Thursday, April 21, 2011

Can we be in politics without being politicians?

Can we be in politics without being
By Joseph Ngwegwe

A Sermon at the University of Dar es Salaam Seventh Day Adventist
Church on 16/04/2011
Central Text: Luke 3: 10 – 14

There have been debates among Seventh Day Adventists whether it is morally ok to be involved in politics.

We do not intend to give a clear cut answer in our sermon today but rather put some principles and examples one would like think about.

We have a young generation with us who have diverse aspirations and it is not good to leave them unguided. Some time we feel agitated and are tempted to jump over to save the boat. We are human; sometimes we tend to demand our rights coercively and sometimes we naturally do it to preserve our ego.

We are living at times when politics have become a matter of concern and spiritual guidance is of utmost importance.

The world in the 19th and 20th century witnessed streams of a combination of violence (coups d'état) as means to seize power.

In legal context we would define Coup d'état as the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government. Usually involving threatening of life or at worst loss of lives.

In the same period there were also streams of democratically elected governments as a popular way to ascend to power. Democratically elected governments emerged as Monarchism continued to become unpopular.

Today a new development is emerging in politics, People’s Power which of recent has also been motivated by the advance of the new technology in communications.

Two governments in Africa have been ousted already and many more openly and latently are being threatened.

In this confusion what is the position of a Seventh Day Adventist….? Should we participate in politics or should we not? Should we vote for? Can we aspire to be voted for?

Recently the government introduced a bill, actually a proposal to change/draft a new constitution. I had a privilege to access the document early. As a citizen my personal views were quite strong against it as I had a feeling that if passed the way it is it can turn our country into a wrong direction and at worst even potential to threatening the prevailing peace we have enjoyed so far.

I immediately highlighted 8 key controversial issues in the bill and circulated to few individuals I thought could make an impact. Immediately on the day I was summoned by an individual to attend an in house human rights organization meeting to deliberate on the issues I had raised and participate in the general discussions about the bill. Though I cannot attribute the current developments to this factor alone, but I truly believe I fulfilled my duty. The extreme question would always be was this morally ok for me to be involved?

Let us review few inspirational writings….

In 1859 Ellen White came to the conclusion that voting - and voting for or against a given candidate – was an imperative when it advanced such values as temperance. Ellen G. White, Temperance, p. 256.

“The political excitement . . . will probably run as high as it has for many years, and we would warn our brethren not to be drawn into it. We are not prepared to prove from the Bible that it would be wrong for a believer in the third [angel’s] message to go in a manner becoming his profession, and cast his vote. We do not recommend this, neither do we oppose. If a brother chooses to vote, we cannot condemn him, and we want the same liberty if we do not. James White, circa 1860, as quoted in Paul A. Gordon, “The right to vote—shall I exercise it?” Adventist Review, Sept. 18 and Sept. 25, 1980

The early believers were guided by the Holy Spirit to be neutral. It is not wrong to decide to vote and it isn’t wrong to decide not to vote.

“Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue? Gospel Workers, p. 387.

The quotation above indicates that there is an opportunity for a devout Christian to influence the way laws are constituted in the country and in a popular democracy this is the parliament and the government. It is quite a paradox to know who amongst the candidates shall stand for virtues and solid principles we stand for. That is where the facts and conscious of an individual shall prevail and as per inspiration we might not be able to judge against such conscious.

Aspiring to be voted for
Speaking to faculty and students of Battle Creek College in 1883, Mama Ellen G. White said:
“Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day . . . sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. E.G. White, Education, p. 262.

Let us look at another quotation below:

“Many a lad of today, growing up as did Daniel in his Judean home, studying God’s word and His works, and learning the lessons of faithful service, will yet stand in legislative assemblies, in halls of justice, or in royal courts, as a witness for the King of kings. E.G. White, Education, p. 262.

How many amongst us do aspire to occupy high positions of influence in the near future?

As young people you need to aim high, you need to set your goals such that they are challenging to arrive at. It will be a blessing one day to have a devout Seventh Day Adventist and the head of UN, a president, a minister, a Judge, an attorney general, an MP. Why not?

