When Pastors Begin To Play Politics

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Justice Dansu Norvor

It has become obvious that in recent years, pastors have become increasingly vocal about the intersection of morality and politics, yet we all sit down silenced and cornered by the scriptures to respond to sometimes provocative pronouncements.

Just as politicians hide behind parliamentary privileges and immunities, some religious leaders have sought to equally stay behind the comfort of the scriptures as contained in 1 Chronicles 16:22 or Psalm 105:15“Touch not mine anointed and do my prophet no harm” to settle personal scores with others who may not align to their vision or simply put, ideology. This had worked perfectly as some including my good self, have avoided the temptation to comment on issues relating to pastors, bishops and other religious leaders, even when they do cross their comfort zone. In effect, even when one decided to tell the whole world he could change into snake and bite people, increase the size of breast and even manhood, we could hardly comment as we are bullied, muzzled and intimidated by the scriptures—“Touch not mine anointed and do my prophet no harm”.

Obviously, we all agree that churches have the right to preach on moral and civic issues, and well they should. But when pastors begin to see political angle to everything and to take sides in political debates, they may probably cross the line. Politics by its nature is a really messy area that often can evolve into a lot of rancor that in my personal view, most religious leaders probably would be happy to avoid and to remain apolitical. Even if you are blatantly political by nature, your utterances may lead to questions of are you in some sort of vendetta against a particular political group if you constantly see nothing good about them.

As a nation, what we have lost sight of is that in developed countries religious bodies as part of tax-exempt organizations are barred by regulations to meddle into politics, let alone call for revolution against a government in power. Can we then say, those who preach politics from the pulpit are violating the tax code by intervening in political campaigns? Leading to the 2012 Presidential elections, one Rev. OwusuBempah campaigned for and declared Nana AkufoAddothe likely winner which never happened though. Does it mean he is serving a loser God?It is also revealed that some took part in meetings to discuss internal wrangling in the opposition New Patriotic Party, at the residence of former President John Kufour.I personally see nothing wrong with that as religious leaders by their divine calling are perfectly suited to settling disputes. But again, where it crosses the line is when some seek to endorse political candidates. Do we have laws in Ghana to guard against future occurrences of this by tax-exempt organizations?

It would help this country if parliament pass laws to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations, so churches should not be allowed to endorse candidates when other tax-exempt organizations cannot. This is not in any way to curtail their freedom of speech. I believe that pastors should be engaged in the civic activities of communities, educating their congregations about issues and providing a forum through which ideas may be shared. Churches should be relevant to their congregations and local communities without compromising their roles in being the “salt of the earth,” so to speak. But taking partisan positions, publicly endorsing candidates and the like is a slippery slope which is dangerous at best.

I do agree in matter of principle that pastors and the clergy should be close enough to the political scene to understand the issues and advocate for improvements for the community. However, aligning oneself to political ideologies of a particular political party prevents one remaining objective in commenting on the actions or inactions of another.

When pastors (like any other employee of a tax-exempt organization) go on the political trail with a candidate in their roles as pastors of churches, they cross the line.It is a conflict of interest, in that their loyalties could be divided between what is best for the candidate and his/her political position, and the positions they should take as heads of churches and community leaders. They should also be cognizant of the separation of Church and State.I have seen the consequences of pastors crossing the line, and it ain’t pretty. It looks on the surface that churches where pastors cross the line of appropriate civic engagement seem to prosper –receiving favours from the political elites, having publicly funded programs, putting up new church buildings, community schools, etc.However, ever so slowly, over time the Power of God working within them begins to fade. The pastors become more beholden to the political powers and lose their spiritual edge.At this stage, they cannot operate at their optimal levels of effectiveness in the Kingdom of God. Their churches, in turn, become less impactful to the spiritual growth of the parishioners and surrounding community. This is all because the church is there for spiritual fulfillment, and if it’s not about that but politics, the people go away.

It’s not to say government to legislate what the people can hear from the pulpit — period. As a devoted Christian myself, there should be no government infringing on what is said from the pulpit.But what the pastors cannot and should not do is they cannot from the pulpit … say, ‘Vote for this person,’ ‘Vote out this person’ or ‘Vote against that person.’ If they do, they do something that is absolutely inappropriate. Pastors are called and appointed to speak God’s word to the State – not to be servants of the State to speak its word to citizens. Once the lines are blurred and pastors become servants of the State they will 9 times out of 10 become subservient to its will.

I don’t think there is enough religion in our politics or enough politics in our religion. If a politician you support loses, then you have a loser God. So the clergy must be mindful in meddling deep into politics. It is a very bad and dirty terrain. I do therefore believe that pastors should stay out of the business of politics because it confuses the kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world. It also worsens our idolatrous tendency on both sides to assume that once “our people” are in power everything will be set right and the threat of the evil of “others” will be ended.God has placed pastors on advisory platform and this role they should play without fear of favour. Pastors should be councilors of good will to politicians of all parties, not just one. Pastors are meant to influence authorities on their knees and conducts. Therefore, I do not consider pastors becoming partisan to the extent of calling on citizens to take back their country in the context that all Ghanaians understood The Most Reverend Pastor Mensah Otabil.

What some pastors must note is that whether John Mahama is corrupt or not, politics overall has a “dirty” reputation. John Mahama just as any other politician can be seen as incompetent, dishonest and opportunistic depending on where you stand. It takes a high degree of integrity and good character to overcome that stereotype which so far the President has done to demonstrate there is no better alternative to him for the Presidency of Ghana. Certainly not now!The President may have built unprecedented number of schools, health centers, tarred roads, provide electricity, water and other social infrastructure which the Most Rev. Mensah Otabil self-confessed yet some still criticize him. That is only the beauty of democracy. As a pastor, you will also have to make decisions that are not always going to be popular. So the President is no exception. Yes, Ghanaians should demand more from Mahama, meaning he is at least doing something. Giving his second term come November 7, Mahama shall meet your expectations, lives shall be changed and Ghana shall be transformed.

But then let’s be reminded, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophet no harm”. The attacks on the Most Rev. Pastor Mensah Otabil must stop immediately, for in one way the respected clergyman has confessed John Mahama has tarred roads, built schools, improved health facilities, and above all solved “dumsor” which he never expected of him.

Justice DansuNorvor (justiceshalla@yahoo.com). The writer is a strategic management consultant, researcher and good governance expert.

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