SOUTHERN AFRICA-‐INDIAN OCEAN DIVISION GUIDELINES ON ADVENTIST’S INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS IN AFRICA BRC DOCUMENT 0CTOBER, 2012
1. Introduction The past sixty years have seen the birth of independent African states. Besides challenges of national development, Christians face the dual challenge of living as law-abiding citizens while keeping their loyalty to God untainted. Associated with the assumption of new political office and authority in Africa following decolonization, rapid Adventist church growth has brought into the faith persons who hold ideological orientations that may be inconsistent with the Word of God and principles of the Adventist Church. Church growth also places Adventists in numerical prominence in certain structures of civil society, government and industry that may influence policy decisions and practices. The leadership of the Adventist Church acknowledges the difficulties, ambiguities, and challenges that these developments bring to our membership from one country to another. Thrown into this mix is the tendency among some members who, while rightly suspicious of human political schemes and machinations, begin to neglect their social and civic responsibilities. Such tend to focus on the coming kingdom to the neglect of responsibilities for the here-and-now. In this document an attempt will be made to articulate biblical principles and practical guidelines that inform and govern the attitudes and relationships that church leaders and members should maintain towards matters of a political nature. This exercise is being undertaken with the full understanding that each country or context presents challenges that are peculiar to it. Responses to certain communal situations may dictate different actions in different contexts. However, despite variations in situations, it should be the aim of every Adventist to act in ways that cohere with the inspired Word of God as well as facilitate and encourage the adherence to such counsel by fellow believers. 2. Biblical and Theological Foundations for Political Involvement 2.1 Introduction Humanity lives in a world in which not only nature, but all socio-economic and political systems have been tainted and severely compromised by evil. The result of the fall (Gen 3) has been that God’s mandate to humanity to care for the creation (Gen 1:26) has suffered progressive decline, complex distortion and manipulation. The story of the Bible is the story of God’s plan to restore His creation following the 2
devastation caused by the fall. Before God’s restoration plan is fully realized at the Second Coming of Christ, however, imperfections continue in the creation and human systems; and any participation by Adventists in political arenas should be accompanied by full awareness of this fact. For this reason, Adventists maintain a clear line of demarcation between Church and State, while taking their civil responsibility seriously (see Appendix on Civic Responsibility). 2.2 The Fall Genesis 1 and 2 tell the story of the world’s origins. In particular, Genesis 1:26-27 gives the basic facts about humanity’s origin. God created man (male and female) in His own image, and commanded them to have dominion over creation. Having the image of God seemed to be critical to human’s God-given task of having “dominion over” the rest of the creation, which at the very least entailed exercising respect, care, and good stewardship. In exercising dominion, humanity was to reflect to the rest of creation, and in their interpersonal relations, God’s own interaction with humans. As human beings made in the image of God and destined to fulfill a God-given purpose, we were endowed with physical, intellectual, social and spiritual capabilities. These abilities mark us as people created for relationships; towards God and each other. The human condition today is far from ideal. The way humans are today is the result of a momentous event in the Garden of Eden usually called the “fall.” This is when Adam and Eve committed the first sin by eating of the forbidden fruit. The Bible clearly teaches the universal effect of this act of our first parents (see Rom. 5:12-14). The impact of sin has touched all aspects of human life and relationships as well as the earth itself (Rom. 8:22). Ellen White talked about a “threefold” curse that rests on the world: the first from Adam’s fall, the other from Cain’s murder of Abel, and then the damage caused by the flood. Not only has sin undermined the initial intimate communion between God and humanity, it has progressively ruptured humanity’s moral soundness and social relationships in the world. Human existence and systems designed to maintain social order and progress operate with imperfection, disharmony and degeneration. But as devastating as the effect of the fall is on humanity, there is clear evidence in the Bible that after the fall of humans, the image of God was not totally obliterated. Genesis 9:6 shows clearly that human behavior towards each other, even after the fall, was being governed by the fact that they still reflect dimly the image of 3
God. Furthermore, as deep and pervasive as the effects of sin have been on humans, the situation is not altogether irreversible. The Bible speaks about the possibility and hope of renewal and restoration. 2.3 Restoration The climax of God’s plan to restore His creation is the life, death, resurrection, and heavenly ministration of Jesus Christ. Already in the Old Testament we see this plan in action. The plan was first revealed as a promise. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). The promise disclosed an intergenerational controversy that would ultimately result in the defeat of the serpent, Satan. Christ the Seed of the woman would overcome the evil one (Rom 16:20). What began in the Garden of Eden was a controversy between good and evil, and it played out in the time of Noah before the flood when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). At that time, God promised to preserve life on earth, and His promise took the form of a covenant. God repeated the idea of the “everlasting” covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:7, 13), with the children of Israel at Sinai (Exod 31:16), and with David (2 Sam 23:5). God’s continuing care was evident even during the period of the monarchy for God was always the true King of Israel (Judg 8:23; Ps 99). Judges or kings ruled at the pleasure of God. And through prophets God’s voice could be heard above the clouds of moral decline and social disorder. In view of the covenants mentioned above, the Bible speaks about covenants in the plural (Rom. 9:4; Gal. 4:24), yet each covenant is a component of a larger picture. Starting with the first gospel promise (Genesis 3:15), through the early sacrificial system (Genesis 4:4), the covenant with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and the Israelite sanctuary service (Exod 25:8), everything was to point to, and climax in, the life, death, resurrection and heavenly ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life on earth was a ministry of service to humankind. In His attitude towards the socio-political order of His day He was sympathetic to sinners and the society around them. The entire ministry of Jesus was one of reconciliation, and it is to this ministry that Christians have been called (2 Cor 5:18). Jesus came as the promised Seed to restore the brokenness that the creation had suffered. He came at a time when, politically, Palestine was completely and complexly organized in the interest of the Roman Empire. Into this mixture of political organization Jesus 4
