Friday February 26 2016

Church leaders should speak up for people they are called to serve!

By Amanda Onapito

All of the things I feared about this election have happened.

We have seen a continued display of gross incompetence by the Electoral Commission under Badru Kiggundu, whom I have known and admired in other settings to be a man of great discipline; a diligent worker and solid leader. We could not get the ballot papers right. And even when we did, we could not get them there on time.

And even when we did, we could not safeguard their integrity. And even when we did, we could not guarantee that what was in the box reflected the people’s will. We saw teargas and chaos, we saw blatant abuse of human rights by State agents and frustrated youth.

The chaos and terror that filled this election extended its far-reaching hand to those in the Diaspora and to well-wishers when the social media ban was executed.
My angst remains by far with the people who call themselves believers. The Christians.

The Church. Now, I must say at this juncture that what Justice James Ogoola and my good friend Joshua Kitakule of the Interreligious Council of Uganda were able to pull off with the presidential debate deserves the highest commendation.

I was also pleased to see Uganda Joint Christian Council deploy the likes of Bishop Luwalira Kityo as observers.

It’s a great thing when the Church and other religious institutions have the freedom to engage in civic duty. It is a great thing when we are able to contribute to public discourse and provide some guidance to the public.

But when we limit this participation to neatly prepared press statements prior to the elections and spend time calling for prayer, we do so at the risk of playing the safe card.

The silence of the leadership of the Church during the election exercise and tallying process has been deafening. We have not heard any public comment on the excessive use of force by State agencies, the shutdown of social media, and the chaos we have seen all over our media.

For the Church in Uganda to have been this silent was to abscond from duty and from their calling. For to love God is to love Him with our souls, our hearts, our will but also with our minds.

It seems to me that overall, the Church in Uganda is suffering from an inferiority complex and yet there exists a rich history of effective Church leadership world over and in this nation that demonstrates otherwise.

Where is today’s Archbishop Janani Luwum? Where is today’s Bishop Misaeri Kauma? Where is the confidence in the power of the Gospel against all odds?

For a nation with relatively generous freedom of religious expression, the Church in Uganda - Roman Catholic and Protestant- should be operating in bigger strides with proclamation of the Gospel as redemption for humankind.
For the Church to remain relevant to any community, it must embrace its full responsibility as shepherd, prophet and priest.

Following the model of Jesus Christ, the Church is given the mandate to comfort and heal people, but also to show them the way they should go and to speak up for the oppressed.

For the Church to be silent when Ugandans are experiencing gross injustices is turn a deaf ear to the bleating of the sheep.

Of course, I do recognise that the Church in itself has many challenges. All of our religious institutions struggle with impartiality. Perhaps this is because of their own experience with challenges of Ugandan society - moral decadence, downright poverty among clergy, inadequate education, etc.

Ultimately, if the Church wants to retain her place in a world rallying toward secularism and the evils mentioned above, she must present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a contextualised manner. Uganda’s context is plain and simple.

A nation that is hungry for the Good News, hungry for justice, hungry for opportunity and fair representation. While we must call on believers to pray -for it is right and proper to do so- we must also use our faculties to engage our contexts.

Seeking justice and righteousness is risky business. Just ask Prophet Nathan when he approached King David about Bathsheba. That could have gone really wrong, but he risked his life anyway. I need not mention the experiences of Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Obadiah, Hosea or even John the Baptist.

What the Church also seems to forget is that once the election is over, the masses will be back in their pews with hearts filled with despair. To lead a people with whom you have not identified; whom you have not defended and advocated for will boomerang on you.

When you preach about corruption or moral degradation, when you call them to prayer and to lives of repentance, you will be engaging in an unduly difficult task of asking for trust from a constituency you have not demonstrated commitment to. I need not mention the fact that you participate in an incomplete representation of the Gospel.

Even so, I remain strongly convicted in the Church’s innate capacity to respond to the challenges of society.

The power of the Gospel is complete with instruction for communal living that seeks to uphold one another. The Gospel compels us to care for the poor, sick, and oppressed, and make room for the lowly in spirit and in faith.

The Gospel is in itself complete but cannot be effectual without the Church. Many believe in the Word of God; leaders please help us believe, trust and rely in the power of the Church. Stand up. Speak up for the people you are called to serve.

Ms Onapito is a member of the Anglican Church of Uganda.