ECCLESIASTICAL VOICE

Pastoral response to a peaceful, successful General Election in Nigeria

By Revd. Dr. Idowu Ibitoye
Introduction
Politics is usually understood as the accumulation, organization and utilization of power in a region, territory or society especially the power to govern. Also, it is to decide who controls the common institutions’ of a given society. Since the separation of church from the State, many Christians are of the opinion that church people should not have anything to do with the politics. However, a deeper understanding of historical antecedents makes one to realize that politics and church are interrelated. Religion influences politics, the two are interwoven. Power and politics are always a compound of force, hat is power entails force, but if the church is involved she can use power to influence authority for the betterment of the citizens. Paul D Simmons (1980), advocated that politics is one function in a wide spectrum of human social activities
Church involvement in Political activities- The New Testament church has a moral obligation to be involved in the political process. Such reasonability is manifested in the message which the church heralds, her ministry which she performs and the type of model which she exhibits to the outside world. The message of Jesus “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17), interpreted by biblical scholars to be a pointer to Christians involvement in political process. In other words the above statement is simply saying “giving to God what is God’s and to the state what is the state’s”.
Politics and religion are embedded in the message of the church. They are not separated it from each another. A Christian faith is a total commitment to the ultimate concerns of life, resulting in efforts to influence the process by which life is organised, governed and directed through a political system.
The church makes positive contributions to the political process through its honest assessment of reality. Whenever the church voices’ out its message it is interpreted as political and religious reality which creates a platform for possible and honest assessment of what must be done. Church involvement in politics will offer her effective exercise of power, an ability to influence the decisions and action of other people positively.
The roles of Pastor towards a peaceful and successful General Election
The role of the clergy in ensuring a peaceful general election is enormous. The reason is that Pastor control the congregation and speaks to members every week through their sermons and teachings. Likewise, many members believe in their Pastoral authority and directive. Some of the roles expected from a Pastor towards a peaceful election in Nigeria include:
1. Educating his members– church members need to be thoroughly educated on the significance of general election and having credible people at the helms of affairs. Special seminar can be organized for the purpose of educating members on the importance of civic responsibility. Members must be made to understand that governance is in their hands through active participation in the electoral process. It is obvious that Christian do run away from politics, proper education/awareness from the pulpit should be made that good Christians are needed in politics to bring the desired turnaround for the development of the country.
2. Involvement of Christians in Politics – The Church in Nigeria should be encouraged to be more involved in politics, so that she can be part of decision makers that will foster unity and development. Ayankeye S. O. (2017), advocated that the church needs to be represented in government and any of the church members who is willing to go into politics should be commissioned by the church as a representative of God in political arena. When Christians are in government proper policy will be put in place that will foster love and development. Church leaders are also expected to train politicians and government officials in the church to act in the fear of God and also to be good ambassadors of the church.
3. Gospel through Mass Media stations can also be used to educate the populace on effective participation in politics and election. Many church denominations today own television and radio stations. This can be of great benefits to educate members on effective participation in electoral matters.
4. Church Members should be encouraged to register- election is a process which reaches its climax at the point of election. It is started with the citizens’ registration and getting voters cards, which serve as an identity to vote on the election day. Without being duly registered members cannot participate in voting. Pastors should encourage all his members who are eligible to get registered.
5. Discouraging Electoral Violence – in contemporary times most especially in African countries violence is always synonymous with election. Pastors and church leaders should discourage their members from engaging in electoral violence. Parishioners must be admonished that whenever the result is out people should accept it as an act of God. Violence can lead to vandalisation of properties and murdering the opposition. This must be discouraged.
6. Engaging in Ministry of Reconciliation. Different political party members are also members of a local church. Before, during and after the election. Pastors should preach love and unity to their parishioners. Immediately after the election pastors must try to unit their members who might have participated actively as different party members, bringing them together as one body in Christ.
7. Church should be a model to the society – In ensuring a peaceful general election in Nigeria, the church of God in Nigeria should live an exemplary life in the society. It is very important for the church to maintain ethical standard of the Bible in the society. Church leaders should set an example by encouraging participation in the process of decision making in the church community, most especially when setting priorities and allocating resources that will affect the general populace (church members inclusive).
8. Pastor should promote Unity and Oneness – it has been observed in Nigeria that politics do divide us mostly along religion and ethnic lines. 2015 general election was a typical example where the standards bearer of the two leading political parties are Muslim (north) and Christian (south).This was enough reason to disintegrate a nation. At such a juncture the role of pastor is needed to preach unity and oneness to his members, and encouraging them to believe in one Nigeria. They must be told that such can lead to tribal violence which can bring massive destruction to people’s lives and affects both mental health and physical well-being.
9. Other areas where the church can also contribute meaningfully include public voter education, election observations. The ecumenical body can also engage the political parties in discussions and negotiations and organise a national prayer, make interventions where necessary to avert violence during and after election.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It has been observed that the involvement of church leaders is gradually politicising the local church. Some of these acts of politicisation include; some church’ leaders taking sides on political issues as evident in their public utterances, prophesying victory ahead of election, church leaders in public friendship with politicians and also gradual ethnic polarization among churches and some church leaders supporting politicians from their church denomination. This may lead the church leaders to lose respect and influence; the dangerous aspect is that such church leaders could be implicated in electoral violence instead of contributing to peace in the nation, church leaders must know and understand their boundary in electoral matters, they should never engage in partisan politics.

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