Pulpits divided over politics

2009-04-10 00:00

THE question of politics and religion has never been far from the limelight of public debate in South Africa because of the formative role religion played in the country’s past on both sides of the apartheid divide. The forthcoming elections have nudged the issue towards centre stage once more, and now, since ANC president Jacob Zuma addressed a service at the Rhema Bible Church in Randburg, Johannesburg, in March, it is firmly in the media spotlight again.

As Christians around the world pause to celebrate the defining event of their faith this Easter, what will local ministers be saying to their congregations, and will it include this perennially prickly issue?

The new dean and rector of the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Nativity, the Very Reverend Ndabazinhle Sibisi, said he has no problem with Jacob Zuma’s visit to Rhema because “we need to engage our political leaders so that they understand where the church is on issues that affect our communities”. However, he would not be addressing that matter this Easter, nor the wider issue of the relationship between the state and the church. “I will be talking about those issues that affect our people, like domestic violence and homelessness because as believers we need to have a prophetic voice which will be silenced if we do not mention them. I will also talk about the significance of learning from Christ to wash one another’s feet and be of service to others.”

Sibisi said he will also be encouraging people to vote because “unless we do, Christians will not be part of transformation happening in our society”.

Another minister who will encourage people to vote is Father Allan Moss, the new parish priest of St Mary’s Catholic Church in the city. He said he will by applying the message of Easter to the forthcoming elections. “The message of Easter is new life through Christ, which is available to us all. We can live a good and godly life and the challenge is to apply that to our daily lives, which include politics and economics. It’s not a question of which political party is ideal, but which will lead the country to a better life. I will encourage people to vote according to their conscience, not what would suit them personally, but what they believe will be best for the country. Like Christ, we should not be selfish, but concerned for our brothers and sisters and apply that principle when we vote.”

The Reverend Alan Bester, superintendent of the Pietermaritzburg Metro Circuit, said Metro Methodist church has been praying for the elections and the electoral process for several weeks and will continue to do so. It used a theme of obedience for Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) and members have been looking at what this means to them. In his sermons, he said, he will be focusing on the hope and victory that Good Friday and Easter offer. On the matter of party politics, Bester said the Methodist Church of Southern Africa does not allow its churches to be used for this purpose.

Another church not open to matters related to party politics is Hosanna Ministries Church in Scottsville, which is aligned to the International Salvation and Deliverance Church. “The church is not a platform to communicate party politics; it has to remain impartial because the Gospel is for everyone,” said the church’s Bishop Alvin Anthony. “However, we are concerned for issues of social justice and have the interests of the country at heart. We have to be a voice against corruption and immorality in all aspects of life and promote principles of good governance and morality. It is natural, therefore, that believers align themselves with groups that share the same values.”

These views were echoed by Pastor Neville Sewlall of Jacob’s Well Ministries in Bombay Heights.

Guest preachers will preach at the church’s Easter services, he said, so he could not say what their sermons would cover. However, its theme for Easter was a focus on praying for deliverance from the “corruption, violence and wickedness affecting the nation”. In addition to services, members of the congregation planned to go on a midnight “prayer walk” around the suburb to “stand in the gap and ask God to have mercy on this nation”.

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