Zambian evangelical Christians have not always been clear whether they should publically involve themselves in civil issues and politics. Most have convinced themselves that this is for those in the Ecumenical church. Theirs is to simply win souls, love family and church, and keep morally warm in readiness for glory. Among those who have thrown themselves into the mire of politics, the majority have either been ethically ineffective or outright compromisers. They have failed to distinguish themselves from their ungodly counterparts. It can, therefore, safely be said that in the matter in question, the evangelical church in Zambia is still at the level of experimentation.

At some point I providentially found myself having to publicly express my views on national affairs. The reaction was interesting: “Pastor Mwetwa is becoming political.” Clearly, a distinction has not been drawn between civil and political involvement. Admittedly the line of demarcation sometimes does get pretty blurred. But it is there, and we have a duty not to pretend it isn’t. Civil activity is organised effort to secure society’s dignified existence. Politics, on the other hand, includes “the activities involved in getting and using power in public life” (Oxford Dictionary).

Into the political boxing ring

My pronounced civic involvement started with concern that the country’s second state president, Mr Fredrick Chiluba, was intending to alter the constitution for very selfish reasons. My judgement, as a conscientious citizen, was that this was going to set the unhealthy precedence of tampering with the supreme law of the land for purely subjective reasons. I was also persuaded that the whole scheme was morally untenable. This led me to preach a wakeup call to the saints from Titus 3:1-8. The first sermon on the need for greater concern for civic matters by believers was at Trinity Baptist Church in Kitwe on 18th February 2001. I subsequently preached the same sermon at my own church and at Lusaka Baptist Church. One thrust in the application of this sermon was the need to civically challenge the president’s Third Term bid on moral grounds.

Some weeks after the sermon at Lusaka Baptist Church, a brother by the name of Mutembo Nchito, a good younger friend I have known since his secondary school years, came to see me about aspects of this sermon. His concern was simple: How can we practically apply the truths of this sermon to the obtaining political situation? A lengthy discussion ensued that resulted in our planning to convene a meeting at which many members of parliament would be brought together with the view of seeking their involvement to halt the plan to alter the constitution for the reasons given.

The strategy was to attack from two fronts: the legal and the moral. From a legal perspective, Mutembo, being an astute lawyer, brought to my attention the fact that we could short-circuit the Third Term bid by garnering enough support from MPs electing to have parliament dissolve itself, long before bringing the questionable alteration to the constitution to parliament. The option of impeaching the president, on good legal grounds, was also carefully prospected. From the moral front, I was to deliver a sermon challenging civic leaders to stand up to their obligation before God to serve his people justly, and not serve the interests of an individual. In this sermon I was also to lay a moral basis for rejecting the Third Term bid.

It is important to recall that the entire state machinery was at this time employed to promote the agenda of the state president, overtly and stealthily. It was, therefore, a very precarious undertaking on our part to attempt thwarting the state president’s agenda. African leaders have one thing in common—ruthlessness to challenge. All known influential opponents of the president were being trailed by the secret service. After my involvement became public, it was brought to my attention that I was under similar surveillance. This meant that we needed to be hyper security conscious and discrete in executing our plan.

The fruit of all this process, after considering several options, was the organisation of a meeting held on 10th April 2001, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka. The auspices of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia was sought to lend the occasion ecclesiastical and moral authority. At this gathering a good number of cabinet members, led by the then acting state president (the Vice President), were present. Many MPs and diplomats, in addition to scores of concerned citizens numbering over 3,000, braved their way into the cathedral.

The cathedral was packed. The atmosphere was that of solemn anticipation with reverent fear. It is as if the nation was anxiously looking up to this event to petition God to intervene in the affairs of the nation, which was then in a state of tension. It was at this historic gathering that the two-pronged attack—the legal and the moral—was meticulously executed. I gave the keynote address, in which I exhorted the leaders of the nation to be concerned with serving under God and for his glory. Romans 13 was my text. After promulgating the legal route to the audience, Mutembo circulated the petition to dissolve parliament for the signatures of MPs.

The sight was moving. In their numbers, members of parliament appended their signatures. Many others who were not present at the meeting later called to append theirs. It was a sea-swell response. What was most touching was that many who threw their weight behind this step did so because they felt convicted. Some even testified that since hearing the sermon their consciences gave them no rest till they did what was morally right. God amazingly manifested his presence even among the ungodly. They risked their careers and lives to do what was right in God’s sight.

As it became clear that the required number of signatures to dissolve parliament was nearing, and that the Third-term bid had been thwarted, the state president painfully announced to the nation that he was not seeking a third term of office. We have reason to believe that God was pleased to use these humble efforts, alongside those of many other brave citizens in many other ways, to turn things round in our favour.

