The church and politics today: cooperation and autonomy

The church in Nigeria and the politics of social responsibility


Development has several dimensions. It can be physical, social, cultural, mental, political, behavioural and attitudinal. There are indeed no limits to the very many ways in which the Church can contribute to development. However, only a few will be discussed.


The Church, Social Justice and Humanitarian Service

Social justice and human equality are necessary ingredients for any meaningful development. The Church as an agent of progress has issued so many documents to guide world leaders towards the promotion of social justice. As an expert in humanity, the Church offers by her social doctrine, a set of principles for reflection (principiorum doctrinalium and cogitationis rationibus), criteria for judgment (criteriorum indicandi or iudicii normis), and directives for action (regulas et impulsionesad agendum). In all dioceses in Nigeria , there is the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that justice and peace reigns in the society. At the 2007 elections, JDPC printed and circulated banners and stickers encouraging Nigerians to vote and shun violence and all nefarious activities that jeopardize peace. In places ravaged by war, hunger, disease and famine, the Church is seen giving a helping hand to victims. There are millions of Church-owned and runned orphanages, rehabilitation homes, youth centers and old people’s homes (C. Onwuliri, 2008, p.74).  In the promotion of social justice and human dignity, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria issued the following documents: The Church and Human Rights, February 1972, Dignity of the Human Person, February 1972, Violation of Human Rights and Dignity, September 1984, Government Must Respect the Rule of Law, September 1994, Inalienable Rights- Food, Health, Education, ETC, September 1985, Church’s Stance in Defense of Life, November 1995, Make Public the Oputa Panel Report, March 2001etc.


The Church as Prophet

The Church by its mission and role has a prophetic responsibility in every society and nation. The prophets in the Old Testament spoke in the name of God and denounced people’s actions when they go contrary to the will of God; this is evident in their activities: Nathan reprimanded King David for his murderous action against Uriah (II Sam 12:13), Elijah confronted King Ahab and his wife Jezebel over Naboth’s vineyard (I Kgs 21:20-24) (Uwalaka J., 2008, pp. 106-107). Prophetic mission involves direct confrontation with the causes of social and political oppression, aiming at a historical change of the situation. This would involve the denunciation of real persons, social, economic and political institutions in so far as any of them violates justice. It involves the pursuit of justice for the poor and the oppressed. The basis for this focus is that injustice constitutes a serious violation of the express will of God. To achieve this, Christians are to participate in political action (Augustine Nebuchukwu, 1992, p.103). In its exercise of its prophetic role in the society the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria Issued the following documents: Increase in crime Wave, September 1998, The Menace of Cult in our Institutions, September 1997, Government Exists for the People, October 1960, Effects of Greed, February 1983, Lavish Lifestyle of Officials, March 1990, Greed- The Root Cause of our Problems, March 1995, The Root Cause of our Wounds, February 2002 etc.


The Church and Peace

The word peace remains a recurring decimal in the Church. Soon after the resurrection, the first blessing that Christ gave his Church was that of peace: “Peace be with you”. The Church has in consonance with these words, preached and sought peace all over the world, in the family which is the basis of national and world peace, in the community, in the country and the world. In the Archdiocese of Jos, the Church through the hard work of the archbishop has been very instrumental in enhancing peace in the state. However, as the Church works for peace everywhere she must also make sure that she has sufficient peace. Petty envies and jealousies and tribalism leading to divisions are signs that the Church must also work hard to have peace within herself (Jude N., 2008, p.63). In its involvement in the search for peace for the nations, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria issued the following documents: Breakdown of Law- Violence, November 1996, Violence Begets Violence, November 1995, Violence in the Name of Religion, February 2000, Dialogue Rather than Violence, September 2001 etc.


The Church and Morality

The Church is the bearer of the moral conscience of the society. It is the bearer of moral vision and moral force by bringing into the public arena the revealed truth of Christ (Uwalaka, J., 2008, pp.105-106). It sets standards and preaches the essence of sound morality; through the light which comes to her from the gospel she continues to provide the principles for the correct organization of social life. The virtues of honesty, integrity, hard work, modesty, humility are all beacons of morality preached by the Church. If the Church is able to mould the character of the society, then a good society will emerge which is significant for achieving genuine development. To achieve this, the members of the Church must distance themselves from characters and behaviours that are scandalous and embarrassing (Jude N., 2008, p.64). In fulfilling its role as the moral conscience of the society, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria released the following documents: No Artificial Population Control, No Clinical Abortion, February 1986, Contraceptives and Abortion Never Acceptable, October 1987, New Wave of Prostitution, February 1996, Women Trafficking, February 2002 etc.



The Church and Education

The Church has made great contributions in the field of education. There are many mission schools, nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions that produce quality graduates to serve the nation. This is about the greatest contribution of the Church to development, because the greatest engine to growth and development of any economy is human capital development. The reduced activity of the Church in the area of ownership and management of schools has impacted negatively on the quality of graduates available to serve national development (Jude N., 2008, p.66). Examples of these schools are: St Peter’s Minor Seminary, Yola, of which I am a beneficiary, Holy Ghost College, Owerri, Bishop Shannahan College, Orlu, Christ the King College, Onitsha, St Patrick’s College, Calabar, Tansian University, Awka, The Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) etc. In the promotion of education, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria issued the following documents: Education in an Independent Nigeria, October 1960, Educated Catholic Laity, October 1960, Catholic Contribution to Education, February 1972, Struggle against Illiteracy- Adult Education, February 1972, Education for All, February 1983, The Crisis of the University System, September 1996 etc.