announced the advent of the kingdom of heaven. From the political perspective, the arrival of the kingdom of heaven was the needed corrective to the existing political establishment. But the kingdom of heaven that Jesus inaugurated was not intended to directly uproot the existing temporal political establishment. However, in seeking to transform the hearts of men, Jesus indirectly influenced established human systems. Ultimately, believers anxiously look forward to the day when the devastation of the earth will be halted (Rev. 11:18), restoration will be consummated, and God will reign directly (Rev. 21:3). In the interim, believers take up their rightful place and responsibilities in God’s kingdom, and relate to earthly rulers with a theocentric mindset, shaped by their affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:11). Genuine Christian faith causes them to desist from political strife, and “to work for the spiritual recovery of mankind to God, to bring them under His rule (Bible Training School, Sept. 1, 1908). Christians, therefore, live in society primarily as citizens of another kingdom, established by God and not by politics (John 18:36). Institutions of state, on their part, exist by God’s providence (Rom. 13:1; cf. John 19:11), and their powers are subordinate to God’s sovereignty (Luke 20:25). On the one hand, God indirectly challenges temporal authorities to do justice, approve the good, condemn evil (Rom. 13:4), and promote the general welfare in order that all may live in peace (1 Tim. 2:2). On the other hand, Christians ought to be mindful of the fact that the demonic powers with whom they struggle (Eph. 6:12) may exercise influence over human governments. Revelation 13 depicts an intensified struggle for world government between God and satanic powers. The ministry of reconciliation to which Christians are called in the interim is to be modeled along the lines of Jesus ministry of reconciliation and non-violence. His ministry to broken humanity (Lk 4:18) was marked by sacrificial service. Isaiah’s servant passages set the stage for the application of the servant understanding to Jesus. Luke 22:37 is the only place where Jesus explicitly quotes Isaiah 53, but by practice and precept, He presented Himself as a servant: He washed the feet of the disciples (Jn 13:1-20), and He taught that he came not to be served but to serve (Mk 10:45). Based on His example, Jesus encourages His followers to be servants to each other (Mk 10:43-44; Jn 13:14), and in the Book of Acts the servant theme is evident (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30). It is for this reason as well as for the orderly execution of Christ’s evangelistic mandate to all humanity (Matt 28:18-20) that we advise
Adventists to exercise any worthy socio-political responsibility with prayerful caution and continuous dedication to God’s will. 2.4 The Contribution of Ellen G. White Adventists are fortunate to have the inspired counsel of Ellen G.White in their understanding, and utilization of Scripture in directing their lives. On the issue of the believer and politics she was not silent. Most of Ellen G. White’s statements on the involvement of the church in politics are negative, addressing specific situations in the church between 1897 and 1899. Her first comment in 1897 that: “His [God’s] people are to keep free from politics” (3MR 41), foresaw a potential threat to our identity as Adventists, hence she gave more specific counsel to the General Conference warning workers against political entanglement. Speaking directly to issues related to monetary reforms raised during the presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan, and a number of workers taking sides on the issues, she stated that they were not to engage “in political speeches, either in or out of the pulpit” (TM 31). This was not about the question of seeking political office but about misusing the ministerial call by promoting political agendas. She explained that when God’s people come to worship we should not say anything that could “divert the mind from the great central interest—Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (ibid.). She simply wanted workers to stop their involvement in politics by not supporting this particular issue. White’s most direct statements against political involvement were penned in 1899, addressed primarily to teachers in our institutions. Here again the involvement of teachers had to do with expressing themselves with respect to political candidates and giving opinions about their agendas. She exhorted workers “to bury political questions” (FCE 475), to leave “political questions alone” (ibid., 476), “not to spend their time talking politics or acting as politicians” (483), and that they should “not take part in political strife” (483). She provides several reasons for her counsel: Political discussions will divide the church (475) and bring in strife and discord (482483), workers should not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (476), they should teach the word (478), they should not antagonize those with whom they need to share their message (478). According to her, workers involved in political issues should be removed from their teaching positions and “tithe should not be used to pay any one for speechifying on political questions. Every teacher, minister, or leader in 6
