By Elias Munshya
The commotion over Bill 10’s proposal to Christianise the Zambian constitution is in my opinion, wholly unnecessary and a waste of time. Zambia is already a Christian nation. It has been a Christian nation. White Christian missionaries brought education and Christianised much of the Zambian territory. Indigenous African evangelists such as Rev. David Kaunda of Malawi brought the gospel to Chinsali, Zambia in the late 1800s. When Dr Kenneth David Kaunda became President in 1964, he christened Zambia and within months helped to establish the United Church of Zambia. One of the first things President Chiluba did when he assumed office was to drive out evil spirits from State House and then declared Zambia a Christian nation in December 1991. Most Zambians claim and identify with the Christian religion, even if most of them do not go to church regularly. Manifesting itself in various sects – Christianity remains the religion of choice for most Zambians.
According to the Zambian Constitution amended in 2016, the preamble to the Zambian constitution declares Zambia to be a Christian nation while affording everyone the freedom to belong to that individual’s chosen religion. Further, several articles in Constitution 2016 expand on the idea that this Christian nation is diverse but with a multi-religious and multi-cultural character. The Declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation was first enshrined in the 1996 amendment to the Constitution of Zambia.
In Bill 10, the Bill that if passed, will fundamentally alter the character of Zambian democracy by amending the constitution, several proposals touch on the declaration. First, Bill 10 wishes to remove any reference to Zambia’s multi-religious character. Second, Bill 10 proposes to enshrine what it is calling Christian morality and ethics into the Constitution of Zambia. These proposals in Bill 10 are entirely unnecessary. Here is why.
If it “ain’t broken” do not fix it. There is nothing broken about our current constitution in so far as the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is concerned. The constitution affirms that Zambia is a Christian nation but clearly recognises each Zambian’s right to choose their own faith and religion. This has been the state of affairs for many years now. There has been no problem with this. It is therefore surprising that we are trying to mend something that was not broken.
Zambia is a multi-religious country. By stating this, we are aware that this is an experienced reality in Zambia. We have been multi-religious even before the invasion of white colonialists who brought us the great gospel of Christ. On this land, worshipped people with different religious beliefs. It is ridiculous to deny the reality of the multi-religious character of this nation, or the multi-religious nature of whatever existed before the colonialists forced us into a colony and then a country. For example, Kazembe and his Lunda empire had their own religious beliefs, and so did the Luyanas and the peoples they conquered in the Barotse. After the growth of Christianity, Zambia continued to be a multi-religious state in that in addition to African Traditional Religions, and several other religions came up such as Hinduism. Hinduism came primarily with the Indian peoples in our country. Islam also came to the shores of our country. In that sense, to deny that Zambia is a multi-religious state makes no pragmatic sense. We are a multi-religious state.
The Declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation has never conferred upon Christians any reliable rights. Zambian law and the Zambian constitution do not confer preferential treatment on Christians. Even if Zambia is a Christian nation, a Christian in Zambia does not have more constitutional rights over a non-Christian. Unless of course, Bill 10 wants to change this. But for what, exactly.
The idea that Zambia must be a Christian nation that excludes other religions is alien to the biblical worldview. The Bible itself predicates from the idea that God’s world has other faiths, and the duty to evangelise is granted to the people of faith, rather than the faith of the state. God himself, at least from the New Testament, has not destroyed non-believers but desires that they are lovingly brought to the faith, first in their personal lives. It is repugnant to conceptualise God as King of the universe; while at the same time thinking that we need to help him destroy or exclude people from the state, who do not believe in Him. It is not the mandate of the Zambian state to destroy or to exclude people who do not believe in God. When the state thinks it has a mandate to exclude people who do not believe in God, the state becomes a false prophet and any manoeuvres to try and enshrine any such thing in the supreme law of the land must be rejected.
From a theological perspective, ancient biblical Israel is not a pattern of how a democratic Zambia must be governed. Israel was a definite nation with its own laws with YHWH as its ruler through human emissaries. Zambia is a state created in 1964 by colonialists who then fostered it upon the people who were in the geographical area the colonialists had built. Ancient Israel is not equivalent to modern Zambia. Of course, I am aware of people of my Pentecostal faith who play a perfect game of pretended theology where they think that the law applicable to Israel in the decalogue must be applied to the modern nation of Zambia. Such notions are sacrilegious. In any case, it appears like some think that ancient Israel should be the paradigm for modern Zambia until when we reach a point where we must deal with the requirements of the Levitical law: death penalty for adultery and same-sex sex. The irony though is that some would much apply the death penalty to the latter, rather than the former. When we pick and choose what in ancient Israel must apply to our modern state, we are fundamentally undermining the very argument that Zambia and ancient Israel are the same.
Zambian Christians, particularly the Pentecostal kind, my kind, practice a very inconsistent theology of arrogance. This theology of arrogance predicates from this idea that Zambia is an exceptional nation that must not only maintain the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation but must also use state coercive power to promote the Christian religion and faith. This arrogance is absurd because as transnational “prophetists”, Pentecostals should understand very well that the Christian mission and witness does not need the power of the state to flourish. Areas in Africa where the Christian faith is growing do not even entertain debates about enshrining Christianity in the constitution. Christians in Nigeria, which is a mecca for a good number of Zambian Christians, would fight to keep Nigeria a secular state. The irony is deafening. The African country which many Zambians flock to for prayers is a secular state. I say this, to paint the irony of our obsession as Zambian Christians with stuff that does not help with the Christian witness.
I am not saying that Zambia must cease to be a Christian nation. As an ordained minister, I enjoy and like it that Zambia is a Christian nation and should continue to be so. However, the over the top changes Bill 10 wants to introduce are entirely absurd, ludicrous and pointless. Bill 10 changes make no sense at all. This Christian nation of Zambia must continue to be a Christian nation that guarantees every citizen their religious liberties!
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org