These events instantly thrust me into a flurry of public events. I found myself having to address various forums on a variety of subjects and interacting with political leaders. Imposed on me was the role of being a “consultant” on ethics and moral issues touching public and corporate life. I suspect this is because my presentations always had an ethical and biblical outlook. Mutembo pursued his own line of speciality at a high and sensitive level, fighting corruption using his legal armour.

Blows beneath the belt

The sad side to this involvement, as we approached the 2001 elections, was the pressure on me to participate in party politics. Emissaries from the leading political parties in contention then solicited my participation in their leadership teams. Offers of cabinet posts were extended. I was inundated with calls during this period. I understood why they did this. The sad thing is they did not understand why I declined. This grieved me as much as it opened my eyes to appreciate that it is possible to join with others in a single cause but with different motives. I was grieved because I realised that I was being perceived as being civically active for inordinate motives such as quest for power. With hindsight I see this as a vital early lesson on the thinking of most politicians.

The pressure was far from relenting. Months after the 2001 elections, I received invitations to meet the state president (Mr Mwanawasa) because it was felt he needed my regular input. I declined for two simple reasons. First, I was not persuaded my counsel would be valued and effective, for one or two personal reasons. Second, as a general rule, dealings with any politicians over politics at too personal a level are a thing I am very uncomfortable with. The only politician I ever allowed in my home to discuss national issues was the late Dean Mungomba. It was because he sought my counsel regarding a personal political dilemma. I have veered into these very personal details to demonstrate that political ambition did not have its appeal, notwithstanding the numerous opportunities. I am trying to say, in other words, that civic involvement need not inevitably lead to political involvement, notwithstanding the temptations.

The one thing I had been really burdened to see, after triumphing over the Third Term battle, was a truly sound national constitution. On this subject alone I submitted about 15 articles through the press. Even though this was no guarantee of things going well in the nation, it offered the best prospect nonetheless. Good laws lay ground for good governance and good citizenry. This is what brought me into close involvement with the Oasis Forum – an amalgam of moral-social activists. Most causes, we will appreciate, are best achieved by organised efforts as opposed to solo efforts. I was at best a speaker at the Forum’s meetings, much the same way we facilitate at all sorts of gatherings that request us to preach the Word. At the same time the Lord opened doors for me to be a columnist with the Post Newspaper, a popular tabloid, through which I saddled an ethical outlook to all of life. This opened the way for an incredible volume of counselling though emails.

Duplicity of Christian spectators

Christians are quick to complain about moral failure in public life, but slow to practically do anything about it. Most tend to only stand for causes that are criticism-free. And yet achievements that have yielded the greatest benefit to mankind have been those secured by engaging the most hazardous challenges. A case in point is William Wilberforce, whose campaigns against slavery cost the British government tens of millions of pounds. He must have been state enemy number one.

For fear of negative reactions, many have shrunk even from just and noble causes. In this sin-dominated world, however, rarely is good accomplished without eliciting the condemnation and threats of those who stand in the way of its being achieved. However careful one chooses to be, aggression is the essence of sinful man’s reaction to challenge. For nearly every good deed Christ did, it was met with a ferocious reaction from those whose merchandise and market was threatened by his ministry. A demon-possessed Samaritan, a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, they called Christ.

Equally, we should not expect leaders whose inconsistencies and corrupt activities are decried by preachers to smile back just because the criticism is from servants of God. They will lampoon us like everyone else they consider a threat in the political arena. Our claims, motives, methods, characters, and lives will be attacked. The ungodly can endure criticism from their kind, but criticism from the godly they will not tolerate, because of their dread of its moral force and popular appeal.

Amazing inconsistency manifested itself among Christians in this area. One moment you hear them complain about non-Christian political leadership, the next they are complaining about Christians getting into politics! Paradoxically, the same people turn round when things go favourably well, to express delight that God used godly individuals to better order society. When these saints ascend to high office, it is these very critics who queue to seek favours from the “political” saints. It is indeed a common irony that critics of Christian involvement in civic affairs gladly feast on the fruit of the sacrifices of the very brethren they criticise.

Clearly a lot of thinking needs to be done on this subject. It is little appreciated that God raises specific people for specific times and tasks. And there are tasks that are best handled by believers because of their capacities to pursue ends with pure motives. Ungodly people who listen to no one often yield to the voice of those they have a high regard for. Why not prudently exploit this for national good?

Strategic engagement

I need to mention here that I was civically active without being a formal member of any organisation. This is because I cherished my autonomy as a private citizen for strategic purposes. This suited my ecclesiastical office and it gave me the liberty to set my agenda and be in control of my affairs. So far I am satisfied that none of my set principles had been compromised. I am persuaded the Lord preserved me.

