Earlier this year, a significant church gave a directive for the intentional involvement of its members in Nigeria’s political education. This caused a lot of reactions from Nigerians. Some were appalled, some figured that it was high time the custodians of the gospel started choosing leaders and this was merely a necessary first step. However, one thing is clear, the church has once again become intricately intertwined with politics. Now the church is faced with the question; how much is too much involvement in matters of the state?
It is a fact that from time immemorial, the church has played an influential role in selecting the leaders of the world. Even after the Westphalia agreement, this did not change. The only difference was that the church’s influence was downplayed, but it was still existent. In Nigeria today, we see an essential need to balance the religion card before declaring to contest for any major office to ensure the support of the masses. Yet, we have seen extreme cases where the church gets directly involved in canvassing and influencing the political class to the detriment of politics as an independent field. One of such cases is the Anambra state political space where being an Anglican or Catholic will to a great extent determine how far you might go politically.
For argument’s sake, let us try to understand the perspective of the church. It is the God-given mandate of the church (which is considered the body of God) to guide the people of the world and prepare the world for the coming of God. Thus, it is in their interest to select who acts as the leaders of the world, in this case, the political leaders. The church will also argue that to foster the spread of the gospel which is their priority, choosing the right political leaders is necessary, hence their direct involvement in politics.
On the other hand, there is the argument that the church encompasses members drawn from different political parties and classes vying to protect and promote different interests. In other to avoid being seen as biased, the church should maintain neutrality and just be the umbrella body advocating for everybody and nobody. Rather than getting directly involved, the church should only canvass for an active electorate and let the people decide who to vote for.
All these, no doubt are very sound arguments but permit me to present a slightly different scenario. The church should be involved in political education; this, I firmly believe. Growing up, as a catholic, I was subjected to attending catechism classes from a young age to indoctrinate us about the doctrines and dogmas of the church. My friends from other denominations were also made to attend Sunday school and other forms of Christian education classes. Now picture this, if out of every one hour of such classes, fifteen minutes are dedicated to teaching about national values, politics, policies, governance and policy-making; we would have been able to boast of a critical mass of people that understand the expectations and responsibilities of the political class. If ten minutes of such classes were given to explaining news articles and political events to young children, there will be no need for the church to directly dictate who to vote for towards the elections. Just the way I can automatically answer most questions from the catechism book, I should be able to logically explain why some leaders are bad for the country based on my understanding of politics.
My opinion; the church, like every pressure group has every right to be involved in politics. In Nigeria, all churches boast of a structure to ‘catch them young’ because they understand the necessity of assimilation from a young age. So why not apply this same logic to building a critical mass of politically enlightened young people? Why not utilize the Young Catholic Student (YCS), the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS), the National Fellowship of Catholic Students (NFCS) and the numerous children and youth organizations active in junior and senior secondary schools and tertiary institutions to build up active citizens capable of ideal leadership? These are questions the church needs to ponder on and strategize around. The structures are there, use them. The people can be guided on what good leadership entails but ultimately, the decision should be theirs.
To answer my question, “how much is too much”, I think right now, the church is dancing on the line between necessary intervention and extremism, and there is an urgent need to rethink its current strategy toward politics. I mean; we already have enough problems in Nigerian politics, the church should not add to it.