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Church is a playground for childish politicians

By Cosmas Butunyi | September 21st 2021

Politicians now have to think deeper and more innovatively about how to reach and woo the masses with churches increasingly withdrawing their hitherto free passes to access to their congregations.

Even sadder is that this is happening in the run-up to the general elections. And in a largely closed season with all these restrictions on gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus, there is not much opportunity to hang out and bond with the electorate. No wonder the loud whines and muffled teeth gnashing.

Typically, more than any other public space, religious gatherings have been the platforms of choice for those keen on either hinting at or outrightly declaring their intention to run for office. Churches have seen the conception, birth and growth of many political careers in this country.

Over the years, churches have become stamping grounds for aspiring and practising political types. So great has this dalliance been that present-day clergy have often been chided for crawling into bed with politicians so much that they can no longer speak truth to power like their fiery predecessors.  

Of course, the bond between church and politics benefits the latter more. Here they are assured of an already assembled captive audience. Even better, the gathering is mostly meek, as no questions are usually allowed on the hallowed grounds. This limits chances of the politician getting heckled and jeered, save for the very rare disturbance by the holders of monopoly over violence and tear gas, as has been in the past.

Overall, this has made church a safe space for unfettered politicking. Politicians can get away with any point of view they voice on the pulpit. It will be swiftly tolerated, endured or even cheered, especially if peppered in scripture. If this is not the ultimate bastion of free speech, where else would be? As long as the remarks do not contradict teachings of the Good Book, the clergy will have no qualms. No wonder politicians flock there every other Sunday.

It is the safer means of making inroads into an opponent’s stronghold. Where the ground is feared to be potentially hostile, it is the perfect spot to put in a word or two. No one in their right minds would be waving twigs and lighting bonfires in protest at such spots.

It is also in church where political dreams are birthed. Here, hints of an impending candidature are thrown. From the congregation’s reaction, the ground’s receptiveness can be gauged before venturing out in the open, which is mostly a jungle, to sell the bid.

It is easy to spot such hopefuls with burning political ambition in the congregations. They will carefully choose well-attended churches and take up strategic positions on the pews, mostly on the front row so they can easily amble to the pulpit when invited. All this will be after prior reaching out informally to the leadership to plead their case and ask for a few minutes to ‘greet’ the congregants. To further endear themselves they will come bearing gifts, pledge donations to an ongoing project (there is always a live one in every church) and offer to drag their friends along to participate in funds drives.

So mainstream has the notion of church being used to fan embers of political ambition that any invitation as a guest in fundraisers or any such events is assumed as tacit expression of interest. Passing a fundraiser proforma around is guaranteed to raise eyebrows of political ambitions beating in your chest. Stories have been told of sitting legislators who maintain listening posts in key places of worship within their areas of jurisdiction to identify possible threats in order to neutralise, win them to their side or prepare a noisy response — in church.

With the direction that some church denominations are taking, all this might just be in the past, save for the mom-and-pop ones where rules are made around the dinner table. Unless the ingenious and crafty political minds find a way of going around the edict.

It will be interesting to see what now happens to the performance of politics in this country with the closure of one of the biggest stages. Interesting times are ahead as another platform will have to rise to play the convening role that church has hitherto played.

Most importantly, where will churches get other cheerful givers to plug the holes left by the politicians?

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