The Common Good

The Global Church Must Hold Politicians Accountable

One of the great things about Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa is the space to make new friends and renew old enduring relationships. A lot of our time is spent listening to excellent speakers and missional practitioners -- but so far a highlight for me has been conversations over coffee and in the hallways. Bishop Mususu is here on the executive planning committee representing Zambia as he is also head of his denomination, the Evangelical Church in Zambia (ECZ).

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Bishop and I are old friends with a lot to catch up about. We talked about our wives, his children, our churches, and a little bit about the World Cup -- he had his hopes on Argentina (Messi is one of his favorite players). We also had a fairly lengthy conversation about the American pastor who was threatening to burn the Quran, as it had a pretty significant impact in some of his churches in Zambia.

What we mostly talked about, though, was the church's role in public life (yeah, this is what my friends talk about when we get together!). Bishop Mususu was sharing some of Evangelical Alliance's role in preventing former President Frederick Chiluba from seeking a third term in office back in 2001. He relayed how it was the church that was a catalyst to apply pressure and prevent the President from seeking an unprecedented (and not entirely legal) third term.

What was critical for the evangelicals at the time was to have faith, be bold and "not be afraid -- but to come out and be public about their pressure on their government," Mususu said. In Zambia, to have public events and rallies, what is often required is a costly permit -- paid to the police whom often prevent these sort of gatherings from even starting. The churches got around this by holding what they called "Prayer and Reflection" meetings where they gathered around the scriptures, using Romans 13:7 (on authorities, taxes, and respect/honor) and even inviting local officials and members of parliament!

While churches were praying and reflecting, which according to Mususu "spread like wildfire" across the country, the evangelicals also mobilized a campaign to secure signatures from members of parliament to commit seeking impeachment if Chiluba tried to go any further in his efforts. Chiluba tried to go around these churches by appealing to other faith leaders, but Mususu and others had also garnished support from the more mainline Protestant members of the Council of Churches, as well as the Catholic church to stand in solidarity with their efforts. A united, ecumenical front, led by the Evangelical Alliance, and sustained by grassroots pressure, pushed back Chiluba's attempts to seek a third term, and he eventually stood down.

Bishop Mususu concluded (and I scribbled on my coffee cup): "Yes, the church is supposed to be salt and light, but it is the government that is collecting our tax and making foolish decisions and policies. We can't allow these things to go unchallenged. We need to address needs along the way with mercy, but ours as the church is to not simply pick up babies downstream that have been tossed in the river. We must go upstream and confront these challenges where they start, and that is why we as a church need to advocate and confront unjust laws."

So often in the states we talk about advocating our own elected leaders and holding them accountable. It's important to know that churches and leaders in other countries around the world are doing their part to hold officials accountable in a spirit of good governance. We stand as members of a global body of Christ -- each having a role to play and gifts therein. Bishop Mususu's story is evidence that African leaders are doing their part in fighting injustice, and it remains an inspiration for us at this Third Lausanne Congress and beyond to ensure our respective leaders do their part as well.

Adam Phillips is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church and the faith relations manager at ONE. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Baltimore. Stay tuned for more coverage from Adam Phillips on the Third Lausanne Congress in the next few days.

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