When Religion Encounter Politics
By: Deji Yesufu
I was at the Lagos Bible Conference this past weekend. It is an annual conference organized by the Sovereign Grace Bible Church (SGBC). SGBC is a leading Reformed Baptist Church in Lagos and the conference offers opportunity for Christians with reformed persuasions to be edified and to fellowship with each other. The usual tradition for conferences like these is to hold a question and answer session after the conference is concluded. The blessing of these Q and A time is that it offers people opportunity to air their misunderstanding of issues and get clarity. The challenge with the Q and A period is the limited time given to it because the conference must round up and people must return home.
This latter problem was encountered in the just concluded conference. Someone asked the question (I paraphrase): “…in the light of the Muslim-Muslim ticket option, who should Christians vote for?…” Let me begin my commentary here by making it clear that I didn’t ask that question. Next, I think the question was legitimately in line with one of the topics of the conference that spoke of Christians as strangers and pilgrims, especially in light of their dealing with world politics. In response to the question, the ministers replied: “…thank you for asking…” and the congregation laughed. One could understand the reason why it was difficult to reply such a question. In an election year, even the SGBC appears divided over who to vote for and the pastors will not be able to answer such a question in public without betraying their bias. I should say that this is my fourth time attending the Lagos Bible Conference and this is the first time I find a question go unanswered. Perhaps if there was more time, the organizers would have been able to offer an answer. I should state very clearly, though, that my opinion here are not those of the SGBC.
The reality of our lives as Christians is this: we are spiritual beings living in a social world. It is impossible for our religion not to encounter politics from time to time. The Christian is a redeemed individual. His citizenship is in heaven, yet God has designed it that his sojourn on earth will be part of his experience to heaven. Earth, for the Christian, becomes both a means and an avenue for his sanctification and preparation for heaven. The means of God sanctifying a Christian is usually suffering and Nigeria offers a lot of these at this time. Even at that, God has given the Christian an objective mind towards making sound decisions. And at a time like this, when political decisions are equally given to every citizen of a country, via the ballot, the Christian is within his rights to ask his leaders who and who they should vote for and I think that no matter how difficult the response will be, an answer could still be provided.
I might already be prejudiced at answering this question. The candidature of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whom the question was spotlighting, is a done deal for me already. The very Sunday Tinubu announced Kashim Shettima as a running mate, reintroducing the same-religion politics to Nigeria, I rejected him completely. For me the decision is not difficult to make: Tinubu is representing the incumbent APC and electing him is giving failure another four years to rule this country. Second, Nigeria is at the throes of religious violence with militant Islam breathing down our spine. Shettima was Governor of Borno State, where these insurgents are thriving; and while as Governor there are no records of what he did to stamp out this evil. What is he going to do now as vice president? Finally, Bola Tinubu is ill and Nigeria cannot gamble with a sick president. These three points should inform the decision of any Christian. However, I understand that the duty of a pastor is not to make decisions for congregants. Those of us bloggers, however, have greater liberty in this regard.
Having said this, it must be noted also that our generation of Christians are not the first to encounter difficult decision making regarding political issues. In the 16th century, Martin Luther, the great German Reformer, sided with the rulers of his land against the people in the famous peasant revolt that led the authorities to employ arms to crush the revolt, leaving hundreds of people dead. The incident dealt a heavy blow to the Protestant religion in Germany so that even till this day, the Western parts of Germany remain predominantly Catholic, while the Eastern parts are Lutheran. At the height of the political upheaval, Martin Luther made a decision that cost him half of his congregation.
Here’s my thoughts: a pastor who is intimately involved in the lives of his congregation cannot but answer questions that deal with the social concerns of his people. He will often find himself taking a position that could potentially divide his congregation. Hopefully, however, time will show that there was nothing selfish in his motive and that what informed his decision at the time was the wellbeing of his congregation. While the gospel we preach concerns our souls, our bodies house these souls and if things go ill with our bodies, our souls will equally not be well. The position that many Christian people have taken against a Muslim-Muslim ticket is quite understandable. And some of us are doubly confident to speak against this ticket because there was a time that we risked our livelihood and were ostracized from the Christian community because we supported a Muslim Buhari to power.
It is interesting to note that the Christian scriptures, the New Testament, was written at a time when a scoundrel ruled the Roman world. Emperor Nero would take the prize for the world most irresponsible leader. It is said that while Rome burnt, Nero fiddled a violin. And then he turned around to blame Christians for the carnage. Yet, under such irresponsible government, Paul counselled that his fellow Christians pray for their leaders. When Religion encounters politics, Christians pray to God to elect leaders for them. Then Christians make informed decisions. Lastly, Christians trust God to use whomever he deems fit to lead us. If Bola Tinubu wins the coming presidential elections, it is God’s will for this to happen. Christians will pray for his government to succeed and we will patiently endure whatever hardship that comes with his rule.