Friday, December 24, 2010

Promote just deeds and structures

Promote just deeds and structures
By The Post
Fri 24 Dec. 2010, 04:00 CAT

POLITICAL competitors don’t necessarily have to like each other, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each side has a legitimate and important role to play. Moreover, our ground rules must encourage tolerance and civility in our political campaigns and public debate. We think this is the point Bishop William Mchombo of the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Zambia is reminding us when he says that “…belonging to different political parties or being of divergent views does not make us enemies of each other in any way”; and that there’s need for people to be more hospitable to one another than to show hostility.

And, of course, as Bishop Mchombo correctly observes, this does not mean that we should be passive when faced with situations that need decisive action. When a system ceases to promote the common good and favours special interests, we must not only denounce injustice but also break with the evil system. We must be prepared to work with another system that is more just, fair, humane and more suited to the needs of the day. The truth of the matter is that we have to earn our heaven here and now, we ourselves. We have to build our heaven, to fashion it during our lifetime, right now. Salvation is something to achieve, not just to hope for. Wrong things should not be accepted; they should be fought and changed. Absolute love cannot abandon man to constant suffering and total destitution. We must change whatever it is that prevents the humanisation of our fellow humans.

As we examine the structures and the reasons why they are so intolerable, as we expose the oppressive situation, we are forced to a decision: we either commit ourselves or we don’t – but we will have to answer to our consciences for our choice. The process of conscientisation leaves no one with arms folded. It makes some unfold their arms. It leaves others with a guilty feeling, because conscientisation shows that God wants us to act.

As we conscientise ourselves, we realise that our brothers and sisters who don’t eat, who don’t laugh, who don’t sing, who don’t love, who live oppressed, crushed and despised each day, are suffering all this because of some reality that is causing it. And at that point we join in the action historically by genuinely loving, by having the courage to commit ourselves. But these rationalisations appear to be fake generosities. We say this because to escape our feelings of guilt, we go into philanthropy, we seek compensation by alms-giving, we send a cheque to build a church, we make contributions: land for a chapel or a convent for nuns, hoping in that way to buy our peace. But peace cannot be purchased, it is not for sale; peace has to be lived. And we can’t live our peace without commitment to humans, and our commitment to them can’t exist without their liberation, and their liberation can’t exist without the final transformation of the structures that are dehumanising. There’s only one way for us to find peace: to work for it, shoulder to shoulder with our fellow human beings.

But let’s not forget that oppression is so potent a thing that it produces fear of freedom. But freedom is something that is given. It is something very arduous, because nobody gives freedom to anyone else, no one frees another, nobody can even free himself all alone; humans free themselves only in concert, in communion, collaborating on something wrong that they want to correct. There is an interesting theological parallel to this: no one saves another, no one saves himself all alone, because only in communion can we save ourselves – or not save ourselves. We work out our salvation in communion. Each one of us must set out in quest of his salvation, we must do it ourselves. By saying this, we don’t mean that God hasn’t saved us by the divine presence in history: we are talking on the human level.

Every human being of goodwill is committed to changing a social order that is cruelly unjust. To refuse such a commitment would be to make oneself an accomplice of injustice. The poverty situation, we feel, is the product of unjust socio-economic structures. We should unite ourselves with the life of all our people in the painful search for adequate solutions to their multiple problems.

We believe that we are in a new historical era. This era requires clarity in order to see, lucidity in order to diagnose, and solidarity in order to act. For this reason, no sector should reserve to itself exclusively the carrying out of political, cultural and economic matters. Those who possess the power of decision-making must exercise it in communion with the desires and options of the community.

Peace can only be obtained by creating a new order which carries with it a more perfect justice among our people. And as Bishop Mchombo has correctly observed, we do not need to be passive in the name of loving peace when we are faced with situations that need decisive action. And the tranquility of order is neither passivity nor conformity. It is the result of continuous effort and adaptation to new circumstances, to new demands and challenges of a changing history. Peace is the fruit of love. It is the expression of true fellowship among human beings. And those who work for social justice should always cultivate peace and love in their hearts. We must love everybody, but not everyone in the same way; we love the oppressed by liberating them; we love the oppressors by fighting them. Love has to be like a classifying device to become universal.
We ought to sharpen the awareness of our duty of solidarity with the poor. This solidarity means that we make their problems and their struggles ours, that we know how to speak with them. This has to be concretised in criticism of injustice and oppression, in the struggle against the intolerable situation that a poor person often has to tolerate, in the willingness to dialogue with the groups responsible for that situation in order to make them understand their obligations.

As it has been observed by others, a relatively small sector of our society is making greater progress and growing richer every day; but the price for their progress is the growing poverty of the great majority of our people. Those who have plundered resources of our people, and who wish to keep doing this, use de facto violence against them to continue their plunder. This violence is often veiled under guise of a fallacious order and a fallacious legality, but it is violence and injustice nonetheless. We appreciate the importance of the rule of law and of the need of every state to have the power to maintain order and punish criminal acts. But the rules and procedures by which the state enforces its laws must not be arbitrary or subject to political manipulation by those in power. The right to equality before the law, or equal protection of the law as it is often phrased, is fundamental to any just and democratic society. Whether political ally of those in power or opponents – all are entitled to equal protection before the law. And under no circumstances should the state impose inequalities; it should be required to deal evenly and equally with all its people.

And as we have witnessed over the last few months, no anti-corruption strategy, no matter how well-designed and well-intended, can succeed without a broader commitment to two overarching requirements: the first is an independent judicial system based on a rule of law regime. And that includes the concept of due process and the principle that the rule of law applies equally to everyone – from the poorest and least-privileged among us to the highest echelons of government and society. The second requirement is a government that is open, accountable and transparent. We should strengthen the rule of law’s position as the foundation of our governance system. This means, among other things, that our court system must be able to function independently so that all people can be confident of fair and equitable treatment. They won’t get off, maybe, but they will get fair hearing. And as we have also seen with the corruption cases that have been before our courts and other tribunals, erecting laws and institutions as barriers against corruption is not in itself enough. Laws and institutions can’t work very well in a society where all institutions of the state and government have been contaminated by corruption; can’t work well in a society that doesn’t also have a culture of trust and an atmosphere of openness and accountability.

And as Bishop Mchombo has observed in his Christmas message, as disciples of Christ, people are called upon to promote just deeds and just structures at every level of the nation and to be peacemakers. But to do this, one has to be moved with indignation whenever an injustice, a wrong is committed against anyone in our country. This is the only way one can truly be a follower of Christ, whose birth tomorrow we celebrate. We say this because Christ’s entire doctrine was devoted to the humble, the poor; his doctrine was devoted to fighting against abuse, injustice and the degradation of human beings.



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