A row is growing in Swaziland about whether churches should be involved in politics.
Leaders of the Swaziland League of Churches and the Conference of Swaziland Churches in interviews with the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, complained that other church leaders had led a march to the prime minister in protest at the death of democracy activist Sipho Jele. They said that churches had no place in politics.
The Times’ article has provoked a response from the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) which is reproduced below.
There was also a critical response in today’s Times (26 May 2010) in which a reader complained about the biased reporting on the subject by the Times. Click here to read the letter.
The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations expresses its deepest concern that Bishop Hlatshwayo of the Swaziland League of Churches and Bishop Masilela of the Conference of Swaziland Churches are unable to distinguish between the defence of human rights and politics. Their attack on the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace is without any foundation in decency, humanity, theology or scripture.
To equate standing up for peace and justice for all with a merely political act is to fundamentally misunderstand the concepts of justice as preached in the bible and their modern secular expression in human rights.
Our human rights are universal – they apply to all of us and when one person is deprived of their rights we all are. Whether Sipho Jele’s death was an accident, suicide or homicide it was at a time when he was under the protection of the state authorities. The march was not a march of protest but a request that justice should be done so that the Jele family gets to know how and why their son died so tragically early.
In this country standing up for our rights is seen to be playing politics – the two could not be further apart – politics in this country is the use and often abuse of power by a small number acting in their own self interest. Human rights is about preserving the dignity and respect for everyone no matter how lowly they may appear.
The Church, just like rights, is also universal. For a church to remove itself from the defence of the poor, the prisoners and the prostitutes is not only an act of moral cowardice, it goes against the preaching and actions of Jesus. As Christians, Bishops Hlatshwayo and Masilela must know that Christ died for every one of us – not just the rich and powerful. He died so that Sipho Jele might be free.
Not to stand up for justice for Jele is not only avoiding a political act but it is actually taking a supremely deliberate and provocative political stand. It is saying that the forces of government can, should and must do as they wish with the blind support of the Church. It is saying that the Church supports the powerful, not the powerless. We cannot find that position supported in scripture.
The Church is the one place that should not be neutral on questions of good and evil, it must take a stand. If we follow the logic of the Conference and the Federation then these clergymen would be calling Bishop Tutu’s stance against apartheid as ‘political’, it would consider Dr Martin Luther King’s championing of civil rights for Black Americans as ‘political’ and it would even call William Wilberforce’s campaign for the abolition of slavery as ‘political’. They were not political but incredibly brave moral acts driven by a Christian desire for justice for all.
The bible is clear, we must respect our leaders but only when they follow the rules of good leadership.