Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu responded very well and intelligently to accusations of being partisan on a Hot FM radio programme.
“I am not partisan at all. Now if you are talking about Church leaders not interested in politics, just hanging around, that is not their mission. Politics is just too important to just leave to politicians on their own; the Church has to come in and give them guidance but they don’t want guidance. Now you are saying this man is very much interested in politics. Well, have you read the Gospel, how Jesus came in, how He was there always on the part of the poor and bringing sense, sanity to people? Politics is part of people’s lives. If you were listening to what I was saying concerning the Gaudium et. Spes – the joy or happiness, or the suffering of the people – this is also the joy and the suffering of the church,” says Archbishop Mpundu. He is right.
After all, God cares about justice, and often the Spirit prompts the prophets to speak – with loud denunciations – of injustice in the social and civic spheres (Amos 2:1–24, to cite but one example of what could fill pages). The Spirit prompts us to groan inwardly at the wreck of creation (Rom. 8:19–23).
A wise friend once said that a surefire way to see where one’s deepest affections are is to see what most easily inflames their emotions. It’s here that we see a massive gap between our own cultural and subcultural foment and the emotional life of Jesus.
Jesus cared about Caesar’s coin questions (Matt. 22:21). They didn’t dominate His emotional energy. Jesus feels more than free to denounce Herod as a “fox” (in context, a withering repudiation; Lk. 13:32), but He keeps right on walking toward Golgotha. Jesus is tranquil before the possibility of Pilate’s judgment (Jn. 19), but anguished before the prospect of God’s. Jesus is so unconcerned about being offended that He overlooks a dismissal of His Nazareth background (Jn. 1:46–51), but is angered to the point of overturning tables when the temple – the dwelling place of God – is turned into a marketplace preventing all peoples from entering to pray (Jn. 2:13–32).
Caesar never prompted Jesus to rejoice (Lk. 10:21). Pilate never prompted Him to sweat blood. Why? Because He trusted a sovereign Father and saw a kingdom that would triumph over all rivals. He was tranquil before the state, and passionate about the Church.
When a religion reflects a different set of priorities, that religion is following something or someone other than Jesus. Indeed, much of what emotionally mobilises the Church in Zambia today is not related to Christian life and doctrine and mission, but to “Christianity” as a set of values under siege.
In fact, it’s difficult to keep up with even a politically-defined religion.
After all, the values one would need to affirm to be in tune in one year might well be deemed those that don’t matter in the next year. The cultural degradations one would denounce loudly, right along with the rest of the herd, in one year would become acceptable in the next, just depending on the personalities and pet sins and injustices of one’s “side” at the moment. What would be characterised watching at the wall of righteousness in one year might well be deemed pharisaical self-righteousness in another.
Such is inevitable when Christianity is identified with a cultural system rather than with the transcendent theological claim of the general Kingdom of God, which joins heaven to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:9–22).
Political ideologies are often then posed in terms of exuberant triumph or in terms apocalyptic despair. Both that exuberance and that despair are then used to justify all sorts of things we never imagined we would affirm, or things we never thought we would deny.
These matters seem that way because they feel much more immediate than, say, whether or not cultural Christianity or prosperity theologies can send people to hell. Of course they do.
The Apostle Paul tells us, right in line with Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, that we do not exercise judgment over the outside world but over the boundaries of those who are called brother or sister (1 Cor. 5:9–13).
In our era, it’s easier to do the reverse. We often rail against the perceived sins of our cultural enemies, while minimising those within the Church. Even worse, we sometimes even confer Christian identity on people apart from repentance and faith, simply because they are “with us” on the issues. That’s a scandal.
In this era, the burden for the Church is great. We must constantly catechize that the Christian gospel isn’t a means to an end of national prosperity or political influence. We must constantly work toward churches that see our identities as, first, ambassadors of the kingdom that will outlast every human state. This is especially true when many in the next generation are walking away from Christ, not because they have found His gospel tried and wanting, but because they assume that Christianity is just politics all the way down.
A church freed to seek the kingdom first wouldn’t dismiss political or social ethics. While the Bible doesn’t give us a detailed public policy outline, it does define justice. The Bible tells us what matters, and who matters. But a church that follows the Bible will not adjust what we speak to and what we keep silent about on the basis of what’s counted important or useful by some ideology or movement.
To be sure, we will find points of overlap with political movements, but never comprehensively.
The Church should seek to shape people’s consciences on the basis of what it has learned at the Lord’s Table, not on the basis of what will keep it at the table of some principality or power of this age.
And perhaps most importantly, the Church of the next generation will be a Church with emotions that are often out of sync with the news cycle. The Church should speak for the vulnerable, including those whom the world would rather keep invisible. The Church should define righteousness and justice in biblical terms, not partisan ones. But the Church should do neither with the triumphalism of those who think they are “winners,” nor with the outrage of those who think they are “losers.” The Church should bear witness to a just social and civil order, but should do so with the affections of those who seek a City not made with human hands.
It’s easy to think we are changing the world, when in reality we’re just yelling at screens.