with our profession of the Christian faith, there is everything wrong if we create an intercourse of the church and state to a level where we fail to distinguish one from the other. Nothing has led to our lack of theological hospitality more than the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation, particularly after it was enshrined in the constitution of Zambia in 1996.

The Church of Jesus in Zambia, does not need the aid of the state to flourish. Jesus is building his church even in the most repressive regimes such as China. The church is growing the fastest in communist China than it is in Zambia further pouring scorn on our evangelical nationalism fueled by American political theology more than the simple hospitality of Jesus of Nazareth.

Zambia will be going to a referendum on August 11, 2016 to entrench the Bill of Rights into our constitution. There is a section of our evangelical brothers and sisters who feel that the Bill of Rights is somehow anti-Jesus and would lead to Christian depravation. The Bill of Rights in its draft form guarantees every citizen of Zambia the right to belong to any religion of their choice. The Bill of Rights will guarantee that the state respect citizens’ freedom of conscience. If we are to do away with a theology of arrogance, we must first define what the Bill of Rights is all about. The Bill of Rights is not a statement of faith. It is not a religious text. It is a document that explains the limits of state action as far as the rights of citizens are concerned. The Bill of Rights proscribes the state from imposing upon citizens a particular doctrine or faith. It protects citizens from the power of the state’s bullets and guns. Zambian Christians will be better protected if the state is proscribed from imposing its faith upon citizens. The logic is simple: A Christian government today, may cease to be a Christian government tomorrow. If the church has been enjoying good treats because of a government’s faith, then the church will disintegrate if that government loses power.

Evangelicals need a prophetic distance from state favour by refusing to eat from Caesar’s table as a way of insulating itself from trouble. Government must provide an enabling environment of freedom and let Christianity compete in an atmosphere of liberty without coercion.

The declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is a powerful statement of intent and faith. It is what we as a nation have declared ourselves to be. That being the case, we make a huge mistake if we think that the declaration has somewhat given Christians reliable rights over non-Christian citizens. As a Zambian Christian, I do not have more human rights than a non-Christian. As a Christian, I am not a first class citizen over a non-Christian. As we debate the Bill of Rights, let us be very clear that we are debating a bill for all citizens and not just Christian citizens. A theology of hospitality will help evangelicals to treat non-Christian citizens of Zambia as equals with full rights of citizenship.

Without a theology of hospitality, Zambian evangelicals would lack a transnational prophetism. Ours would be a nationalist prophetism. A nationalist prophetism looks no further than a respective nation. It is self-centred and views Christianity as a means of temporal and political power. Nationalist prophetism is seen from evangelicals in countries such as the United States. Transnational prophetism on the other hand is outward looking. It looks at the Christian faith as a faith that goes beyond national government to encompass believers across the world. Transnational prophetism is not convinced simply by intra-national Christian domination, but a trans-national hospitality towards the “other”. Let us take Nigeria as an example. Nigerian preachers and Nigerian Christians will do anything in their power to keep Nigeria a secular state and would do everything to have a Bill of Rights similar to the one we will be voting on during the referendum. They want to keep the Nigerian state from interfering in religious liberty of Nigerians. They want the Nigerian state to guarantee every citizen the liberty to follow their faith and for faiths to freely propagate.

In Zambia, on the other hand, it seems Zambian evangelicals take it for granted that the state must somehow aid them in their crusades and evangelism. Even when the state favours us, Zambian evangelicals must live their faith as if they have no favour from the state and must act as if the state is not their friend. Zambian evangelicals must be faithful citizens of their country, but they must not give into the illusion that they need state favour to exist.

The work of evangelism must continue, and the best way to continue with the work of evangelism is if Christians had the freedom to spread their faith in a country which guarantees religious liberty to all. I hope all citizens in Zambia will vote yes for the Bill of Rights.
E. Munshya – theologian and lawyer

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