When the State Becomes a False Prophet: How Rev. Sumaili’s views threaten Zambia’s constitutionalism
E. Munshya, LLB, LLM, MBA, MDIV.
Zambia’s minister of religious affairs and national guidance, the Honourable Reverend Godfridah Sumaili spoke with the Zambia Blog Talk Radio on Saturday, May 20, 2017. I found her sentiments in that interview to be deeply disturbing. Rev. Sumaili sounds like a very good person. However, tyranny when perpetrated by good people is very difficult to resist. Tyranny that comes in the vessels of blood is far much easier to identify and resist than the one that comes through the honourable vessels of splendour. The more splendorous the vessels of tyranny appear, the greater the duty for vigilance. Nevertheless, tyranny is tyranny regardless of which vessel it uses. For the reasons that follow, I find that the Hon. Rev. Godfridah Sumaili has fundamentally misunderstood the Zambian constitution.
Rev. Sumaili believes that the ministry of religious affairs is trying to operationalise the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation. This is boloney from a constitutional perspective. Zambia is a Christian nation, but the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation does not confer reliable rights on Christians. The Zambian constitution has not given Christians more constitutional rights than members of different faiths or sects. It is wrong for Rev. Sumaili to state that now the Zambian government will operationalise the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation. Zambian Christians, particularly those of the faith of the honourable reverend (which is my faith too), need to take the time to read the whole paragraphs of the constitution. The preamble to the constitution of Zambia declares the republic to be a Christian nation. But it does not end there. It states further that “…while upholding a person’s right to freedom of conscience, belief or religion” (Constitution of Zambia, 2016). Constitutionally then, Zambia is both a Christian nation AND a nation that upholds freedoms of conscience, belief or religion. Rev. Sumaili cannot as a representative of the political state pick and choose what she wants from the constitution.
During the interview, Rev. Sumaili’s analogies were even more problematic. She stated that just as a home has values, so should a nation. She is advancing a very dangerous paternalism that is not envisioned by the constitution of Zambia. Zambia is not a home with a father and mother ruling over children in a household. The biblical model of a home cannot be extrapolated to the Zambian state. Zambia is a republic with a constitution that assigns roles to each branch of government. Zambian citizens are responsible adults with rights and privileges afforded to them, not by custom, or the Bible, but by the constitution of the republic. What Rev. Sumaili has stated will erode constitutional liberties. Values in the home, are not the same as values that keep a democratic republic viable. You can’t stand up to your father in the home, but our constitution allows citizens to stand up to political leaders. Mr. Lungu is head of a democratic state and not an monocratic home. If Rev. Sumaili so passionately believes in home values for Zambia, perhaps she can start with trying to instill those values in members of her cabinet. She is welcome to do that, but she is not welcome to analogise the republic of Zambia as if it were a home with Mr. Lungu as the father and Mrs. Esther Lungu as the mother.
Rev. Sumaili is proposing that the Zambian churches should be regulated by the church mother bodies. This is nonsense. I appeal to all Zambians of good faith to resist this maneuver. The church mother bodies cannot regulate the practise of religion. Churches differ in doctrines. Pentecostals speak in tongues, a practice that Baptists find intolerable. Are you going to let Baptists regulate the practice of the pentecostal faith? What about Sabbath worship? Is the church mother body going to regulate who should worship on which day? Even if the government intended that churches regulate themselves, that too would be unacceptable at very basic theological level. There is no formula to religion and certainly when the state claims to have found a formula to religion it becomes a false prophet.
Asking for self-regulation of the churches is also intolerable as a matter of constitutional law. The Zambian Bill of Rights has not envisaged a situation where the fundamental freedom to worship would be subjected to regulation by the state or its administrative delegate. Zambia is not Russia where a despot can wake up one morning proclaim themselves to be a state prophet and ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Had the Bill of Rights envisaged government control of religion, it would have plainly said so. The fundamental right to choose one’s religion cannot be abrogated by the state. The Zambian state cannot pass laws that control how Zambians must exercise their freedom of religion. Freedoms that should pass regulatory control for them to be exercised are not freedoms at all. When the state begins to regulate how, where, when and what a person should and cannot say, tyranny begins. To be very clear: Rev. Sumaili might as well continue to dream on, but the Bill of Rights has not given her the power, nor the right to regulate or propose regulation of the freedoms of worship.
Rev. Sumaili does seem to suggest that Zambia must be led according to the Bible, but she fundamentally misunderstands the practical application of such a concept. Now this is the most misunderstood concept. Theologically, the Holy Bible is God’s Word. It is the rule of faith and personal conduct, it is not the rule of Zambia’s constitutionalism. The Holy Bible is not the constitution of Zambia and is not a source of Zambian law. Zambia is not a church, it is a republic. I hope that some leaders in Zambia would lead according to the precepts of the Bible, but the precepts of the Bible do not form part of the constitution of Zambia. The Republic of Zambia is governed according to its constitution. You cannot violate the constitution of Zambia and justify such violation by quoting from the Bible. The God of the Bible has gifted Zambians with a constitution to govern themselves. Rev. Sumaili should follow the constitution and respect it or if she is not prepared to respect the constitution must resign.
Rev. Sumaili makes no legal sense and she certainly makes no theological sense. A government minister who fundamentally misunderstands and undermines the constitutional structure of our republic is unworthy to serve the people of Zambia. I call upon her to resign.
Citation: Munshya, E. (2017). When the State Becomes a False Prophet: How Rev. Sumaili’s views threaten Zambia’s constitutionalism. Elias Munshya Blog. (www.eliasmunshya.org). May 22, 2017.