A COMPROMISED, poverty stricken church is a danger to the holistic development of any country, says Council of Churches of in Zambia (CCZ) general secretary Fr Emmanuel Chikoya.

And Fr Chikoya says there is no need for politicians to invite clergy to leave the pulpit to join the political arena whenever they comment on governance issues because it is already an actor in politics.

Meanwhile, Fr Chikoya says Zambia’s democracy is getting to the intensive care unit and if the country isn’t careful, it’ll be lost.

Speaking during a discussion forum organized News Diggers in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), Prime Television, Eden University and Joy FM, Fr Chikoya lamented that the church was slowly becoming comprised due to the love of gifts from influential people.

“I think the Church needs to be above board, it needs to remain focused and united. I believe also in financially sustainable churches. I have always told Churches that just like drivers are told not to drive under the influence of alcohol, I have also coined another phrase to church leaders, ‘don’t speak when you have received gifts because you are bound to cause accidents’. This is the problem, a compromised poverty stricken church is a danger to the holistic development of the country. It is a danger because it just does things out of excitement. This is where people begin to prophesy when they are ‘prophelying’,” Fr Chikoya said.

“Where God has not sent you to speak, you just speak. But you are speaking because you have received gifts and this is an embarrassment to the body of Christ. The church needs to remain relevant in the country but currently, we are an embarrassment. We need to remain united, the church does not depend on handouts from any stakeholder, be it a businessman or a politician. The church of Jesus Christ thrives on Jesus and the oxygen that makes it burn into flame is Jesus Christ. So even if people stopped donating, the church will survive.”

And Fr Chikoya said the church of Jesus Christ can never be neutral.

“The church of Jesus Christ can never be neutral. It will always be aligned with justice, with issues of integrity, and when you align yourself and someone else happens to share the same values, then somebody will claim that you are inclined towards them. We’ve worked with government on cholera issues for example, we canceled church services. So we’ve done our best. But sometimes, the challenge that we have is that the media will pick the angles that will make the stories sell and so when we do so many other things that we do. First and foremost, when you talk about the Zambian scenario, if you removed the Church’s intervention in the social sector and the education sector, Zambia will come to a standstill because the church is doing a lot of things in terms of helping in terms of infrastructure and actual support that goes to the people. But those headlines will usually not be picked or celebrated. But I think I have been on record as making a very clear and categorical statement that when it comes to violence, the two top political parties stand guilty as charged and I remember somebody saying ‘no you shouldn’t be including us there, you should just be talking about the ruling party’. So we’ve tried to denounce things that are wrong across the board,” Fr Chikoya said.

“When it comes to issues of tribalism, issues of injustice, you know, he to whom much is given will always bear the blunt of everything. The moment I became general secretary [of CCZ], people will not treat me the way I used to be treated in some small congregation somewhere. There is extra scrutiny that comes with the weight of leadership. So those that assume leadership, especially national leadership, will receive the blunt of quite a number of issues because they have heavier responsibility in terms of what is expected of them. So when it comes to denouncing tribalism, we have issued pastoral statements and even in the recent past with the gassing issue for example, we called on all political stakeholders to be sober, to stop policking and playing around this issue and we didn’t discriminate. So we try our best to do justice when it comes to those issues.”

And Fr Chikoya said it was not wrong for the church to comment on issues of governance because the church was part of government.

“It is not a sin for a clergyman or woman to aspire for political office. The only thing is that they should be able to step down from pastoral charge. But in terms of challenging the Church and calling it to the political arena, we are already in the political arena because when people are unjustly treated, we speak for them. In fact, we are the ones who have to respond through pastoral care and even burials if people are killed in political violence, even helping with the trauma counseling for those who survive. So the church is never absent and will never be absent. Those that want to create some silence where they say ‘this is a space for politics, this is a space for economy, this is a space for the church…’ there is no such world, everything that we do is intertwined and we have the right, not just a constitutional right but a God-given mandate to be part and parcel of society in every sphere. So when we comment on issues of governance, we are not straying in into strange territory, we are actually doing what Jesus did. If you look at Jesus, he was a revolutionary. And that is the role of the church, we are the salt, not the sugar of the earth and salt irritates and we are not surprised that there is that irritation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fr Chikoya expressed concern at the escalating levels of political violence and the state of Zambia’s democracy.

“I am looking forward to a day when we can have Presidential candidates bringing out issues, debating on forums and there is peace. Politics is a battle of ideas, it is not a battle of pangas, guns and other things. It is a battle of ideologies, manifestos which must be shared and sold to the public…Our state of democracy is not in good condition, it needs urgent attention. That is why the dialogue process is very critical. We’ve generally had peace in Zambia, we’ve not had armed struggle like the other countries. But there are serious activities that are threatening our democracy and that is a source of concern. As a Church we are told to pray but I think we’ve prayed with our eyes closed for too long, we need to open them and we need name and shame in some cases. Denounce, renounce and announce at the same time so that people are better guided,” said Fr Chikoya.

“If you look at the landscape, the CSOs, political players and stakeholders are not really free to exercise that freedom because when you do, you will be met with brutal force and in some cases people have actually been attacked and beaten up just because they wanted to express a different view. Unnecessary gymnastics around registration processes, just because you have that privilege of being in an advantaged position of leadership, let people register their political parties. Don’t put unnecessary obstacles around them. Don’t make then water so much time attending court processes when they are supposed to be selling their manifestos. So when you look at that scenario, you clearly understand that our democracy is maybe getting in ICU. If we are not careful, we may lose it and when we lose it, everybody will be affected.”