(By Elias Munshya)
THE Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Bill 10) appears to have some footprints of the Pentecostal mindset in so far as the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is concerned. Nevertheless, this footprint is not quite what it promises to be. There is a need for Pentecostals to push back against this idea that the faith should be used to marginalise other Zambians. Particularly, Bill 10 is proposing to remove the “multi-religious” character from the constitution in preference for “Christian”. The problem with this change is that it potentially violates the Bill of Rights, which guarantees Zambians religious liberty and freedom. Zambians should know that Pentecostals will serve as friendly neighbours. The idea that Pentecostals should be used to disturb the peace of their non-Christian neighbours is honestly frightening. It is time for the Pentecostal leaders to be clear that they do not want to be used as the conduit for introducing into the constitution terms and conditions that would violate the Bill of Rights.
Pentecostals need to be wary of Bill 10 in so far as it grants additional powers to the presidency. We, Pentecostals, have been here before. The last time a president had so many powers; we were almost banned as a faith and the government be made, it unbearable for Pentecostals to worship freely. Pentecostals could not even register their churches. They had to register as companies under the companies Act simply because Caesar did not like them that much. There could be a repeat of such Second Republic tactics should Bill 10 go through granting more powers to the President. Pentecostals need to know that while President Lungu is very amiable and friendly to them, there could be another “pharaoh” who would not recognise them. With enormous powers, Bill 10 is conferring on the presidency, Pentecostals might be the most natural target.
Pentecostals are the faith of power. However, closely connected to power, is the democratic nature of the Pentecostal faith. We are a faith that is very democratic and sometimes chaotic. We are the faith that has women as leaders. We are a faith where the youth are significantly involved in leadership, and some youth are well-known prophets and apostles. We can extrapolate this outstanding quality onto national politics as well. We have the quality to understand the importance of pluralism, be it political or religious pluralism. By conferring many powers on the presidency, Bill 10 stands antithetical to Pentecostal values. The Pentecostal political theology in Zambia must reject the over glorification of Caesar.
Pentecostals must remain a faith of insurgency. It must continue to be the faith where anybody, regardless of education, tribe, age, or gender, can wake up one morning and declare themselves a pastor, prophet, or “papa”. With that spirit of insurgency, it could be time for the Pentecostals to show the government of President Lungu that the Pentecostals cannot stand by while he steers the nation away from a democratic path. Strong democratic values are suitable for the Pentecostal faith. As a renewal movement, Pentecostalism always flourishes in environments of strong freedom. It is, therefore, in the interest of the growth of Pentecostalism that Zambia remains a vibrant democracy. The Catholic Church does have the institutional power to survive a dictatorship. Pentecostals do not have that institutional supremacy, and so a dictatorship would almost certainly hurt the growth of Pentecostalism.
Having looked at the opportunities that exist within our faith and our approach to democracy, I must now turn to the weaknesses that our faith has. These weaknesses may be a barrier to a good response to Bill 10. As a faith of power, we are sometimes tempted to embrace political power, rather than challenge it. For some Pentecostals, President Lungu’s jets purchased with exorbitant kaloba may be a source of great admiration styled as “blessings” or “favour”. Further, the display of presidential power, cars, security, and military uniforms seem to be something Pentecostals try to reconstruct for themselves. Regularly, you will find Pentecostal leaders having a church security routine that mirrors that of a president. Even more reasonable historic Pentecostals have succumbed to the worship of political and temporal power. Power, in Pentecostal churches, seem to have embraced militant security details providing security services to the pastors, their spouses, and their invited special speakers. It is a huge spectacle to observe.
With this affinity for displays of powers comes an indefensible complacency with corruption. As Pentecostals, we are supposed to be a different faith; we are supposed to be fresh. We are not supposed to be like the “corrupt” mainline denominations who display their ecclesiastical vestiges and power. However, we have become just like them. Our desire for opulence does not make for us a people willing to challenge Caesar. Contrasted with Catholics, however, the historical complacency of the Church of Rome has been redeemed by the Church’s paramount concern for universal human values. In Zambia, what Pentecostals would consider as the cold Catholic Church has been at the forefront challenging Caesar and fighting for human rights. It is now our time as Pentecostals to stand up for truth and political maturity.
Pentecostals always have a big mouth to speak in both tongues of men and of angels, but I just hope that this time around, they will garner the courage needed to request that Caesar puts a stop to Bill 10. But will they?
An ordained minister with Grace Ministries Mission International (GMMI), the author also practices as a human rights, immigration, and litigation lawyer in Alberta, Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org