Politicians are a smart lot. They are a crop of people who will rarely be stopped until their mission is accomplished.
Malawians have, since the return of multiparty democracy in the 1990s, witnessed politicians using every weapon within their reach to drive and advance their agenda.
Overzealous ones go a step further by taking to the pulpit where, if handed a microphone, they will make political pitches peppered with religious clichés and out-of-context verses.
Of course, such politicians are far too modest to ask for your vote directly; they only ask for your prayers.
And just as quickly as they arrived at the service, they depart, leaving a trail of brochures and campaign slogans behind.
Some faith leaders, whether under the influence of material or monetary rewards, have attracted controversies for themselves for manipulating the sacred space to campaign for their preferred candidate.
Additionally, in order to prove that a political figure shares their commitments, values, and interests, some faith groups invite them to participate in their worship services.
This often includes special recognition, seating and even an invitation to address the congregation from the pulpit. They assume that if this politician can sincerely worship with them, he or she is really down for us.
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust national programme manager Gray Kalindekafe observes that people who attend church services arrive with the assumption that what is said comes from the Bible.
He, therefore, emphasises that to cut and paste partisan talking-points or to substitute consistent exegesis with sample “election season” sermons is spiritual malpractice.
But Kalindekafe states that politicians normally target the pulpit because they know that if advanced from it, their agenda will be easily accepted by believers.
He explains: “Politicians know that the preaching of the gospel will ultimately effect social change because holy books speak on most issues that plague society. As such, they would want to benefit from the respect and adoration the pulpit commands to woo voters.”
However, Kalindekafe warns that there is a danger if politicians fail to draw a line between a podium and a pulpit as he fears this would bring divisions and confusion among the faithful.
Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) of the Roman Catholic Church Father Dr. Henry Saindi echoes Kalindekafe’s sentiments, observing that using the pulpit for political purposes cheapens the Lord’s sacred worship into a means to vet politicians.
Saindi emphasises that in worship, a community of believers gathers to honour, adore, and praise their King (God); hence, it would be wrong to turn such a gathering to push one’s political opinions and preferences from the pulpit.
“Believers go to church to hear the gospel announced through the Word (expository preaching) and re-lived through the sacraments (the Lord’s Supper and baptism).
“They seek their heavenly Father for continued grace to live for the glory of his name. Therefore, Christ is supposed to be the focus of their activities, not a political candidate,” he narrates.
According to Saindi, churches have no business diluting corporate worship by turning it into a political proving ground.
General Secretary for Blantyre Synod of the CCAP Church, Reverend Alex Maulana, too, deplores the tendency among politicians to use the sacred desk to woo prospective voters during elections.
Maulana says the church has fixed groupings and that politicians tend to believe that if they won their hearts, it would be to their benefit.
He notes: “Most politicians are not honest with themselves; and this makes them struggle to convince voters. And in their desperation for a win, they turn to the pulpit to advance their agenda.”
But Maulana warns such politicians to spare the pulpit lest they tread on God’s ground and attract curses for themselves.
He also emphasises that churches that are opening their doors to politicians are not only meddling in politics, but also misguiding the politicians.
“A temple is a house of the Lord for worship, and not a place of political campaigning. And it is the duty of respective faith leaders to tell overzealous politicians that it is against church policy and the gospel to promote partisan politics,” he explains.n