Let us examine few scriptures and examples of people who participated in political governance

When people came to John the Baptist, they came with their concerns as to whether their life professions were aligned to their spiritual callings.

To paraphrase their questions we can put it this way, “is it possible to live holy life and maintain spiritual standards in your current occupation/career?”

Do we need to abandon some businesses we are currently involved in to be holy people? Can you really be a president and yet a devout Christian?

Can you be a member of parliament and yet keep the Sabbath? ….. Can you be one of the best international footballer yet a devout Seventh Day Adventist?

There so many things the world does which some of them we may have genuine moral questions, in the context of our sermon today we don’t intend to take a stock of them.

Luke 3:10-14 (NIV)
10“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

John the Baptist was basically saying it is possible to lead a just life in your justified career. This is the principle as Christians we should stand for. We don’t intend to call people to abandon their socio-economic life but Jesus wants them to lead holy life wherever they are.

John 17:15
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Jesus recognized that we are living in the world and that for some time we will be at least temporary citizens of this world. Life systems affect Christians as they are part of the society. We have a stake too in this world! If we do not act responsibly we will take a share of blame like any other irresponsible citizen.

We can still be good Christians yet abiding to the law and to those entrusted with a responsibility to govern and maintain harmony in the society.

At one time Jesus was confronted by His enemies trying to trap him by asking the politically-charged question on whether it was a justified course to pay taxes to the Roman Empire. Though Jesus’ answer disarmed their machinations, He at the same time set an important precedent on how Christians should relate to the earthly authorities above them.

Matthew 22:16-21
16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodias. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or
not?” 18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

There are people even devout Christians who are not comfortable when it comes to paying taxes, if they have an opportunity they will do whatever it takes to evade it. Christians should be living examples in our societies by being the most compliant when it comes to paying taxes.

Tax avoidance is not an offence but evasion is an offence. But for Christians we should uphold the standards and avoid looking for legal loopholes to avoid taxes. Our standards against which we are measured are much higher than the earthly ones.

Jesus did not mean taxes only but impliedly He meant we are dutifully bound to fulfill our citizen duties. We should not be trapped by the sin of negligence, if we know what is right and yet we don’t do it, we shall be held accountable.

The underlying fact is that when we pay taxes we are directly supporting the political systems governing us. Should we therefore not hold them accountable?

Daniel 2:46-49 (Daniel)
46Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 47The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” 48Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. 49Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

People today have cultivated a wrong thinking about who is really a politician and who is not.

To my understanding it does not matter which door you use to enter politics: when you are in you are just a politician.

You may be elected or appointed to perform certain functions within the government, either way you will be affected by politics and political decisions made.

In Daniel time governments were not elected but rather they were kingdoms and empires.

To me Daniel and his colleagues when they accepted King Nebuchadnezzar’s appointment they effectively became part of the political monolithic system of Babylon.

But how they served clearly distinguishes them from our contemporary politicians.

When you are in politics be ready to be victimized
Daniel 6: 1-6 (Daniel)

1It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom,
2with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss.
3Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.
4At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
5Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

Daniel 6:6-24

There is a price to pay when you choose to be in politics and you must be ready to pay. Sometimes it can cost your life. Your life privacy can be laid bare and at most of time assassinated negatively. If it is for the right and justified course why not?

Genesis 41:38-46 (Joseph) – Can we find a righteous man in politics?
38So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
39Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Joseph in Charge of Egypt
41So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43He had him ride in a chariot as his second in-command,[b] and people shouted before him, “Make way[c]!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. 44Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” 45Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On,[d] to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt. 46Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.

Through Joseph the attention of the king and great men of Egypt was directed to the true God.

If we happen to be in positions of political influence can we make the attentions of a president and other great men in the government be directed to a true God?

If you can’t genuinely and positively respond to this question and you want to go to heaven, politics is a no go zone for you.

Seventh-day Adventists have the ability to help shape society through their votes and political participation. It’s up to each of us to follow our consciences—and to pray for more than human wisdom in making our electoral choices and participation in politics.

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