There is this perception that the church ought not to get involved in how society is governed. Often, political leaders and opinion merchants tend to frown at the involvement of the church in the political leadership recruitment process. And they argue that the church ought only to involve itself in matters spiritual and also, pray for political leaders to lead right, while church leaders are to “face the work of God.” But is the church all about prayers? Is it wrong for the church to get involved in the process that recruits political leaders? Is it possible for the church to use its strength and size to change the leadership recruitment process and select for society such unselfish leaders as society would want? Besides, what exactly constitutes the “work of God”?
It seems to me that the church must, and should, openly involve itself in the leadership recruitment process and help society select such leaders that would positively effect change; the sort of change that dignifies the human person and the sort of change that church leaders preach about and pray for. My argument here is that the church is a civil society and, as one, ought no longer to keep quiet. The church, as a civil society organization, should no longer be about praying for leaders and moral persuasion (reflect on James 2:14. ‘faith without good works…’). It must, instead, be involved in the process that selects the sort of leaders that it prays for. It has become evident that political/social change cannot come from prayers alone but, also, the active involvement and participation of those who pray for change in the process that brings about that change prayed for.
Before you disagree with the church being a civil society, know that the World Economic Forum (WEF) had defined civil society as “a wide array of organizations: community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and foundations.” It adds that “the term became popular in political and economic discussions in the 1980s, when it started to be identified with non-state movements that were defying authoritarian regimes, especially in central and eastern Europe and Latin America.” WEF further said that “when mobilized, civil society has the power to influence the actions of elected policy-makers and businesses.”
In “Civil Society: An Essential Ingredient for Development,” George Ingram, a senior fellow, Global Economy and Development, at Center for Sustainable Development writes that “civil society comprises organizations that are not associated with government—including schools and universities, advocacy groups, professional associations, churches, and cultural institutions.” He adds that civil society play such multiple roles as being “an important source of information for both citizens and government; they monitor government policies and actions and hold government accountable; they engage in advocacy and offer alternative policies for government, the private sector, and other institutions; they deliver services, especially to the poor and underserved; they defend citizen rights and work to change and uphold social norms and behaviors.”
Given Ingram’s inclusion of such groups as “cultural institutions” in his understanding of civil society, it therefore suggests, that in an environment such as ours, traditional rulers councils across the states of the federation are also civil society organizations that ought no longer to stay aloof while those who brand themselves as politicians impose on society whichever character they are comfortable with as political leaders. It means, therefore, that the traditional institution must also be actively involved in the leadership recruitment process and help guide the people towards making the right leadership choices. Its relevance is not about awarding chieftaincy titles to whoever ‘politicians’ impose on society as President, governor, senator, representative, local government chairman, assemblyman, or even councillor and celebrating cultural festivals.
But I digress. My focus here is the church. The church cannot busy itself with defending citizen’s rights while staying away from the process that selects leaders that it will hold accountable for the protection of those rights. This process is called election. To my mind, elections are the summation of the process that selects leaders. That process, I believe, ought now to expand and accommodate the church. I believe that the time has come for the church to defeat the destructive political narrative that its role in society should be limited to prayers and the ‘work of God’. Somehow, it seems to be that this destructive narrative is orchestrated by persons who are afraid that the power of the pulpit may defeat their political pursuits. For this reason, attack becomes the best form of defence. Isn’t it ironical that those imposed on society as political leaders fall over themselves to have their kids educated in church-owned and church-managed schools and, also, attended to at medical facilities owned by the church, for reasons not far from quality, standard and value, but object that same church gets involved in the leadership recruitment process? If we accept that the church manages schools and hospitals better, why object to its role in leadership recruitment? Moreover, it is generally accepted that Nigeria’s biggest problem is not the absence of human and material resources but leadership failure. Logically, shouldn’t those who offer our children the best of education and produce quality human resource for society also lend their hands at recruiting leaders for the country?
As it is, the political temperature of Nigeria is bound to rise in the days ahead. It is therefore imperative that the church -clergy and laity- rise beyond prayers and fasting and begin to lead from the front. Using its strength and size, the church in Nigeria can effect political change that would help the country recruit its best hands across all leadership levels. I guess this was the thinking that gave rise to the development of liberation theology which, in essence, refers to the application of theology “to the core concerns of marginalized communities in need of social, political, or economic equality and justice.”
Gustavo Gutierrez, a Dominican priest from Peru, who is believed to have developed liberation theology, had argued in favour of applying religious faith in aid of the oppressed through involvement in political and civic affairs. Impact of this branch of theology was felt in Latin America, where it was applied to cause social and political change in the 1970s through the 1980s. Recall the role played by Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, and his counterpart at Cebu, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, in the process that led to the collapse of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Cardinal Vidal, who at the time was president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, had said: “When a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people, then it is our serious moral obligation as a people (church) to make it do so.”
For a moment, think through the size of the church in Nigeria. Imagine the impact it would make on the leadership recruitment process if it gets boldly involved in all the processes leading up to election proper, by way of mobilizing, conscientizing, educating, informing and liberating its members by guiding them to queue behind candidates it had evaluated, re-evaluated and endorsed. This sort of action, to my mind, would begin the process of refining of the leadership selection process such that persons of impeccable character and credentials, who also are not extremists, are presented to society for final selection.
If the church gets its act right, it would be able to help clean up the process, and help to practically translate for society the meanings of Proverbs 29:2, “when the righteous are in power, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people mourn”. The wicked rule because the church has, for far too long, shied away from boldly and practically giving expression to its role as a civil society.