our ranks who is stirred with a desire to ventilate his opinions on political questions, should be converted by a belief in the truth, or give up his work” (477). That same year she also wrote on politics concerning issues related to the work in the South, among African-Americans. She alerted church leaders about the importance of not becoming “absorbed in politics” in a setting of racial prejudice (3MR41). She specifically wrote, “We are not to give our minds to political issues. God’s people are walking contrary to His will when they mix up with politics, and those who commence this work in the Southern States reveal that they are not taught and led by God, but by that spirit which creates contention and strife and every evil work” (ibid.). It is important for us to notice that none of her statements against political involvement deal with seeking political positions of leadership in the nation. In fact, during the years when she was more vocal against involvement in political issues and strife she addressed the question of seeking political positions in a positive way: “We have no more strength and grace given us than we can wisely appropriate. If God has a work for any of His commandment-keeping people to do in regard to politics, reach the position and do the work with your arm linked in the arm of Christ. The salvation of your souls should be your greatest study”—Letter 4, 1898, p. 13 (8MR 352). She seems to have made a difference between workers and anyone else bringing political issues and strife into the church, and those who felt that God was calling them to be in political positions in the nation. This opening in Ellen White’s thinking is clearly present in one of her early addresses to young people written in 1884. She stated, Dear youth, what is the aim and purpose of your life? Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard (FE 82). However, in her important statement appearing under the title, “Special Testimony Relating to Politics,” we glean the following counsels that Adventists need to heed.
1. Persons who teach Bible in the Church and in our schools should not make their political preference known. This may engender discord among people. 2. Church members, when voting, should avoid embedding their votes in particular parties for they may not fully understand who they are voting for. 3. Adventists should avoid taking part in political schemes and maneuvers of an injudicious nature. 4. Adventists should not align themselves with politicians who would undermine or restrict religious liberty. 5. Believers should not wear badges or insignia that would precipitate political discord in the church. 6. The tithe should not be used to remunerate persons (pastors, teachers, etc) who spend time making political statements. Four years before she died, she warned Adventists against talk and action that would be read to encourage people to engage in acts of treason against legitimate authority
(Review & Herald, 30 March 1911).
3. The Challenges of Political Involvement for Adventists in Africa It has been said that “all politics is local;” and politics in Africa certainly has its own local complexities. 3.1 Language, Ethnic Identity, and Regionalism Africa is marked by a broad multiplicity of ethnic groups, languages and interlocking but variant cultures and worldviews. Added to this diversity is the growing impact of modernization, globalization, and urbanization. While African social systems were traditionally rooted in monarchies and ancestral perspectives, the current trend is towards democratization of social and political life. The consequence of these realities is that factors such as language, ethnic identity, geographic origin and/or location become determinants of the nature and extent to which politics will affect and/or benefit people. These factors carry predetermined assumptions and expectations of socio-cultural and political beliefs, prejudicial notions that influence individual and group behavior. Thus, in many parts of Africa political life is tainted with deep-rooted ethnocentrisms and antagonisms. An immediate consequence of the combined effect of these factors is flaky church unity. Tribalism does tend to impact significant decision-making processes and the determination of power relations and benefits to specific individuals and 8
groups. In such situations gospel principles are easily compromised, leading to injustices of various sorts; and behavior characterized by the pursuit of self-interest adds complexity to already vexed conditions. A problematic consequence of the injudicious alliance of language, ethnicity, and regionalism is the selective privileging of people that creates socio-economic disparities between communities. The distribution and/or delivery of social development programs may be influenced by preferences based on tribal affiliations and regional origins. 3.2 Hegemonic tendencies and political instability In its very nature, politics is marked by the passion for control and domination. Such control and domination can be exercised through a number of ways that are in essence hegemonic in nature and operation. Hegemonies of various kinds are common phenomena in Africa. They are essentially manipulative in their character. These may include particular ideological stances, dominant religious formations and resultant intolerance, group affiliations such as tribal or ethnic collectives, marginalization and persecution of minorities, the use of sex as an instrument of coercion and subjection, marginalization, deprivation of socio-material opportunities, deliberate systematic infrastructural underdevelopment, etc. All these may be done for the achievement and long-term entrenchment of certain political groupings or parties, including even systems of the privileged/underprivileged that may implicate sections of a population in material deprivation and abject poverty. Unfortunately, it is impossible to entrench hegemony without manipulation, divisive strategies, selective distribution of social and material benefits, but most significantly, the use of violence to ensure civil order. Genocidal actions find fertile ground in hegemonic socio-political conditions. In time, as popular discontent rises and embeds itself in the national psyche, people find themselves amenable to plots for the overthrow of a given government. Thus coup dâ€™etat have marked the histories of parts of the African continent in the past fifty years. Potential Adventist politicians face these special challenges to politics in Africa. Clearly, Adventists need to steer away from any political schemes that perpetuate the domination of one group by another. Adventists should keep their citizenship clean of schemes that precipitate injustice and the denigration of Christian
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mission. They should always seek for ways in which they can reconcile conflicting communities or parties.