Yes, I had in the process of my activities interacted with people of different faiths and some ungodly men. The atmosphere, agenda, and the objectives of the gatherings I attended, however, were neither unchristian nor antithetical to the Christian faith. It is like those family indabas we are often a part of with relatives holding on to different moral and spiritual lifestyles, or indeed our interactions in any aspect of secular life. The problem with anything with a political dimension is that it is still viewed suspiciously and negatively. But “salt” that does not confront even corrupt society at Christ’s terms is useless.

In life there comes a time when the justness of a cause may not only unite vastly heterogeneous forces, but will also render petty all preoccupation with differences existing within the force. Thus have struggles against colonialism, apartheid, slavery, dictatorship, etc., been won. When a nation is under attack by enemy forces, bickering over whether the allied soldier in the adjacent trench is an atheist or a Buddhist is irresponsible and silly. If in a national conference convened to debate capital punishment Moslems stand with us, should we tell them to shut up and to only yap in their mosques? I think we can acknowledge their solidarity with us while distinguishing ourselves by finely articulating the superiority of our rationale.

Readers will be interested to know that I have declined involvement in more programmes than I have ended participating in. Generally, I am ill at ease with high profile activity and publicity. Without intense pressure and a passion for justice, I doubt that I would have participated in the radio and television interviews. For this reason, I have repeatedly turned down journalists from different national papers and radio broadcasters seeking my input on unfolding national events. I am not persuaded it is any of my business to do this. Rather than be a political commentator, I care that I am a nation-builder and moral educator. For this same reason, political statements are not part of my pulpit ministry.

My goal in all these activities has been to influence change for good. I have also desired to maintain an evangelical and Reformed opinion on as many national matters as possible, whatever the rate of failure. You will recall that in view of the serious moral lapses by the Chiluba government, which was seen as a “Christian” government, the reputation of evangelicals was hopelessly at an ebb. Our testimony was dented, and it threatened the effectiveness of our witness before the world. This needed to be reversed. God, I think, gave us the opportunity to redeem ourselves in the Third Term crisis and subsequent challenges. It has saddened me that evangelical believers have hardly taken interest in the public affairs of the nation. Pseudo evangelicals have filled the vacuum. Meanwhile, atheists, pagans, and conmen pastors are dictating policies that affect us with no concern for what honours God.

Biblical impetus

Is there any biblical basis for such Christian involvement? And does this not resemble Reconstructionism? In distinguishing Reconstructionism from my stance, answer will be given to both questions. Reconstructionism, by the way, is the belief that God has mandated the church to bring the world’s social, economic, and political institutions under the regulation of his law. Now, this radically differs from my stance.

First, the objective differs. Unlike Reconstructionists, there is no intention on our part to introduce God’s law, much less the Mosaic civil code, in politics. Beyond calling for that which forms a modicum of morality expected of any decent society whatever its religion, we seek no more. Our aim when participating in civil affairs is fourfold:

(a)    To play our role as individuals working out an environment in which we can be free to enjoy our God-given rights (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27,28) and earn our living decently (cf. Titus 3:14).

(b)    To play our civic duty, as conscientious citizens, to see out a just society. This may mean pressing for justice from rulers, even through protests where necessary (cf. Acts 16:35-39; 22:22-29). “Rulers” we are told, “hold no terror for those who do right” (Rom. 13:3). When rulers are respectfully admonished for going beyond their divine mandate when they terrorise the innocent, do we dishonour God when we offer such admonition?

(c)    To help the many left wallowing in despair and ruin (cf. Lk. 10:30-37) due to the greed and callousness of society and leaders. Having done our best to love God with all that is within us, we have not forgotten that the second commandment tells us to love our neighbour, stranger though he may be. This love is not just expressed by helping the needy directly, but also by endeavouring to stem a key root to the problem, such as policy-making.

(d)    We desire to preserve society from moral degeneration by providing ethical guidance as “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13) and by providing spiritual guidance through this door (cf. 1Cor. 9:19-23).

As you can see, this is no effort to Christianise the state or to legislate Mosaic morality. It is no campaign for Christian social or political dominion.

Second, the ethos differs. In Reconstructionism, world dominion becomes a philosophy to be executed by all believers in obedience to God. Our position is that believers will ordinarily be radiating the light of the gospel through the Word they preach and live out in their respective callings. In this context, they will be serving as salt to the decaying political world and light to the socially hopeless. While we do not have an agenda to overturn this sin-dominated world, we will not let it dominate us either by practical passivity. We take the doctrine of man’s total depravity seriously enough not to disillusion ourselves with utopias. But so do we cast off, by practical deeds, all fatalism that roots itself in the doctrine of “the utter worthlessness of man and his world.”

Third, the eschatological impetus differs. We [Reformed Baptists] are amillennialists—seeing the world, since Christ’s resurrection, as enjoying gospel free-course until it succumbs ever more steadily to the dominion of Satan as the end approaches. Reconstructionists are postmillennialists—seeing a heavenly atmosphere rapidly unfold on earth as the church triumphs over evil.