By Adakho Lokho Mao
People view religion and politics in different directions. Some are of the view that religion and politics are compatible, while others view it as incompatible. In all certainty, the words themselves express the difference and are exercised differently by different people. However, it must be noted that nothing exists as exactly as the other; yet exists for a good purpose. As such, when taken in to account, both religion and politics are intended for a good purpose. Religion is for the good of the people and all creation; and so is politics.
Though religion and politics are destined for good, people are not good enough to function them appropriately, as they are meant for. Attitude and motivation of people are significant if religion and politics are to be functioned coherently. When mention is made of attitude and motivation, the goal of both religion and politics must be obvious and clear-cut, i.e., for the good of the people and all creation. Meanwhile, when either is too much into or is made transcendent over the other, there could arise many undesired impacts on the other. Not to provide a full coverage, but to provide a little input as to how religion and politics could be functioned as they actually are meant for, I throw this little light here from historical accounts to all the readers in general and, the Political leaders and the Church leaders in particular.
Transcendence of Religion over Politics
Believing that God had given the successors of Peter the task of ruling the whole world as well as the church, between 1054 and 1305 the Popes were powerful enough to humble, to force and to humiliate the rulers and emperors do their will. Elected as pope in 1198, Innocent III brought the medieval papacy to the zenith of its power. He believed that kings and princes derived their authority from him, that he could therefore excommunicate or depose them. With this view of his authority and all power and prestige of the papacy under his control, Innocent was able to bring the rulers of the rising nation states of England and France under his control and to defeat the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. A man of singleness in purpose, iron will, and great executive and diplomatic ability, Innocent III brought the papacy to the apex of its influence in the political life of Europe and markedly extended its administrative control of the church.
Nevertheless, as time passed by, the papacy declined. As it was too much into political affair, there arrived corruption: Nepotism, simony, drunkenness, indulgences, neglect of people by the priest all transpired after the death of Innocent. Increased education, wealth, and political influence of the urban middle class made the cities restive under ecclesiastical interference in temporal affairs. Thus, the popes were unable to unseat the kings and contest with kings. The worse decline came during Boniface VIII. Being tactless, quick-tempered, and lordly and lover of magnificence, he was defeated.
Transcendence of Politics over Religion
Pontius Pilate’s wife urged Pilate that Jesus was innocent, and that there was no reason for him to have Jesus handed over to be crucified. However, Pilate, for fear of the people’s rage and Herod, who may turn against him that may in turn turn their relationship worse, handed Jesus over to be crucified. Consequently, Pilate was held captive to Gaul and Pilate, then, had himself killed.
Nero reached the Roman throne in Oct. 54. He had the Christians killed, persecuted, set on fire, and tortured. Nero was the Caesar to whom Paul appealed for justice (Acts 25: 10) and whose God-given authority he had carefully supported (Rom. 13:1-7). Apostles Paul and Peter were among the martyrs. In A.D. 68, Nero was deposed by a rebellion that gained the support of the Roman senate and Pilate, then, killed himself.
Domitian became emperor from A.D. 81. In Rome, Flavius Clemens and his wife Flavia Domitilla related to the emperor were executed. Several ancient writers affirm that there were many martyrs apart from Flavius Clemens and his wife. In Asia Minor, one who was banished for his faith was Apostle John. Many were killed and for generations the church in Asia Minor remembered the reign of Domitian as a time of trial. Finally, like Nero, Domitian was seen increasingly as a tyrant. His behavior became so intolerable even to pagans that a conspiracy was formed against him, and he was assassinated in his own palace. The Roman senate then decreed that his name should be erased from every inscription, so that there would be no memory of him.
William Carey, known as the ‘father of modern mission,’ was an English Baptist missionary to India. On arriving in Calcutta, Carey had a hard time since the British East India Company did not allow any missionary work within their territory. Hence, he came under the Danish colony at Serampore, West Bengal, without which Carey’s mission would never have been possible, except that God would open for him another way. It was under the protection of the Danish government that Carrey could accomplish his God assigned task. It was the Danish King, Frederick IV, who granted the Serampore College/University to award degrees, which was the first degree-granting institution in Asia.
William Wilberforce, a British politician (MP), a philanthropist and a leader of the movement to abolish slave trade headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807. Wilberforce was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education. He championed causes and campaigns, such as the Society for Suppression of Vice, British Missionary Work in India, the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone, the foundation of the Church Mission Society, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In later years, Wilberforce supported the campaign for the complete abolition of slavery, and continued his involvement after he resigned from Parliament because of his failing health. That campaign led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire.
Notably, after his religious conversion, Wilberforce sought guidance from John Newton, the very writer of the Christian Hymn, “Amazing Grace”, a leading Evangelical Anglican clergyman of the day and Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in the city of London. As Wilberforce sought, John Newton counseled him to remain in politics and he resolved to do so with increased diligence and conscientiousness. Thereafter, Wilberforce’ political views were informed by his faith and by his desire to promote Christianity and Christian ethics in private and public life. His views opposed radical changes in God-given political and social order and the eradication of immorality through education and reform.
It is not that we have been entirely diverting from the direction of the goal and purpose of religion and politics. However, as introduced, with our finite ability we are incapable of functioning them as good as they are intended for. Therefore, it is worth noting that religion and politics are for the good of the people and all creation; and they hand in hand correspond to each other. When one is too much prioritized over the other or when one is too much into the other, there could come about unfavorable outcome. To bring about change in our land and to improve our Church, may we be enlightened of Mission in Partnership.