The Church and Economic Development

In the area of economic development, the Church in many parts of Nigeria as is practical in Owerri Archdiocese, has established human development centers and programmes for the acquisition of skills for poverty eradication in the society. Some dioceses like Nnewi Diocese, have also established micro-finance outfits all around to enable the rural and ordinary people save their money and buy shares. These banks grant loans, give professional advice on business and serve as a means of employment for the teaming population of the unemployed in the society (C. Onwuliri, 2008, pp.73-74). In its concern for economic development, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria issued the following documents: Towards a Just Economy, October 1960, economics at the Service of Humanity, February 1989, Privatization and Public Institutions, March 1990, Gap between the Rich and the Poor Grows, February 2002.




Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the founder of the Kenyan Nation once said to the Catholic Archbishops of Eastern Africa, “The Church is the conscience of the Society, and today a society needs a conscience. Do not be afraid to speak. If we go wrong and you keep quiet, one day you will answer for our mistakes” (cf. Kanu A. p.17). The Church is the community of faith who are called into being by the saving action of Christ, the way, the truth and the life (Jude Uwalaka, 2008, pp.89-90). The Church as the conscience of the nation can be captured under the various images of the role of the conscience. The Church as a vigilant watchman to sound alarm against the forces of evil; the Church in the image of a gadfly awakening people from their moral complacency; the Church in the image of guide giving direction because of her privileged position as custodian of the divine mysteries; the Church in the image of moderation and restraint. As a conscience it has to avoid the excesses of laxism and intolerance and rigidity in handling the affairs of man. The Church in the image of a formator- here she is a source of enlightenment; the Church in the image of support and encouragement, and in the image of an advocate.




The priest or religious is first of all a citizen before becoming a sacred minister. Even though he or she now has a special mission, he or she cannot deny that what happens in the state positively or negatively does not affect him or her. They are not to remain behind the altars while things are going bad. They have a role to play. Christ evangelized not only with words but also with actions. He fed the crowd (Mt 14:14-31), he raised the dead (Jn 11), he healed the sick (Mk 71:37). In the same line, Jesus tells the disciples of John to go and tell the latter what they heard and saw; for the blind regained their sight and the lame walked (Mk 11:4-5) just to mention a few (Andrew Esua, 2008, pp.139-140).


Although the members of the Church, be it the lay faithful, religious and priests or bishops, have affiliation and attachment to the society where they are called to exercise their ministries, that is, the social life which cannot be anything other than politics, the priest and religious in participating in politics do so morally and not politically. They are not allowed to participate in partisan politics. They are supposed to be a spiritual father to all, being a member of one party or the other could divide this significant interest. The full participation into politics is the prerogative of the lay faithful. The priest as a prophet rolls the ball in the court of Christians. They denounce bad policies, making their position clear by pointing out the gospel truth (Andrew Esua, 2008, p. 141). The lay faithful whose prerogative is the secular world bring the gospel message to bear on their endeavours. As such, the priest, religious and the lay faithful work together in transforming the society.




The Latin American theology saw the dawn of a new age in the theological enterprise; a new theology in which they tried to interpret the Christian faith to be in tune with the circumstances of the prevailing moment. They took a radical departure from the traditional approach upheld by Aquinas and Augustine which saw faith as an ascent to revealed truth (Andrew Esua, 2008, p.144). This method of doing theology put intellectual conviction and personal trust before praxis, which of course will give birth to an armchair theology. However, the Latin American method of doing theology aimed at rallying theologians into a formidable theological solidarity to conscientize the people and thus creates a movement of liberation; this system of theologizing maintained the Holy Spirit as its guide (Leonardo B., and Clodovis B., 1987, p.55) and also allowed for the free interplay of the fundamental sources of theology. It sought and found fortification in critical thinking, creative thinking, caring thinking, lateral thinking, higher order thinking, systemic thinking and synergetic thinking (Kanu Anthony, 2008, p.16). The signs of the time formed the human locus or locale where the word of God was heard (Luis Segundo, 1980, 172) and the cry of its citizens was its most powerful source (John walligo, 2000, p.9). This was the theological pedagogy proposed at the final statement of the 6th Conference of the Ecumenical Association of the Third World Theologians (EATWOT) held in Geneva, Switzerland, January 5-13, 1983: “A theology which emerges from the people’s struggle rejects an abstract conceptualization of God made outside the historical practice of liberation” (cf John Odey, 1985, p.90).


It is from this perspective about rethinking a new way of doing theology that Christians should rethink their approach to politics. Christians must not live a schizophrenic kind of life, with their feet on earth and their heads in heaven. The Church is made of people. They are the citizens of a political entity called nation or state. Within that entity they are subjects of some defined rights and privileges. The Church cannot but be concerned with her people’s welfare. It is also plausible to assert that the formation of religious and priests must be directed towards giving them a firm and extraordinary background to face all the various societal ills, both physical and spiritual. Andrew Esua (2008, p.147), acknowledges that many priests and religious have done a lot to fight the rights of citizens. Many have lost their lives and are still ready to do the same for the sake of the continuing humanization of people. The battle continuous until the world is transformed into the kingdom of God, though eschatological, however, foretasted in process and in time.




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Rev. Kanu Ikechukwu Anthony OSA, (2008); “Corruption in Africa: Its challenges for Christian Theology”; A Paper Presented at the Conference of the National Association of Theology students of Nigeria.


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