The Synod realised the need to step up the Church’s involvement in speaking for the voiceless. This is not just in times of conflicts but also in getting governments to improve services to the people. That is why the final statement speaks of the need to change attitudes and to have structures that will work effectively in ensuring reconciliation. That touches also the relation between church and state.
Time of awakening
The synod observed that the Church has not utilised fully its capacity in influencing policies. It recommended hence that the Church has representation on national or international organisations. There the African Church becomes aware that she has not acted sufficiently enough as she could have. However awareness alone is not enough. Perhaps the African Church would need to reflect on her relation with national government in what concerns Church and state relation. Whatever the relationship she shouldn’t lose her prophetic role.
The Church law speaks of separation of Church and State, defining especially the extent the clergy can involve themselves in politics. The Church’s position did not come by hazard, it came from history. The separation we talk about today is a lesson drawn from history. The close and unclear divide between the two had its advantages and its inconveniences. In short, the Canon law regarding church and state relation is linked to history but also to the position of the church especially in the western world. Wouldn’t it be in the interest of her prophetic mission that the African church observe this law in a manner a little more creatively?
Church and state in Africa
Much less in Europe, the African Church still has a strong voice through which she can render service to the poor. In fact, significant political changes took place when the church straightened from her timidity to say “enough is enough.” Zambia and Malawi are best examples. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere and this authority is not tapped to the maximum. Why?
The “church out of politics” talk has often paralysed many pastors even in situations where their prophetic responsibility could have obliged them to stand up and speak. The result is that people have been subjected to injustice and all they get from the people who are supposed to speak for them is an overly cautious statement that falls short the boldness of truth. There’s fear to be accused of doing politics. Certain priests, even bishops, not agreeing with such timid silence try to go alone. So they are seen as bad guys not only by the government they criticise but also by their fellow pastors preoccupied with the limit line. Often such prophets remain isolated, weakened, and defenseless. In fact, often they finish badly not necessarily that they are bad people. They were simply left alone with no support when they needed it.
African Church define your personality
Obedience to the Church law we cannot ignore it. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t paralyse our witness nor render us lukewarm. Indeed, when we allow this separation between state and church to land us to such mediocrity, not only does the church let Africa down but she fails in her mission. The concrete form of the Church’s mission in Africa is not the same as in America or Europe. It means the Church needs to be “equipped” differently according to where she is and what she has to do.
Certainly, it’s a failure in her duty, if the Church in Africa wants to relate to the state in the manner that the French Church would do in France. Canon Lawyers, theologians, and bishops of the African church here is another area that would require them serious study in order to come up with concrete proposals on how the Church would effectively fulfil her mission.
Here the African Church needs to rise, pick up her pallet, and walk. She needs to be consequent to the fact that the political scene in the West is not the same as in third world. It’s up to her to work out a particular way of interpreting Church Law in the manner that does not compromise her prophetic role or the multitudes of her flock remain perpetually victims of injustice.