Monday January 27 2014

Prohibit politicians, not politics, from the pulpit

By Muniini K. Mulera

Dear Tingasiga:
How do you ruin an otherwise beautiful church ceremony and Christian worship? You invite politicians to the pulpit. We witnessed a tiresome demonstration of this on Sunday January 19, during the enthronement of George Bagamuhunda as the fifth Bishop of Kigezi.

The service, which started at 10am, was presided over by the Most Reverend Stanley Ntagali, the eloquent Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. The highlight of the service was the sermon by Nathan Kyamanywa, the Bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara, whose theme was the transformative role of the church in society.
He talked about corruption, the vulgarity that spews out of the mouths of senior political leaders including MPs, the need for disagreeing without being disagreeable, and the importance of unity and reconciliation in the Anglican Church in Kigezi and in Uganda.

Bishop Kyamanywa devoted a fair bit of his sermon to the subject of homosexuality, which triggered repeated applause as he restated the Church’s unwavering rejection of homosexuality.

Demanding that President Yoweri Museveni must sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, Bishop Kyamanywa declared: “We love the homosexuals but we shall not allow a situation where they have liberty.” The congregation applauded.
Whether or not one agreed with Kyamanywa’s opinions, his was a message that was not only consistent with the Church’s position on the matter but was so clearly stated that it required no further comment in support of that view.

Four hours after the start of consecration service, Archbishop Ntagali offered us the benediction, bringing the colourful ceremony to an end. Well, not quite. It was now the turn of secular speeches. The usual introduction and “recognition” of the moneyed and powerful lot was followed by an invitation to various Kabale politicians to “greet the people.”

Then the master of ceremonies invited the Kabale Municipality MP to introduce the parliamentarians and ministers present. The MP took the microphone, introduced himself, promptly confessed that he was not qualified to make the introductions of his colleagues, and invited David Bahati, the MP for Ndorwa West, to do the introductions.

However, the Kabale MP proceeded to introduce some of his colleagues, all the while punctuating his statements with more confessions of his inadequacy and the need for Bahati to do the job. All MPs and former MPs present were introduced.
When Bahati eventually took the microphone, he assured us that he would say “just one word.” He then launched into a prolonged rehash of everything that Bishop Kyamanywa had stated about homosexuality.

Working himself into a frenzy, Bahati yelled and sweated as he made homosexuality sound like the most urgent crisis that the country faced today.

His voice reaching a crescendo, Bahati was the classic demagogue with a platform. Bahati’s promised “one word” lasted 20 minutes, by which time the day’s sacred ceremony had been turned into an anti-homosexual rally. Some bishops left. Others dozed off. The rest of us said silent prayers that our urinary bladders would not let us down in the Lord’s House.

It was now the turn of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi to greet us on behalf of President Museveni. After announcing the usual gift of a brand new Toyota Landcruiser for the new bishop, Mbabazi turned his attention to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

The prime minister gave us a mini seminar on justice, the law and parliamentary procedure. Although he spoke longest among the politicians, Mbabazi’s presentation was quite a relief in fact. He demonstrated the difference between reasoned commentary and demagoguery.

The politicians done, and the congregation utterly exhausted and hungry, the desecration of Bagamuhunda’s consecration was finally over, six hours after the service began.

I resolved to launch a campaign to persuade church leaders to ban politicians from the pulpits. First, all who enter a church sanctuary are sinners, equal before our God who does not recognise any social, political, economic or other distinctions.

Second, we go to church to worship the Lord. The pulpit is one of platforms through which the Lord speaks to us His message of love, hope, faith, grace and salvation. It is not a place for spewing hate, intolerance, or partisan politics. It is not a parliamentary chamber for scoring political points and settling secular debate.

The pulpit is certainly a place for Christian leaders and preachers to speak about secular politics, justice, governance and human rights as they affect society. However, this should be in the context of the Christian message of salvation, transformation and sanctification. Bishop Kyamanywa did this very well.

Politicians, not politics, should be prohibited from the pulpits. The problem, of course, is that the State has corrupted the Church through gifts that make it difficult for the priests to say no to the politicians.
Archbishop Ntagali should seriously consider banning the acceptance of such bribes that come dressed as gifts from a state that has presided over the abuse and misuse of power.