NIGERIA WANDERS IN THE darkness of heightened insecurity and scandalous poverty, in the wilderness of utter lawlessness. Our political process urgently needs to be fixed. In these dark moments, we Christians need to ask ourselves: what is our role in Nigeria? And, how are we to play this role?
Our role is already described in two metaphors found in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew. There Jesus spoke to his disciples, saying: "You are the light of the world…. You are the salt of the earth." Light puts an end to darkness, and salt adds flavour to food, putting an end to tastelessness. How can we as a Church bring about transformation in Nigeria?
By "Church", I do not mean just the hierarchy, but the hierarchy and the entire people of God, pastors and lay faithful. For when Jesus said "you are the light of the world…the salt of the earth", he was not just addressing himself to the twelve but to the crowds that gathered to listen to the Sermon on the Mount.
The Church is an assembly of the people of God, and, within this assembly, there are leaders and the led. The Church is truly Church where there is communion between the pastors and the lay faithful. The leaders of the Church and the people they lead are the Church together. Reduced to just her leaders, the Church would be like a music director conducting without a choir, without an orchestra. Reduced to just the lay faithful, she would be like a choir without its director, an orchestra performing without a conductor. We cannot speak of the Church without taking this into account. The Church is neither a place where leaders are held hostage by the led, nor a place where leaders tyrannize the led. By our baptism, we all, clergy and lay faithful, share in the prophetic office of Christ. Like prophets in the Bible, our role is to proclaim the word of God having received the word of God. We can only bear witness to the Gospel we have received and internalized.
The Church does not have a favorite political party. She does not have an army. Her role is not to take up arms but to form consciences by shaping public opinion. This does not have to involve imposing the Gospel on people. This is about making the values of the Gospel present in every sphere of human endeavor, in every sector of the society, especially on the political terrain. It is about witnessing to the Gospel by the way we live. But there is a caveat.
If Christianity in Nigeria is to become a veritable agent of positive transformation, Christian preachers in Nigeria will need to refine their religious discourse by taking theological education seriously. It is very embarrassing to listen to preachers whose sermons provide incontrovertible evidence that they do not know how to read the Bible. That is what happens where serious theological formation-which is not the same as pietistic enthusiasm, pseudo-prophecy and superstitious use of sacramentals-is not required of people before they gain access to the pulpit. Nigeria is full of many of such preachers. Christian preachers must detoxify their sermons if Christianity is to be a credible agent of positive change in Nigeria.
There are too many toxic sermons in our land, sermons that insult and assault the intelligence of the audience, sermons that brainwash rather than inspire, sermons that offer vain hope, sermons that denigrate others, sermons that incite people against those who are denigrated, sermons that have set cities on fire. For this, and for other reasons, there are those who argue that religion should be out of politics. To such people, speaking of the role of Christians in the society may sound like mixing politics with religion. They argue for a separation of politics and religion. But I argue for a distinction and not a separation because politics is an ethical project.
We ought not to separate politics from ethics. The ethics of a Christian is informed and formed by his or her religious beliefs. A Christian cannot afford to do politics without God, provided that such a Christian knows and believes that God is love. What is to be avoided is the imposition of God on others. Politics, in the true sense of the word, and I do not speak of politics of Machiavellian inspiration, is an act of love. Politics is the intelligent regulation of common life for the sake of the common good, and only the one who truly loves will work for the common good. The Christian has an obligation to be involved in the political process. Assuming this obligation is fulfillment of the greatest commandment-love God above all things and love your neighbor because of God.
The love that the Christian must manifest in managing the affairs of our common life for the sake of the common good is the love of the triune God eloquently expressed on the cross by the crucified Christ. For a Christian to be light of the world and salt of the earth, the Christian has an obligation to participate in managing the affairs of our common life, which is what politics is about. Since the love that the Christian must manifest in politics is the love of the triune God, politics, for the Christian, ought to be understood and practiced as concretization of trinitarian love in the affairs of the city, the affairs of our common life.
Politics without religion is politics without God. Politics without God is management of the affairs of the city, of our common life, without God. While it is not impossible, it can be dangerous. At the same time, the mixture of corrupt politics and corrupt religion is poisonous. It is because we practice the two brands of politics-politics without God, and a mixture of corrupt politics and corrupt religion-that there is so much confusion, corruption, uncertainty, poverty and insecurity in the land. And where does this leave our religious leaders in Nigeria?
So many parade themselves as prophets and so much is said today that is presented as prophecy. A religious leader who is a true prophet speaks for God. The one who is a false prophet speaks for himself and thus contradicts himself. He sometimes speaks for himself by speaking for an ideological camp or a political party or speaks for a candidate for public office by speaking for himself. A true prophet stays above the fray of partisan politics. A false prophet calls the name of God in vain, in violation of the second commandment.
We in the Catholic Church-clergy and lay faithful-are in a position to avoid this anomaly. We have the Gospel, and we have the rich corpus of Catholic social doctrine, a doctrine which applies the Gospel to issues of politics and society. These can and should guide us in our involvement in the political process. The onus is on all of us, clergy and lay faithful, to read and study the social interventions of successive Popes, especially from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1845 to Gaudete et exsultate, the most recent Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the call to holiness in today's world.
After all said and done, involvement in the political process is a matter of striving for holiness of life even on the treacherous political terrain.