4. Guidelines for Adventist Participation in Politics Historically, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has taken a position in favor of separation of Church and State (see Declaration of the Seventy-day Adventist Church on Church and State Relations, 2002). The Church therefore does not get actively involved in matters of politics. As citizens of African states, however, members have social and civic responsibilities, which may be expressed in political or non-political activities. Given the complexity of political activities in Africa and the potential for compromising Christian standards, the Committee does not encourage active participation in politics. Nevertheless, the Committee recognizes that there may be members who feel that the Lord has called them to serve in political offices, in such cases the following guidelines are applicable. These guidelines are provided to assist Adventists to exercise their sociopolitical responsibilities and privileges as sincere, conscientious citizens of the world and ambassadors of God’s kingdom. Believers are encouraged to keep their role as disciples of Jesus Christ in clear and consistent focus. These guidelines will be reviewed and re-articulated in response to changing situations on the African continent. Such review and rearticulating shall be done under the direction of the Southern Africa & Indian Ocean Division (SID) in consultation with the Church’s Biblical Research Institute (BRI). 4.1 The Adventist in Active Politics •
Spiritual Life Members who desire to seek public office should ensure, by the grace of God, that spiritually they stay in tune with God. The politician should endeavor to maintain such regular spiritual disciplines as prayer, Bible study, and especially maintain fellowship with fellow believers by attending services on Sabbath.
Parties and Political Campaigns
The political campaigns of the Adventist politician must be marked by dignity, civility, and Adventist Christian values. o The Adventist’s Christian experience should be a positive influence on others. o Adventists should not engage in actions or processes that may impinge on the observance of God’s law including Sabbath observance. o Churches should not be used for the promotion of political agendas. o Politicians who are involved in political associations should not enter into alliances that will require them to sacrifice biblical values and principles.
Agenda and Actions o Adventists should give recognition to promotion and/or defense of human rights as long as these do not interfere with biblical principles and the teachings of the church. o Adventists involved in politics should seek to exemplify and demonstrate the values and principles of God’s government. (3MR 37-38). o Adventists who are involved in politics should not use their clout unduly in church affairs.
4.2 The Church and Politics •
Political leaders should not be permitted to use their power or privilege to influence the church or its leaders in ways that are illegal and immoral or create some form of dependence.
The Adventist Church should eschew all forms and appearances of corruption.
Church leaders should be extremely careful to receive any benefits from political leaders, even if it can be legally or morally justified.
Church workers should abstain from active participation in politics and political activity.
Our churches should not be used as platforms for the furtherance of political agendas both by our members and non-members.
4.3 Church Members and Politics 4.1 Adventists shall not use their political connections to advance personal interests at the expense of their faith and the name of the church. 4.2 Members shall not engage in political activism in the church or the use of party political attire, symbols and language in the church. Nothing that may engender division and schisms in the church should be permitted. 4.3 Certain political terms, party attire and insignia shall not be displayed within the precincts of the church. 4.4 Members of the church should avoid strife and divisions in the church by not bringing political questions into the church. Conclusion Christians face the dual challenge of living as law-‐abiding citizens while remaining loyal to God in every respect. While the Seventh-‐day Adventist Church does not get actively involved in politics, she does neither recommend nor hinder her members from taking up social and civic responsibilities. Believers who feel called to participate in politics should be aware of both the positive as well as the negative effects of such involvement. These guidelines are provided to help them live lives that remain true to their Lord and biblical ethics while serving in various capacities within Church and society.