Friday, October 16, 2009

Compromised church

Compromised church
Written by Editor

The joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the women and men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, should be the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of our church leaders, of the followers of Jesus Christ.

And Evans Rubara is very right when he says our situation requires alert and fearless church leaders that would take the government to task on behalf of the poor, the weak and the voiceless. Truly, Zambia needs religious leaders that will truly speak for the poor and the marginalised.

But today we are seeing some church leaders aligning themselves with the rich, the powerful, with those who have stolen from the poor. Instead of defending the poor who have been robbed of their country’s meagre resources, some church leaders are having special sessions to defend Frederick Chiluba. These have never held special sessions to pray for the poor but they have time to organise special meetings for Chiluba.

We truly need religious institutions to continue to be the conscience of society, a moral custodian and a fearless champion of the interests of the weak and downtrodden. The enjoyment of the right to an adequate standard of living by the poor requires, on the part of the church and indeed on the part of the government, a preferential option for the poor and the weak.

It is very pleasing to see the church, to hear the church becoming more conscious of its mission to serve the poor and the marginalised. In this preferential option, which should not be understood as something exclusive, the true spirit of the Gospel shines. Jesus declared the poor to be blessed (Matt.5:3; Luke 6:20) and He Himself wanted to be poor for our sake (2 Cor 8:9).

And Reverend David Masupa has expressed sadness at how the Church has become so compromised in Zambia that it could not even differentiate between what was morally wrong and morally right. Today it appears it’s so easy for anyone with money and power to find some church leaders who can defend him and be his public relations officers. It is happening with Chiluba. There are a number of reverends or pastors who have hired themselves out to Chiluba’s defence when they know very well that the man is a thief who has stolen from the poor people of this country and has caused so much suffering to them. But it’s not surprising because when Chiluba was president of the Republic, he used to take money from our poor taxpayers and give it to these pastors or reverends as donations.

These words of Rev Masupa and Rubara express an insight into the Gospel which has been gaining clarity in the Church over a number of years. It is the realisation that in situations of poverty and marginalisation, church leaders and their congregations are called upon to make a preferential option for the poor. By preferential option for the poor, we mean a special solidarity with those who are in any way deprived or wronged or placed at a disadvantage in our society. It is motivated by the love that God wishes them to have for all people. Through this love, they desire that the rights and dignity of every person may be respected. Therefore they are specially drawn to the side of those who are deprived of justice and robbed of human dignity. This opposition is described as “preferential” rather than “exclusive” because it does not imply the exclusion of anyone from their care, their respect or their love. What they desire for the poor, they desire for all people. If the poor are given preferential treatment, it is because of the greatness of their disadvantage. Their aim is not to create a new elitism, but to bring about a situation of justice and equality.

The preferential option for the poor may be compared to the special concern that a family would show to one of its members in distress. What is given to the one is not taken away from the others. This kind of preference was a distinct characteristic of Jesus, who always showed a special care for the poor, the sick, the marginalised and the defenceless (Matt 11:4; 5:25-30). He wanted this characteristic also to distinguish his Church (Luke 14:12-24).

Since, in practice, the common good is not sufficiently highly cherished, and since too many people fail to live in solidarity with the community, it is inevitable that there are those who suffer as a result of these failures. These are the poor, the marginalised, those living on the margins of the community, those whose interests have been neglected or ignored. As such, they are especially entitled to solidarity, to the special commitment of the rest of the community to remedy the situation in which they find themselves. It is this special commitment that is called ‘preferential treatment of the poor’. In practical terms, it means that our economic resources and decisions must not only avoid harming the interests of the poor, but must actually contribute to their upliftment. The option for the poor can be exercised not only in favour of the materially poor, but also towards those who have been marginalised because of other factors for whatever reason. Indeed, such classes of people often tend to be materially poor as well, as a direct result of being marginalised. Also, it must be understood that the poor are not passive recipients of this option, but active participants in its exercise. They must demand what the common good requires for them and they must exercise the same solidarity among each other as the community as a whole must show to them.

Truly, as Rev Masupa has correctly urged, the Church should rise to the occasion and do what is right and should not sell its birthright of morality but instead must be advocates of morality. Of course in trying to champion that which is right and in trying to denounce that which is wrong, church leaders have been accused of politics and have been challenged to join the political arena instead of hiding behind the pulpit. This is as if we didn’t have reverends like Ronnie Shikapwasha in government. Rev Masupa has got a very good answer to this: “What we must know is that there is a very thin line between politics and Christianity, Christians are advocates of justice and when they speak for the poor, they should not be viewed that way.”

We think there is a great coincidence between Christianity’s objectives and the ones which honest, fair-minded, just and humane politicians seek. We are living at a time when politics has entered a near-religious sphere with regard to man and his behaviour. We also believe that we have come to a time when religion can enter the political sphere with regard to man and his material needs.

It is our fellow man, and especially the one who lacks life and needs justice, in whom God wishes to be served and loved. They are the ones with whom Jesus identified: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcomed thee, or naked and clothe thee?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’” (Matt 25:37-40).

Therefore, there is no contradiction between the struggle for justice and the fulfillment of God’s will. One demands the other. All who work along that line of God’s scheme for life are considered Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Mark 3:31-35). This is the best way to follow Jesus, especially in our country’s present situation. And following Christ means being like him. The name Christian means: like Christ, follower of Christ. Now, Jesus Christ was humble, most pure, poor, meek: how can His disciple and imitator be proud, dishonest, angry, greedy, a thief, a lazo?

How many Christians are there who have no more than the name and the baptism of Jesus Christ, while they live like pagans!

He who does not imitate Christ does not love Christ: love is imitation. Imitation is the infallible character to distinguish the lovers of Jesus. One cannot continue defending plunderers who have been corruptly saved from going to jail by some corrupt schemes of their friends in power. Instead of defending the poor people who have been robbed, some of our reverends, pastors, Christians are defending plunderers as if they have never heard of Proverbs 18:5: “It is not right to favour the guilty and keep the innocent from receiving justice.”

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