By Lyson Sibande
Let me clarify. I am always against pastoral letters because of mainly two reasons. The first is that Jesus Christ did not commission the church with a political mission. According to the Gospels, when Jesus was leaving, he left the church with the mandate to preach and teach the world about the gospel and baptize those that believeth (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:18). Pastoral letters are simply the Church’s propaganda instrument to set the political agenda or influence the political landscape or elections. They have no element of the gospel. They are therefore, a digression from the Great Commission which is the essence of the existence of the Church.
The second is that all democracies are secular governments built on the fundamental principle of the wall of separation between the Church and the State or separation between Religion and Politics. This means that government guarantees freedom of worship to its citizens and has no power to interfere with the faith or pass a law that would force religion on people or put one church or religion above the others. On the other hand, the wall of separation means that the church has no right to force its beliefs and lifestyle on citizens or interfere with the politics of the state.
So the only time the church has the right to interfere with the politics of the state is when government has breached the wall of separation and interfered with the freedom of religion and conscience through legislation or otherwise. Other than that, the Church and all its arms of faith, must focus on presenting Christ to the world and the blessed hope of his second coming.
Now, the real reason I am writing this post is to respond to those that claim that the Church is right to issue pastoral letters because without the pastoral letters there would be no democracy in Malawi. Now, it is a fact that some 8 Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter entitled “Living our Faith” on March 8 1992 which attacked Dr. Banda and his MCP for violation of human rights and bad governance. But it is totally wrong to think that it was the pastoral letter that triggered the democratic movement which overthrew Dr. Banda.
Those that understand contemporary history and international politics know very well that Democracy in Malawi was ignited by geopolitical influences and the shift in the balance of power on the global arena that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communism from 1989. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the global power was shifted towards the USA and its western allies who had always supported Dictatorship in Africa to avoid the spread of communism.
The only reason we had dictators in Africa for three decades was because the Soviet Union and its communism were a threat to the USA and western capitalism. When the Union collapsed, the USA and its allies had no need for puppet dictators to keep Africa away from communism which no longer existed. As a result, they immediately launched the agenda for democratization of Africa mainly through two methods. They sponsored leaders of pro-democracy movement and secondly and most effectively, they enforced human rights and good governance as conditions for budgetary aid to create an excuse for freezing aid to bring down the dictators.
Now, my point is that, whether the Catholic Bishops had written the Pastoral Letter or not, the wind of democracy was already blowing across the Sub-Sahara triggered by the fall of a superpower in the East. You see, while the Bishops abandoned the flock of Christ to the devil and were busy drafting a political letter, politics was already taking care of itself because underground pro-democracy pressure groups in the country and abroad led by politicians like Bakili Muluzi and Brown Mpinganjira were already working. In fact, while the Catholic Bishops were releasing their letter in Malawi, Chakufwa Chihana was holding a press conference in South Africa in the company of Dr Mapopa Chipeta and Ahmed Dassu announcing to the entire world his return to Malawi to lead the struggle for democracy. And indeed, Chihana landed just in less than 3 weeks. The struggle for democracy continued and the battle was won the following year.
So, the point is that Catholic Bishops should not have abandoned their divine calling to interfere with politics in 1992 because politics takes care of itself. Even without their letter, global affairs had already sealed the fate of Dictatorship in Africa and time for change had come. Dr. Banda and MCP were already on their way out!
After the 1992 pastoral letter, Churches have released dozens of pastoral letters. But have you ever asked yourself why these letters have yielded nothing? Its because we don’t and we have never needed pastoral letters. They are useless. Let members of the Clergy preach Christ and Christ alone.
After the 1992 pastoral letter, Churches have released dozens of pastoral letters. But have you ever asked yourself why these letters have yielded nothing? Its because we don’t and we have never needed pastoral letters. They are useless. Let members of the Clergy preach Christ and Christ alone.15